Chromecast: Watching TV Online for Low Costs

Google Chromecast Drive - Watching TV Online

Watching TV online is more popular than ever thanks to the growing ranks of streaming devices you can use with ease in your own home. One of the more interesting and user-friendly options on the market is Google’s Chromecast, a small device making big news in the Internet world.

Introducing the Competitive Dongle

The Chromecast was first introduced in mid-2013, when Google unveiled it as a new dongle to help stream Google-based content to TVs. It was small. It was simple. It was, above all else, affordable — and as time went it seemed like all the features Google advertised were really included in the small device.

Chromecast looked like a simple USB flashdrive, but it was actually a “sling box,” a device designed to help you stream Internet content to your TV. All it needed was an HDMI connection to plug into and the right selection of free apps. On the basic level, the dongle let you control volume and features right from your smartphone: It worked with Android, Apple, and Chrome devices alike. But if users had any music, pictures, or video to stream, the device could also take care of that, slinging Web-based content to your TV from any nearby source (ideally, a desktop computer).

Google Chromecast -- Watching TV Online
Photo Credit: Steven Combs

Google promised an easy set-up that would let you simply plug in the dongle, connect it to your Wi-Fi, and start streaming. The company also promised an attention-grabbing price of only $35. This was especially notable because similar set-top boxes and slinging devices like Apple TV or Roku cost at least $100 for their streaming capabilities. This low price point is notable for another reason, too: The Chromecast has been notoriously difficult to find since its announcement, selling out very quickly. No doubt Google is trying to stock up to meet all the latent demand, but if you like the idea of Chromecast and see it for sale, it may be a good idea to nab it quickly before the digital shelves empty again.

A Streaming Device that Works

With all these promised features, one of the best things about Chromecast is that it delivers on its promise. For a low price, you can indeed freely stream your music, pictures, and surprisingly wide variety of video content. While the dongle does not work with Quicktime and similar, more proprietary formats, watching TV online is possible through other services, like Hulu, Rdio, HBO Go, YouTube, and, of course, Netflix.

If you are a streaming movie/show buff, but do not already have this capability on your TV or DVR device, the Chromecast is your best and cheapest bet for getting these services onto your big screen with the least amount of fuss. If you live with family and friends, then that small device can also transmit video from a desktop to a nearby phone or tablet for more private viewing options over your Wi-Fi network. You can download Chrome, iOS and Android apps to manage the details and settings of the dongle remotely rather than trying to manage it through a TV interface.

If you are concerned about resolution, take comfort in the 1080p support that Google’s invention offers. While your streaming source and interference (or lack thereof) will still impact your quality, the dongle supports the highest resolutions possible while watching TV online.

Google Control and the Future of Chromecast

The future of Chromecast looks bright, but Google has made it clear that it will retain full control over what the device can do. For those who like to experiment and jailbreak, this was a bit of disappointment. Android users, used to having a laissez faire attitude toward app creations and personal development, were disappointed to find out they could not alter the dongle too much. Early attempts at reverse engineering its technology to allow streaming for all sorts of third parties were quickly met with software adjustments that block any such attempts.

While this stymies the efforts of individualists, it also promises to keep Chromecast’s costs low and gives vendors the necessary trust in Google that they need to continue develop content that can easily be streamed through the device. From the long-term view it is a popular move, especially from Google’s perspective. In the future, Google would like to open up its sling device for more indie developers, but it does not want them to threaten the company’s relationship with the big names.

It is all worth noting that the device favors development using Google’s own development platforms, which could encourage content companies to start working in Google-friendly formats more often. But if you just want to take advantage of all the current streaming goodies, look for Chromecast availability online or at your local electronics store. Watching TV online just became cheaper and more interesting.

Photo Credit: Eugene.Photo