We take a look at the Google Chromecast and explain what it is and how it works. The first generation Chromecast was launched in the USA in July 2013, and it was launched in the UK, Canada, Germany and the rest of Europe in March 2014. Fast forward a few years and the Chromecast Ultra capable of streaming 4K content is the must have streaming device.
The Google Chromecast has been a huge success story for Google, and after being launched in the USA in 2013 it became the biggest selling media streaming device in the USA in 2014. The Chromecast has sold over 35 million units worldwide, which is a huge amount of units for a product that was only launched four years earlier.
So what has made the Chromecast so successful? One of the first reasons is the price, which is extremely competitive. The standard model, both 1st and 2nd generation sells for just $35 in the USA, £30 in the UK, and in Europe it sells for €35. The other reason for its success is the easy set-up process and the functionality the Chromecast has to offer.
What is a Google Chromecast?
A Google Chromecast is a device that enables you to stream video and audio to your TV. If you have a home theatre setup where you use an amplifier receiver to send both audio and visual signals to your television, this also allows you to cast directly to the receiver providing it has a spare HDMI input, so the sound and visuals of the cast is also sent through your home cinema set-up. This is great for people who like watching movies through your home cinema sound system, and is also good if you want to stream YouTube music videos through your amplifier speakers.
The Chromecast is compatible with Apple iPhone, iPad, Android Phone, Android Tablet, Windows PC, MAC PC and Chromebook, so you can use a Chromecast with just about any device that has internet access. If you’re using a computer running Microsoft Windows, Apple MAC or Chromebook then the cast icon would be showing in the top right hand side of your Browser, but you need to install the Chrome browser to use the cast function from a computer.
The Chromecast second generation was launched in September 2015
The original Chromecast launched in 2013 has since been improved upon, and the second generation Chromecast launched in September 2015 provides a higher quality cast, and costs the same as the first generation model. The higher quality and quicker connection is down to the improved Wi-Fi signal. These improvements have been possible because the new Chromecast can now connect to different Wi-Fi signals and is compatible with 802.11ac, and can also connect at 5GHz if you’ve a modem that can take advantage of this.
The second generation wasn’t just about updating the technology inside the Chromecast. The original Chromecast was similar to a USB Dongle stick, which means it was rather big and bulky. This could prove difficult when trying to plug the Chromecast into HDMI ports that were hard to reach, or where you had HDMI ports close together. The bulkiness of the older Chromecast meant it was impossible to plug in the Chromecast on some setups as it pushed against other HDMI cables used in other ports. This was fixed with the second generation Chromecast, as it comes with a short flexible HDMI cable, which makes it much easier to fit the HDMI input into hard to reach places, or where you had multiple HDMI ports close together.
What is casting and how does it work?
To cast something simply means transferring whatever is showing on your device; whether that is your Microsoft Windows PC or mobile phone to your TV or Amplifier receiver. You do this by clicking the cast button in your browser, or the cast button showing on your mobile phone or tablet. So you can do this on most web pages that have video, and most websites now have the cast button within the video frame itself.
This works fine but the Chromecast works at its best when the apps or websites have been specifically designed to work with the Chromecast. We’ll discuss apps that are currently compatible with the Chromecast later, but remember; you can cast just about cast any page from a browser by using the cast button at the top right hand corner of the browser; it’s just better if the app or webpage has been specifically designed with the Chromecast in mind. The very success of the Chromecast means most major TV companies have integrated the Cast option within their apps and websites, so you get the best quality cast available.
The great thing about casting is how it actually works. If you were to stream a movie on your mobile phone you could imagine how much battery the streaming would have taken from your mobile once the film had finished. The Chromecast doesn’t do this; instead when you click the cast button from your phone, tablet or computer the Chromecast simply takes the web address and casts the video from the Chromecast itself. This means although you may have casted from your mobile phone, the actual streaming takes place from the Chromecast itself, and your mobile phone would then act as a remote control, should you wish to pause or fast forward whatever you’re casting.
The number of apps with Chromecast integration has grown significantly
The Chromecast app from Google is now called Google Home, and this app brings all the apps that integrate with Chromecast into one location. The apps are endless and include BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Eurosport Player, YouTube, All 4, Google Play Movies & TV, Disney Life, Now TV, Netflix, Dailymotion, NBA, Wuaki.tv, Google Play Music, Sound-Cloud and Spotify; the list goes on.
As you can see from the small selection of apps above the Chromecast isn’t just about streaming movies or TV shows to your TV or Amplifier Receiver. You can also stream music video channels such as YouTube, and radio apps such as Spotify, Deezer and Google Play Music. This is great if you connect your Chromecast to an amplifier receiver as it allows you to listen to music through your amplifier and speakers, rather than using the speakers from your television.
The audio quality of the streaming available is up to Dolby Digital + standard, and many of the newer Netflix movies and TV shows stream in Dolby Digital +, providing your amplifier receiver supports this. The difference when watching a movie in Dolby Digital + compared to standard stereo is outstanding, and it brings movies and TV shows into the room, and gives you the cinema experience in your own home.
Chromecast now support Ultra HD and 4K
When 4K TV was first mentioned by the electronic giants people were sceptical about whether you needed better quality than what HD TV already offers. However, due to the fact that you can now buy 4K televisions at a reasonable price means it has started to take off. It’s most likely that most people will have 4K TVs within the next few years.
So it makes sense for Google to launch a new Chromecast called the ‘Chromecast Ultra’, which supports 4K. The Chromecast Ultra was launched in November 2016 and is currently being sold in the UK for £69. This is really good value when you consider this is the best 4K streaming device on the market at the moment.
The Chromecast Ultra no longer relies on Wi-Fi alone, you can still use Wi-Fi if you wish, but when you consider the size of 4K movies, streaming over a Wi-Fi network may cause interruptions, if your Wi-Fi is not up to the job. To deal with this Google has included an Ethernet port on the Chromecast Ultra, which means you can plug the Chromecast Ultra into your router using an Ethernet cable. We all love Wi-Fi because having cables trailing around the home can be unsightly. That being said, providing you setup your router close enough to your TV setup, I would strongly recommend taking advantage of using the Ethernet cable, as it will stop them annoying interruptions you can get with streaming, and streaming in 4K on a Wi-Fi network would most likely be too much for your Wi-Fi technology to cope with.
Another thing you need to consider if you’re interested in buying a Chromecast Ultra is the Chromecast can no longer be powered by plugging your Chromecast into a USB port. Instead you need to plug the Chromecast directly into a wall socket. As this option has always been available with the previous Chromecast devices, I cannot see a big issue with this, and it just shows the Chromecast Ultra needs some serious power to stream 4K at its best.
The Chromecast Ultra still operates like the Chromecast 2nd generation; it’s just much quicker, and now supports streaming in 4K. The apps that support Chromecast Ultra are expanding rapidly but the list is already impressive. In the UK you have apps such as Blinkbox, BT Sport, Now TV, BBC Sport and the much beloved BBC iPlayer. In the USA you get apps such as NFL, Spotify, Netflix and HBO Now.
The Chromecast Ultra streams standard HD at 1080p with total ease, which makes sense being it has been designed to stream 4K. This makes it great for anyone who has not yet bought a 4K TV, but are considering buying one in the future, as the Chromecast Ultra now streams 1080p flawlessly and any annoying interruptions that you associate with streaming is a thing of the past.
When it comes to streaming 4K content, as mentioned, it’s best to plug your Chromecast directly into your router using an Ethernet cable. This doesn’t mean the Chromecast Ultra cannot stream 4K over a Wi-Fi network, but you’ll definitely get a better experience when using it through Ethernet.
The Chromecast is a great way of streaming movies and music to your TV or amplifier receiver, and it does this with ease. The fact it’s compatible with Apple and Android devices, makes it a device that is friendly to Apple and Android fans alike. Using a Chromecast via an app is the best way to cast your media, as this provides the best quality. However, the extra functionality of being able to stream almost any website from your Chromecast to your TV, providing you install the Chrome browser, is an added benefit.
The Chromecast 2nd generation model is a good upgrade from the 1st generation, but the changes are not dramatic enough to do an upgrade to the 2nd generation, if you already own the 1st generation model.
The future of TV is 4K, so if you’re thinking of buying a 4K TV any time soon, or you already own a 4K TV, then the Chromecast Ultra is the ultimate upgrade. The 4K streaming quality the Chromecast Ultra is capable of is out of this world, and is easily the best 4K streaming device currently available anywhere in the world.
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