Real-World Test of Google’s New Chromecast

posted in: Desktop, Digitizing Life, Google, Mobile | 0

(Updated 8-20-13) I’m a bit of a home entertainment enthusiast, and an early-adopter in many ways. My Chromecast arrived yesterday, and I immediately put it to the test.

chromecast-jpgFor starters, this thing really is as easy to set-up and start using as Google claimed.

In fact, the package doesn’t even come with a real set of instructions; just a three step procedure printed inside the box.

Other than having to struggle a bit to get my arm behind my TV, I can’t imagine installation and set-up being any easier.

They did a really nice job thinking that through.

I have read some reports that on certain TVs, you can see it sticking-out of side-mounted HDMI ports, but my TV (a Sharp Aquous) has plenty of available ports on the back, so the Chromecast in my living room is completely invisible.

Chromecast isn’t my first trip to the streaming rodeo

roku_xdsBack when it was the hot thing a few years ago, I bought an early (original) Roku XD/s. Overall, it was a great device, and I certainly logged a lot of hours watching Netflix with it. It was nice, too, that the Roku supports Netflix alternatives, such as Hulu and Amazon, but I never used those, myself.

Technically, it had its quirks.

First, I never liked the way my Roku XD/s buffered (and re-buffered) every time the throughput of the network fluctuated. If I was in the middle of watching something in HD, and there was a brief network slowdown, the Roku would literally stop what I was viewing (completely), and begin reloading at a lower resolution.

The resolution would stay low for the remainder of the show, and that was annoying.

I assume newer Roku boxes have addressed that engineering flaw?

Another thing that always bothered me about the Roku experience was that it never played nice with anything from Google. I could never understand the bad blood between the two companies, but if you wanted to watch YouTube, or listen to Google Music, you were completely out-of-luck.

I’ve been wanting a living room solution for Google Music

Tired of always scratching, or losing CDs (or finding them melted in my car on a hot summer day), I jumped on the Google Music bandwagon on day 1, uploaded my 12,000+ track collection, and never looked back.

As great as Google Music is, I was constantly frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t listen to my collection anywhere, except on my phone, and computers. That might work for some (especially those too young to remember really good sound quality), but I agonized every time I saw my good sound system sitting across the room, perpetually reminding me that I can’t use it to listen to my music.

Enter the Chromecast

I was watching Google’s press event the other day, pleasantly surprised when they introduced the Chromecast. It sounded like it could be the “missing link” I’d been searching for, so I ordered mine within the hour through Amazon.

chromecast1On its own, how can you not find it tempting. Priced at only $35, even if it was only marginally good, I felt it was worth the price to be able to watch YouTube on the big screen, and listen to my music on a real sound system. When they ended the presentation by mentioning that a purchase would include three free months of Netflix, I realized my net cost would be less than $12, making it even more of a no-brainer.

It’s only been one day, and I’m already loving this thing. My music sounds great (finally), and the Netflix experience is much, much better than it was with my Roku. I’ve seen it dynamically shift resolution without interruption when the network slows, but that’s rarely detectable. Most people wouldn’t even notice, but for me, it’s a much better experience than the Roku constantly stopping & re-starting.

A brilliant streaming implementation

Google really thought this through, and executed in a fantastic way. Your devices (phone, tablet, computer) send it a signal to begin playing something, and are then freed-up while the Chromecast does the work.

I’ve read some critics complaining that it would be better if it merely “mirrored” your device, but why would you want to kill your battery? It makes much more sense to implement it the way they did. Kudos to Google’s engineering team for a job well done.

Network reliability

I’ve also read some reviews claiming it doesn’t work well without a perfect network, but I’ve not found that to be the case. My home WiFi is marginal (at best) near the home entertainment system, but I’ve had zero problems with it (the occasional & momentary lowering of resolution notwithstanding, but that’s been extremely rare).

I’m anxious to hear what others have experienced. Has yours arrived yet?