Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Google Chromecast

Although this is not exactly learning technology, I've really been wanting to share my love of the Google Chromecast. It is particularly relevant this time of year as it would be a great gift for Internet video watchers who have an HDTV, which is most people these days. If you're not familiar, the Chromecast is this $35 device (on the left) which makes it possible to wirelessly stream certain apps like Netflix and YouTube and the Chrome browser to an HDTV from lots of devices - iPad/Phone/Pod, Android phone or tablet, and computers with the Chrome browser.

How does it work? You have to go through some steps to set it up and get the proper app on the devices (which my wonderful husband did, so I don't know exactly what's involved but it didn't take long) but when it's all good to go:

1. Plug the Chromecast into the TV or receiver's HDMI port and into the wall for power. Wait till it says "ready to cast" (they use different funky backgrounds for the "ready to cast" screen and switch them randomly).
2. Open up your chosen app to stream such as Netflix on whatever device you have handy.
3. Click on the icon to choose your Chromecast (screenshot on the right).

You just need to make sure the device is on the same wireless network as the Chromecast. I occasionally turn my phone's wireless off to conserve battery and every time I've had a problem, that has been the issue.

Why do I like it so much? 

1. I didn't have another device that did this like a Roku or Apple TV, so it has made my Internet video watching wireless whereas before I had a 25 foot HDMI cable strung across my living room to an iPad or computer make it happen. I used to watch DirecTV out of sheer laziness because getting out the HDMI cable and the right adapters/dongles and hooking up the iPad or computer was sometimes too much work (I'm kind of ashamed to admit that...).

2. I can use the device for other things while it is streaming. Do I need to multitask this much? No. Do I sometimes want to? Yes.

3. Cost & OS agnostic-ness:  I refused to buy an Apple TV because I didn't think it was worth $99 and because I do not live in an exclusively Apple household: we have an iPad, Android phones, and both PC and Mac computers.

I will be the first to admit these are first world problems and I wasn't going to do anything about them, but my husband was really excited to get a Chromecast, I didn't care because it was so cheap ($35), and I totally jumped on board once I understood how awesome it is.

Here's another cool thing: When you're streaming something, all of the devices that are on the wireless that have the app can control whatever's going on. So if I start something on my phone and I can't find it but want to pause it, I can grab the iPad or my husband's phone and control it. It's kind of fun when multiple people want to show YouTube videos or something from their phones because it's really easy to change who has control or to take control from someone else. Also, when my phone (Motorola Droid Razr Maxx) is locked there is still a pause button so it's very easy to access the controls. It's not as nice on the iPad though (surprise!).

What apps does it work with? I mostly use Netflix and YouTube but it works with more apps now like HBO GO and even Pandora. Last I checked, it did not work with Amazon video though, which was incredibly disappointing because I was deep into a Downton Abbey addiction when we got it. If you get one, don't forget about the Chrome browser streaming. We wanted to watch a random show and had to do it via the browser because the app wasn't compatible, which was fine. Every now and then I still need the good old HDMI cable but it's pretty rare.

For people who are used to Netflix: One thing I didn't like about it at first, but I decided I do like is that it sends one video/movie/episode at a time and then you have to make another decision when it's done (it goes back to the "ready to cast" screen). If you are used to Netflix, you know that 15 second window where it just plays the next episode and then you're sucked into a Netflix hole and before you know it, you realize you've watched 25 episodes because you can't stop it once it starts a new one (and even though it stops to make sure you're still watching, it does it during an episode and you can't just stop mid-episode!). I have decided I like it because it gives me a good breaking point to get up and do something other than watch TV!

Since this is a learning technology blog, I will say that it may not have much classroom application because you do have to download some stuff to make it work, and you can't download random programs onto classroom computers here at UWEC anyway. If you bring your laptop, I don't see why it wouldn't work but I haven't tried it. If you're just streaming a video though you might as well open up the website and show it off the computer. The Apple TV is a better option for educational purposes because it has full mirroring so you can use more than just the handful of supported apps.

Final comment: if you live in a mixed OS household like mine, don't have anything similar yet like an Apple TV, and your main goal is streaming content, I highly recommend it.

Images from the Chromecast website

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