The Smoke and Mirrors of Google Chromecast

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The Internet is absolutely ablaze right now over the announcement from Google over their new "Smart TV" dongle, dubbed Chromecast. At $35, it seems like the Holy Grail of connected video steaming: just plug it in, go through a few simple setup steps. and wham-o-- you're in a user utopia where an Android tablet can toss up a video to your flat screen, someone's iPhone can change the volume, and someone else's Galaxy Note can queue up the next four cat videos on YouTube. 

Sounds pretty miraculous, right? Yeah, nice try.

Mashable has already taken it for a test drive, and the results aren't as earth-shattering as the Technorati has made it seem:

"Google billed Chromecast as an easy way for everyone in your household to control what’s on your television. Movies started on your Nexus 7 should be able to be stopped by your iPad. Someone on an iPhone nearby should be able to add a video to the queue to be watched next and everyone should have control of the volume.

I ran into a lot of issues actually making that a reality.

On both my Nexus 7 and iPad mini Chromecast had issues detecting both when I played a video and when I tried to pause it. Getting videos to play using both devices took pressing the button several times before it would register on Chromecast, and often it simply wouldn’t register at all. At one point I tried to switch the video playing using my iPad mini, and the app went into a thinking mode for over 20 minutes, causing me to have to force quit it in order to try again. Not exactly seamless.

My experience using YouTube wasn’t much better. The YouTube app on my iPhone didn’t always detect the Chromecast was even in my livingroom. When I did get it to work, adding videos to the TV queue was a simple proposition — you just tap “Add to TV Queue on the video itself — as was removing unwanted videos from the upcoming playlist.

All of my issues are ones that I might attribute to a bad connect to my home’s wireless network. In the same room we have an Apple TV connected to the television that has no issues playing movies or YouTube via Airplay. Speed tests on my laptop and mobile devices in the room proved that everything was not only connected to the router, but had a rather speedy connection to the web as well. These issues, whatever is causing them, are Chromecast specific.

The connection seemed to be worse when I first started using a device with Chromecast, and got slightly better over time, although still not quite perfect. Our New York office on the other hand had no issues connecting to one of their devices, or switching between different phones and tablets. On the other device in NYC, however, they did run into a handful of switching problems.

For now you're also restricted in the type of content you can watch using Chromecast. The device is app-specific, so for now it only works with Netflix, YouTube Google Play and Music, and Chrome. A good mix, but definitely not the same selection you'll find on some of Chromecast's competitors. You're also restricted to content you can stream from the cloud, so movies and videos stored locally on your device are going to be a no-go."

 Needless to say, it has some kinks to work out. But more than that, outside of the (admittedly) fantastic price, what's there to really offer here? It doesn't have ESPN, HBO Go, Hulu, or any of the other apps that Apple and Roku both bring to the table. And in Apple's case, the Chromcast has to compete with the ability to fully mirror your computer, iPhone, or iPad. Google's dongle can mirror Chrome, and that's it. 

So can we  all settle down about Google Chromecast please? It's a Roku/Apple TV knockoff that can do precisely squat compared to either. Maybe one day it will have the capabilities of the real winners in this sector, but for now it lets you stream YouTube, whatever you can access in mobile Chrome, and some cloud content. That's it. Nothing stored on your device, no live TV, no unicorns, no rainbows. 

Yawn. 

If you need me, I'll be marathoning Orange Is The New Black on my Apple TV. 

Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

 

 

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Posted on July 26, 2013 .