No one has quite figured out figured out Web-connected TV.
There are a bunch of options. Apple TV. Roku. And a bunch of television sets like Samsung’s smart TVs that have streaming apps built in. They’re all pretty much the same. None of them are perfect.
Google is trying to simplify things a bit. Instead of releasing yet another Web-connected set-top box, it has the Chromecast, a $US35 dongle that plugs directly into your TV and sucks in content from your phone, tablet, or PC.
And with a few caveats, the Chromecast really, really good.
How It Works
The Chromecast is a two-inch long gizmo that’s about the same size and shape as a USB thumb drive. It plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port and connects to the Internet using a WiFi connection. From there, everything else is controlled with your computer, smartphone, or tablet. There’s no normal remote control.
After a quick setup process using your PC, you’ll notice almost no user interface except for a screen that says “Ready to cast.” Now you’re ready to beam videos from your Android device, iPhone, iPad, or Chrome Web browser on your computer.
From your computer, you can beam whatever is in your Chrome browser to the Chromecast by installing a tiny extension that sits in your browser’s toolbar. Just click the extension’s button and whatever appears in your Chrome browser will “mirror” to your TV in real time. It works with Web pages, YouTube videos, Google Docs, you name it. Think of it as a wireless HDMI cable between your PC and TV. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best experience with this. More on that later.)
But the best Chromecast experience comes from your smartphone or tablet, which let you seamlessly beam videos and music from apps to your TV. The process works a bit differently than Apple's AirPlay. Instead of beaming video directly from your mobile device to your TV, you actually use your phone or tablet to trigger a signal to send the video over the Internet directly to the Chromecast. The advantage to this is you can still do other stuff on your phone or tablet while watching a video on Chromecast. It's perfect. I had no problem beaming Netflix and YouTube content from my iPhone, the new Moto X, and Google's new Nexus 7 tablet to the Chromecast. HD video looked excellent on my big screen TV, and there was no annoying buffering or lag. On the Android devices, I was able to play music and videos that I've purchased through the Google Play store. It's just easy. And unlike Apple's AirPlay, you can still use your phone or tablet to do other stuff while watching a video on your Chromecast. AirPlay usually makes you keep the streaming app open on your iPhone or iPad, so you can't do anything else. With Chromecast, Google created a content sharing system that's more accessible than what Apple pulled off with AirPlay. But it's not all roses and sunshine.