Google Chromecast can turn any TV with a HDMI port into a smart TV capable of watching online video. T3 went in for a closer look
Update: We originally looked at the Google Chromecast when it was released in the US in 2013 and now that it's been released in the UK, we've updated our review to reflect the content that's available on this side of the pond.
Google Chromecast is a USB dongle that plugs into a TV’s HDMI port to give it ‘smart’ capabilities. Aimed squarely at Apple TV and the plethora of boxes from everyone from Roku to Sky, it allows you to play back Netflix, Youtube video and BBC iPlayer using a phone, tablet or laptop as a remote - and you can even ‘cast’ web pages onto the big screen.
The obvious competitor is Apple TV, with its Airplay functionality. However, Apple’s box offers a lot more content, and access to more broadcasters - at the moment.
The difference, and what could see Chromecast win this round of the living room battle, is that Google is opening access to Chromecast to developers, letting them make apps - something Apple has, so far at least, refused to do, only letting a select few through the gates. Article continues after the our Google Chromecast UK review video.
Google Chromecast: Features
At the moment Chromecast is it, Google admits, very limited. There are no games, and only YouTube and Netflix is currently supported. However, the firm is working with dozens of other providers. What you get are essentially three apps - Netflix, YouTube, and the ability to ‘cast’ from a computer, sending a web page to your TV.
Google Chromecast: Interface
Setting up Chromecast is simple, you download an app or visit a URL on your PC, set up wifi, and you’re ready to go - although be warned, you do need to power the dongle either via a USB port on your TV or the supplied power adapter.
The interface is really non-existent, once you’re all set up all you see is a ‘ready to cast’ message displayed until you tell the Chromecast what you want to watch.
Choosing content is easy, and once you’re up and running, a small ‘cast’ logo appears in supported apps. Click it, at the content is
sent to the Chromecast, and begins playing almost instantly.
For the UK, Google has added iPlayer to the content mix. As with Netflix, YouTube and Google Play it'll cast content onto your TV set and you essentially use the app on your phone or tablet as the controller.
It works well, although we would have liked some added features across all the content along the lines of social networking or additional info on the programmes you're watching. What Chromecast does well is deliver HD quality content, unlike Apple TV, with the specific apps, you're not steaming from your phone or tablet, Chromecast is pulling HD content form its own servers to your TV.
As with the US version, there's also the ability to cast webpages from your browser. This will only work in Chrome and you do need to download a plug in before you can get going. It's simple to use and you could watch 4OD through the browser and stream although it won't be HD content and it won't be full screen but it's a decent workaround until a dedicated app is announced.
According to Google, companies around the world are working in Chromecast apps so we expect to see the selection of services grow gradually.
Google Chromecast vs Apple TV
The comparisons with Apple TV are inevitable, and while Google wins hand down on price, Apple wins by a big margin on content. Apple’s iTunes store has superb content, and Apple has also slowly but steadily been adding content provider apps such as Hulu (in the US), Sky News and sporting events such as baseball.
Apple TV also wins on ease of use - while the Chromecast integration with apps is excellent, it doesn’t quite beat the on screen, simple menus of Apple TV for most
Google Chromecast: Verdict
Chromecast is a huge product for Google, and one that because of its incredibly low price, stands a real chance of becoming one of the key ways to get online video in the living room. Whatever Apple has up its sleeve in terms of TV, if Google can quickly start adding apps to Chromecast and boost its features with better music support, for instance, then it could steal a march on Apple’s plans - especially if, as Google says, we start seeing it built into TVs.
Apart from the addition of iPlayer, the UK version doesn't offer much more than the original US version. However, it has some fierce competition from the Sky's Now TV box, which only costs £9.99 and offers a similar service, with the ability to stream Sky's own content (for a fee).
Google Chromecast release date: Out now
Google Chromecast price: £30
Additional reporting by Rhi Morgan