The new Chromecast is the second iteration of Google’s smart TV dongle, which turns almost any TV into a smart receiver of smartphone, tablet or computer-streamed video, music, photos or games.
The second-generation version makes it easier to plug into your existing setup, and promises better Wi-Fi.
The small black, pink or yellow puck measuring 5cm in diameter connects to your TV or home cinema system with a flat flexible HDMI cable measuring 10cm in length. Compared to the previous generation Chromecast, the new one is much easier to fit into an existing setup, particularly if you have several HDMI ports quite closely packed together.
The Chromecast is powered by a micro USB cable, which can be plugged into a TV’s USB port, if it has one. Google provides a charger and cable in the box, but almost any other USB charger will work too.
Setup is easy. Plug the Chromecast in, hook up the microUSB cable to give it power and fire up the Chromecast app on an Android, iOS smartphone or tablet. The app will handle settings to get it connected to your home Wi-Fi network. I couldn’t get it to connect to the Guardian’s corporate Wi-Fi network, but it worked at home just fine.
The range at which it could get a solid connection to my home Wi-Fi router was improved compared to the last version, as was stream reliability when placed on the other side of my house from the router.
The Chromecast did its thing with updates and within five minutes it was ready to go.
Unlike most other smart TV or streaming dongles or boxes, the Chromecast does not have interface or any capabilities on its own. It can show a selection of attractive images like wallpaper for your TV, but that’s about it.
Instead, the Chromecast relies on apps on your smartphone or tablet or a computer to stream content to it using Google’s Cast protocol.
Within an app such as BBC iPlayer or Spotify, hitting the cast button sends the video or music to the Chromecast, which quickly fires up the backend of the app needed to receive the stream.
The smartphone app then becomes the controller, with the Chromecast directly connecting to the content over the internet. Some apps are capable of doing pre-caching of content before you choose it. Netflix, for instance, is working on a system that predicts what a user is likely to want to watch based on previous viewing so that stream starts instantly without buffering.
The system works well and is easy to use for anyone familiar with apps on their smartphone and means that any new developments can be implemented with a smartphone app update.
The dedicated Chromecast app can also be used to control media playback once it has been initiated, meaning someone else in the room with the app installed can pause it without having to have a subscription to the music or video service currently being used.
The Chromecast app can also highlight content from providers that you have installed on your app, and suggest new apps that work with Google Cast.
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