Google Chromecast Review

What is it?
The
Google Chromecast is a media streaming dongle that plugs into any HDMI port that allows media content to be accessed over the internet. Retail cost for the Google Chromecast is $39.99CDN

google-chromecast-box

Installation:
Super simple - just plug the Chromecast into any open HDMI port then plug the power cord into any powered USB port.  Google gives you a power brick just in case there is not a free USB port and a HDMI to HDMI extender if you have oversized HDMI cables and there is not enough room for the Chromecast to plug in. There is no Ethernet port so WiFi is your only option.

chromecast install

Set Up: 
After downloading and opening the app on my iPad, the app searches for the Chromecast and once it found it asked me to close the app and open up WiFi settings and connect directly to the Chromecast.  Once connected I reopened the app, entered my network password and gave the Chromecast a friendly name.  I was then asked to confirm a code that was being displayed on my TV. Once confirmed the Chromecast began downloading the firmware which takes a few minutes.  Unfortunately I received a error message saying that my router settings were incompatible with the Chromecast. The app redirected me to a Google support page where I was asked to refer to the documentation for the manufacturer of my router to adjust the settings to get the Chromecast working.  The problem is that I have over 50 devices on my home network and if I start making changes to my home network it could have a cascade effect across all my devices.  So my first thought was to end the Chromecast experiment and writing a very short product review. However, as I was re-reading the Google support documentation all of the sudden the screen lit up with a beautiful picture of a grassy field and a message saying 'you are ready to cast'. 
Operation:
I was relieved that the Chromecast managed to sort out any network issues it may have had. So now I’m staring at the beautiful grassy field image asking myself ok what happens next? Unlike the
Apple TV, Roku, or Amazon Fire which feature a GUI (Graphical User Interface) and a remote control, the Google Chromecast doesn't have anything (besides various pictures of nature being displayed on the screen). I was a little confused as to what to do next, so naturally I turned to Google to find the answer.  Soon it became clear what the Chromecast is all about.  If you are familiar with Apple’s AirPlay the operation on the Chromecast is very similar. With supported apps like Google Play Movies, Netflix, You Tube, and Plex, the user clicks on a small rectangular icon with a WiFi symbol, selects the friendly name of the Chromecast and that’s it - the media content begins playing on the TV. What is interesting to note is that unlike Apple’s AirPlay, that uses the control device to stream the content on a Apple TV for example, the Chromecast will search the internet for the required content and play it direct from the Chromecast dongle. This is important for two reasons. The first is network stability by eliminating a access point, and the second is that the control device does not use precious battery power running the app in the background. In fact the app on the control device can be closed and the content will keep playing. So the app is only used to select content and provide control functions such as play, pause, etc. This is where I have a slight problem with the Chromecast - without a IR receiver, there is no physical remote. And while this perhaps sounds like a good idea to not have a remote control there simply is no better method to control a function than by using a physical button on a remote control. Example: You are watching a Netflix movie using the Chromecast and want to pause the movie to make some popcorn. With a physical remote you would pick it up and hit the pause button which takes about one second. With the Chromecast pausing a movie involves a process: Pick up your tablet or smartphone, enter the password, open up the Netflix app, wait for the app to connect, select the pause button. This process can take anywhere from 5-10 seconds depending on your network connection speed. And after your popcorn is done popping just hope that your device hasn’t auto locked itself otherwise you will to go through the entire process again just to hit the play button.

Chromecast screen1

Performance:
My test Chromecast was plugged into a
Marantz SR7007 AVR, running Paradigm AMS in wall/ceiling speakers and Monitor 10 Sub in 7.1 surround configuration and for display a Samsung 8 series LED panel. I tested ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ on Netflix (configured for 7GB/h) and after initial buffering, the video quality with the compression was noticeably not the same a Blu-Ray, the audio track decoded in DTS NEO: X Cinema was remarkably very close. In the opening scene when Captain Kirk is running through the forest with the indigenous people chasing him, arrows being shot at Kirk where clearly heard from the surround speakers. For comparison I played the same opening sequence from Into Darkness on a Apple TV, X-Box, Chrome, and Safari web browsers via a Mac Mini using all the same A/V settings and the Chromecast outperformed these devices in both audio realism and the video graphics performance.

Chromecast screen2

Final Thoughts:
Aside from the audio/video performance of the Chromecast I found myself wondering why anyone would by this product. There is no Ethernet connection available so a strong wireless connection is a definite must. A somewhat awkward control interface with no physical remote, and at the time of this writing limited available content. But then I thought of some of the positives - for 40 dollars you can turn any TV into a smart TV. It’s also not complicated to install, just plug it into any HDMI port which is hidden out of site behind the TV making the Chromecast practically invisible. And finally Google has opened up the API so that developers can create apps to cast onto a TV. I can see in the near future someone making a app so that music can be played through the Chromecast through the TV speakers, sound bar, or home theatre speakers. And that would be pretty cool.