Google has just announced something called the Google Chromecast at an event they held yesterday. The Google Chromecast is a tiny device that is shaped like a USB flash drive that plugs into an HDMI port on your television. It is powered through a USB port on the device and it connects to the internet via WiFi. Chromecast lets you watch YouTube and Netflix videos on your TV.
Sounds familiar? Based on the description above, you might even think that Google has just released their own Android Mini PC.
However, delving deeper, the Chromecast is not an Android Mini PC. An Android Mini PC is an actual miniaturized computer that runs on Android OS. It allows you to run most Android apps on your TV including YouTube and Netflix. It has an interface that is similar to Android on your phone and you control it using a keyboard and mouse.
Chromecast, on the other hand, runs on a version of Chrome OS. It works more like an accessory that you can control using your phone, tablet or laptop. It supports all platforms and not just Android devices.
You control Chromecast by using the apps on your mobile device. Apps that support Chromecast will have a “Cast” button. Clicking on the cast button triggers Chromecast to play that content on the TV that it is connected to. For example, if you are using the YouTube app and you want to play a YouTube video on your Chromecast connected TV. Just click on the cast button in the app and the video will start playing on your TV.
This makes it sound like Apple’s Airplay or Miracast. However, instead of wirelessly transmitting the video content from your phone to the TV, Chromecast actually downloads the content directly from the internet instead of pulling it from your phone. The advantage of this is that Chromecast is able to download a higher quality video than the one on the phone. Also, you can now switch to some other app on your phone and the video will continue playing on the TV because Chromecast is independent from your phone.
There are limitations to Chromecast. Apps need to be updated to support Chromecast. Airplay and Miracast has mirror capabilities that allows most apps including games to be mirrored on the TV. However, Chromecast can cast most browser pages that contain video like Hulu and HBO Go so that alleviates this problems until support is added to native apps.
Airplay and Miracast also supports playing content like videos and music that is stored on the device itself. As far as I know, Chromecast does not allow this.
So, the Chromecast is neither an Android Mini PC or an Apple TV. What it is is probably something in between. I am not really excited over it but with its $35 price point, it is cheap enough to attract me to buy one and play around with it.
Google probably has plans to implement the Chromecast technology into TVs directly. Most smart TVs already have support for YouTube, Netflix and other popular online content. Adding Chromecast support makes sense because current user interface on smart TVs are really horrifyingly bad.
I don’t believe Chromecast will do what Google had hoped that Google TV will do, which is to take over the living room. Many major sites are raving over it. Wired is even calling the Chromecast Google’s miracle device. The low price is probably helping to fuel some of the excitement but I don’t think it does enough.