It weighs just 34 grams, is 72 x 35 x 12 mm in size, and costs only the $39: The Google Chromecast looks and feels like a USB flash drive with a glandular problem.
Cheap, easy to set up and even easier to use, there's really nothing to dislike about the Google's streaming device, except for one thing: Canadian content (which we'll get to in a moment).
The Chromecast is so small that once it's plugged into an HDMI port in the back of a television set, there's almost no indication that it's a part of your home theatre setup. Only its power cord, which can either be plugged into a wall socket or available USB port, gives a hint that its even there. Unlike other streaming media devices like the Apple TV or Roku 3, Google's Chromecast doesn't come with a remote control, or in fact, any onboard applications or content. Everything, from setting up the device to watching a video from your personal media collection or browsing YouTube, is done through the use of apps on an Android phone or tablet, iOS device or via Google's Chrome browser on a Chrome OS, Windows or Mac PC.
No matter which device you use with the Chromecast, setup is a cinch. Simply power the device, plug it into an available television HDMI port and follow the Chromecast's onscreen prompts. The device will walk you through the process of connecting it to a Wi-Fi network, pairing with your choice of source device and downloading any available firmware updates. Even with the lousy Internet speeds I suffered while testing the hardware in rural southwestern Ontario I was setup and ready to start streaming content to my Chromecast in under 10 minutes.
Sending content from your computer's Chrome browser requires the download of a browser extension. Once it was installed, I was able to send content displayed in Chrome to the Chromecast with a click of my mouse. Video I purchased and rented from The Google Play store streamed smoothly, albeit at lower than HD resolutions. I was also able to access and watch movies via Netflix and YouTube just as easily, and I found that Rdio, my online music streaming service of choice, worked well via Android, iOS and Chrome for Mac as well.
However, I quickly discovered that the Chromecast doesn't play well with all in-browser content: while I was able to send The Globe and Mail's website to my TV to read on the big screen, there was a noticeable second-long lag between the clicks made on my laptop to when the commands given would be displayed by the Chromecast on my TV. On the Android side of things, I found sending Netflix content, as well as video and audio stored on Nexus 7, to be a seamless experience. The same can be said for firing content over from an iPhone or an iPad, although you'll need to download Google's free Chromecast app from the iTunes App Store in order to do so.
The pain point here is the limited number of content options it provides to its Canadian users. When compared to what's available to other streaming media devices here in Canada, the content options available on a Chromecast seem pretty slim. Apple TV users in this country enjoy the largest selection of movies, TV and music to purchase or rent of any service available today. Roku users have access to hundreds of channels worth of content, in addition to Netflix and even a handful of games. Here in Canada, thanks to a lack of licensed services and content, the Chromecast can only provides access to Netflix, Google Play Video, YouTube and select content dished up from your computer's browser tab. By way of contrast, in the U.S., Chromecast hardware provides users with access to such paid services as HBO Go, Amazon Prime Video and Pandora. This makes the device a much more attractive buy south of the border than it is up here. More apps and compatible services are sure to be on the way, but that doesn't help early adopters of the device.
You can argue that this lack of content can be sidestepped through VPN tunnelling or downloading PLEX – a Chromecast-compatible computer program designed to collect streaming online channels and user-owned content into one interface, which can then be streamed to mobile devices or TV hardware like the Chromecast. But setting up and tweaking either of these options may be beyond the capabilities of many of the Chromecast's potential users.
The Final Verdict:
The Google Chromecast provides computer, tablet and smartphone owners an affordable, easy to use means to push Netflix, YouTube video, movies purchased or rented from the Google Play Store and music from select streaming services to their HDMI-equipped TV. Unfortunately, a lack of additional content options keep this low-cost, merely adequate device from being great.