These are my first impressions of the Google Chromecast. A bit of context before I start – I’m primarily an iPhone user running iOS 7 and that is what I’m using to control the Chromecast.
I’m in the UK and I’ve been looking for a reliable way to watch the BBC iPlayer on my old-ish TV. In the past I have linked up a laptop which was not a very good experience and have even tried using the Blu-ray player which said it would work but was an abject failure. Both required a long network cable to go from the router to the TV via the length of the living room floor – not good.
£30 for a good wireless solution to this problem did not seem unreasonable given the length of time I’ve actually wanted this to work (can’t miss the results show of Strictly Come Dancing). I knew that the Chromecast wasn’t advertised to work with many services, but the BBC and YouTube was good enough for me.
My TV had a spare HDMI port but no USB ports which means that the Chromecast has to be powered using the plug adapter supplied (the unit can be powered via a USB port if you have one).
The first problem I had was that I needed to find it’s MAC address so that I could add it to my router so that it could get access to the wireless network. This was not marked on the box that the Chromecast came in, was not on the unit itself and was not shown in the PC application you download that configures it. I downloaded the iPhone app and found it in there.
Once the Chromecast had permission to get on to the wireless network I ran through the various steps of the PC application. There were a couple of things I found dubious about the setup:
– It asks you for the password to join the wireless network but has a button beside the password field and when you click this it actually fills in the password for you – is the unit interrogating the router for the information?. If so this makes me a bit uneasy.
– There is a point where it says that your computer (ie the PC that you are setting things up on, which in my case was using a wireless internet connection) will lose it’s internet connection for a short period. I happened to notice on my iPhone that a second wireless network appeared for that time. Does the Chromecast have the ability to broadcast as a wireless hotspot when it wants to?
It’s a little unsettling that the Chromecast, now a full commercial product, appears to be cutting some corners in the setup procedure just to improve ease of use.
So, how well does it work?
It still has some rough edges and it is difficult to say if this just happens to me but when I switch the TV to the HDMI channel that it is plugged into I often have to wait a minute or so whilst the TV alternates between a black screen and a fuzzy screen. I think this is happening because the Chromecast is in a sleep state and this is caused by it waking up. It is not that the unit is not plugged in properly as once the Chromecast interface appears on the screen there is no more of this.
It takes the sheen off a product that I’m otherwise very happy with.
Both the BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps work without problems and so far the image quality on screen is good and there have been no interruptions in playback, although I’ve been playing with the device when the BBC iPlayer service is not busy.
One pleasant surprise is that I discovered that my favourite podcasting app on the iPhone – Downcast – supports the Chromecast. The Cast icon just appeared in the app when it recognised the device was on. It worked perfectly. I could even stream high quality video via Downcast as well as audio that had been downloaded. I was very pleased.
Playing some more, I installed Plex media server on my PC laptop and installed the app on my phone. It worked well enough but I discovered that the Chromecast would not play music files encoded as Apple Lossless format. The Plex app itself would play them but the ‘Cast refused. This may be a really specific case, but it affects me.
Once you start getting used to using the Chromecast and having that functionality you start to want it in more apps. This is specific to iOS devices as Android is a lot more open as to what can be done. This is not the device’s fault but I hope that the Chromecast catches on enough that more app developers include the ability to send content to the device. I now have an app that lets me show my phone’s pictures and videos on the TV which would be another main use.
I listen to a lot of audio rather than watch TV or video and I cannot yet find a decent iOS media player app that supports Casting. I have a workaround which involves opening audio files in Downcast and Casting from there. More about that another time.
Overall, I am pleased with the Chromecast. It is definitely worth the money and has worked well so far.