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Tech Report – Chromecast

No matter how hard Apple and Google try to win over a remarkably stubborn and devoted TV audience, they have yet to threaten the dominance of the networks and cable companies. Sure, both Apple TV and Google TV make it easy to stream Netflix, Hulu Plus and more, but without original programming or the cooperation of the big boys, they are resigned to being the also-rans of the living room.

But that doesn’t mean they have given up. Both Apple and Google continue to recognize the value of the big screen, and they want to make sure that when the TV is turned on, our mobile devices are not turned off. One way to do that is to make it as easy as possible to transfer content from the small screen to the TV, and that’s the idea behind Google’s Chromecast, a small flash drive-style device that plugs into a standard HDMI port on any HDTV.

If streaming content from smartphones, tablets and other devices to your TV sounds a familiar concept, that’s because Apple has been facilitating that for quite some time with AirPlay. However, AirPlay requires the purchase of an Apple TV box ($99) and an HDMI cable to connect the box to the TV. And like all Apple products, AirPlay doesn’t play nicely with anyone else, so owners of Android devices are left in the cold.

On the other hand, Chromecast works with both Android devices and Apple products, including iPhones and iPads. It also works with computers and laptops running Chrome for Mac or Chrome for Windows. Set up couldn’t be simpler. You just plug the Chromecast device into an HDMI port and connect it to your home Wi-Fi. You then open a supported app on your phone or tablet and choose the TV option when you’re ready to play.

When you’re using Chromecast, your mobile device (or computer) is effectively the controller, allowing you to select content, control playback, and adjust the volume. When you are using a Chrome browser, the TV “mirrors” whatever content is displayed on your laptop or computer, including web pages, photos, video, or text.

If there is a drawback to Chromecast, it’s in the very limited number of mobile apps that are currently Chromecast-enabled. At the moment that’s three (yes, three!): Netflix, YouTube and Google Play. To be fair, the Google Play apps include movies, TV shows, music and books (for those who want to read a book on their TV). However, Google says that a Chromecast-enabled Pandora app is on the way, with many more to follow. (Chromecast will automatically update to recognize new Chromecast-enabled apps.)

Apple aficionados will argue that AirPlay has no such limitations and can mirror anything that is currently displayed on your mobile screen. However, as stated above, AirPlay is an Apple-only option, and, if you’re using AirPlay, you normally can’t do anything else with your mobile device. With Chromecast, you can browse the web, check e-mail and use other apps without interrupting the stream to your TV.

A Chromecast device costs just $35 but you might have to wait a while to get your hands on one. Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers are already sold out, with Google’s own Play store indicating fulfillment times of 4 weeks or more!

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