The Google Chromecast was only announced on Wednesday, but unlike the new Nexus 7, this product is already reaching consumers. Google does not have a good track record when it comes to the living room — Google TV and the Nexus Q have been failures this far. But maybe this is finally it. The Chromecast could be Google’s living room win.
Setting up the device is pretty straightforward. Plug it into an HDMI port, run the power cable into the back, and switch inputs. You can set up the device from the Chromecast app on Android, or from any web browser. You will need to be on the same local WiFi network as the Chromecast to set it up, and note that a VPN will also interfere.
The app should instantly see a new Chromecast on the network waiting to be configured. You can choose a unique name for each Chromecast, which is helpful if you have more than one in the house. Then you’ve got to input the WiFi password on your device. There is no interface on the Chromecast to interact with, so the app will push the wireless settings over to the device.
Your Chromecast will try to connect to whichever network your phone or tablet is on, but it doesn’t support 5GHz wireless N even though plenty of phones do. The app does not make this clear, so you’ll have to manually change it to the 2.4GHz band on a dual-band router. I’ve seen the connection step fail a few times for no apparent reason, but it always connects eventually.
When you are connected, all compatible apps will display the Chromecast button at the top. This will toggle the app into Chromecast mode, thus sending its media to the TV. Both audio and video are routed to your TV and don’t play on the phone or tablet itself.
At this point, your phone or tablet is simply a remote control. It can be asleep, running a game, or in another room, and the media will continue to play. The content is actually pulled down from the cloud by the Chromecast — not beamed from the device. That results in a slight delay when controlling the Chromecast, but allows your device to be more usable while you’re watching.
Netflix interactions are delayed by about a second when you pause, stop playback, or change the volume. YouTube is a smidgen faster, and Google Play Music is almost instantaneous. Everything that’s supported officially at launch is very stable.
The beta “tab casting” works reliably, but there is still a lot of delay — on the order of two seconds or more. You will actually have to click on things in the Chrome window to make use of this feature, so it’s a little more annoying than the lag in Netflix or YouTube. That said, it works and opens up a ton of possibilities for the Chromecast.
The only bug I’m seeing is showing up on the Nexus 4 (on Android 4.3) after Netflix has been used to access the Chromecast. Putting the phone to sleep for more than a few minutes seems to be causing it to freeze. A hard reboot is the only recourse at that point. I haven’t been able to reproduce this on other devices, so your mileage may vary.
Chromecast is only $35, and it already does more out of the box than the Nexus Q did. The device is sold out at various online retailers, and Google is estimating 3-4 weeks for shipping right now. Whenever you do get a chance to buy a Chromecast, it’s worth trying out.