Earlier this month I snagged a Chromecast, the latest hot tech gadget from Google, before they sold out worldwide across Google Play (now with an estimated 2-3 week delay), Best Buy (now sold out), and Amazon (now unavailable). And just in case you're keeping score, yes, I got the three free months of Netflix deal too before they pulled that promotion... and since I'm already a member of Netflix, that made the net cost of the device only $11.03. Given what it does, it's still a fantastic deal at the full price of $35, and I think everyone should get one as they become available again.
Setup is very simple, and the only prerequisites are working wireless Internet, any smartphone (or an install of Chrome), and the ability to read and follow instructions (arguably the most difficult part). You plug the Chromecast into an HDMI port on your TV, plug in the USB power cable if you have an older TV (like mine from 2003), switch the input over so the TV is using that HDMI port, and follow the directions on the screen. Less than five minutes later, you can watch YouTube or Netflix or Google Play on your TV through the device. And that's it... dead simple. From a pure viewing perspective it's not too different from a Roku or any of the other myriad streaming devices out there — it would be a fair argument, in fact, to say it's a lot less capable, since the services I mentioned are the only ones working with the device currently.
Let me stress: currently. Google says more are coming, and given the instant popularity of the Chromecast, I'd guess it will be soon. One of the many cool things about the Chromecast is how new applications are added to it. Technically, they aren't. The apps all live on your smartphone, and they communicate with the Chromecast and tell it what to do via your wireless network. So let's say the folks at Hulu decide to enable streaming to the Chromecast. All they need to do is add a few lines of code or a library or something to their smartphone app, push out a regular update, and it's done. Then next time you start up Hulu on your phone, you'll have the option of playing it over the Chromecast instead of on your tiny little smartphone screen.
It's probably best to view Chromecast as a new kind of receiver which uses your existing smartphone as a remote control and receives all its content directly from the Internet.
Now for a few little tricks. First, you can switch viewing back and forth between your phone (or tablet) and your Chromecast as desired. So, let's say you start up a show and get about halfway through it when you realize you need to leave the room for a bit — but, you don't want to interrupt your viewing. Just pick up whatever portable thing you want to take with you — it doesn't have to be the one you started watching with, either — and start up the app you originally started the video with. The app will detect the Chromecast nearby (protip: secure your wireless network!) and give you the option of seamlessly switching over to the small portable screen by touching a single icon. Again, that's it . You can wander through your house and pretend like you're Jean-Luc Picard. "Tea, Earl Grey, hot."
Want to have a movie night in your backyard with your Chromecast? If you have a projector with an HDMI input, a house or building with a nice light-colored exterior, and a strong enough WiFi signal in your backyard, that's all it takes. The same concept can be carried over to the world of YouTube presentations. No projector in your conference room? Just pull your Chromecast out of your pocket, find a TV with an HDMI port, get everything talking, and away you go.
Here's another fun trick. If you run the Chrome web browser (and you really should be at this point), you can also install an extension which lets you show a tab on your TV through the Chromecast. And while this too can be carried over to the world of presentations, I was thinking it would work just as well for browser-based games, potentially turning the Chromecast into a new gaming console too. It's important to note that while the Chromecast extension isn't officially supported on the Linux version of Chrome, I spoofed my user agent and installed it just fine, and it worked.
Overall I'm very happy with the Chromecast. It does exactly what it purports, it does it exceedingly well, it has lots of growth potential, and it really is a steal at $35. Definitely keep an eye out for this toy.