HANDS-ON: Google Chromecast

Google’s Chromecast TV dongle has been out for almost a week, but what is it like to actually use?
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Google’s Chromecast TV dongle has now been out for almost a week, and I managed to grab one of the streaming sticks – so what is it actually like to use?

After unpacking the neatly stylised cube box the Chromecast arrived in, I was surprised by the lack of accessories that accompany the dongle. Other than the Chromecast itself, there's just a USB cable (which can be plugged into a spare USB port on most modern TVs to power the device), a USB mains plug for those without a USB-equipped TV and a HDMI extender cable. The latter claims to improve Wi-Fi network performance if required.

The dongle itself is much like its packaging – minimalist. It resembles a small USB flash drive, has an HDMI connector at one end and a port for the USB power cable at the other. A small LED flickers to communicate power.

After plugging the Chromecast in, my TV displayed a picturesque landscape shot with clear text directing me to visit Google’s setup site.

Setup is quick and painless, with computers and iOS and Android devices supported by the stick.

Once the stick has been connected to your home network through one device, any additional devices need only have the Chromecast app or Google Chrome browser extension and be connected to the same network in order to stream media.

Streaming itself is as effortless as setup – supported iOS and Android apps such as Netflix and iPlayer will display a little icon when a Chromecast is detected, and users can tap on the icon to ‘cast’ a programme or film across to the stick.

Rather helpfully, the Chromecast will automatically change the TV channel to its HDMI input when something is cast across, eliminating the need to scramble and find the remote (but you do have to change the channel back afterwards).

I found streaming from the Netflix and iPlayer apps to be smooth, with the casting device occupying a neat ‘remote’ functionality while playback happens on-screen.

The Chromecast itself streams directly from the services, so the phone or tablet that initiated the cast can leave the vicinity safely or be used for other uses without interrupting a video.

Chromecast also allows any browser tab running on a computer to be cast across, via the Google Cast extension for the Chrome browser.

While this is useful for services that don’t have support for Chromecast yet – such as 4OD or ITV Player – the stream stuttered while casting across from a netbook.

While casting from a more powerful full-size laptop, playback was once again smooth, but those with only a single low-performance computer might want to consider whether they can wait until the currently incompatible catch-up and video streaming services are granted support.

Overall, my experience with the Chromecast has been fantastic so far. At £30, it’s an ideal budget experience for those who might be looking to add smart TV functionality to their set, without dishing out for a Roku or Apple TV box.

As the weeks go by and more apps gain support for the stick, its value will continue to grow, but even now it’s a fantastic proposition for adding media streaming capability to a living room TV – without scrimping on quality.

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