10 interesting things about Google's new Chromecast media streamer

Google Chromecast Media Streamer

Today's Google event proved to be pretty darn interesting, with the expected news of a new Nexus 7 tablet and Android 4.3 release. Surprisingly, though, a little $35 device that had barely been mentioned before seems to have stolen the show.

The device is called Chromecast. It's a simple media streamer for your TV -- kind of like a simplified (and much cheaper) version of last year's scrapped Nexus Q.

The Chromecast is literally just a 2-in. stick that plugs into your TV's HDMI port and lets you stream Web-based content. You can use practically any smartphone, tablet, or computer to control it; Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac OS are all supported.

Sounds pretty intriguing, right? It's even more intriguing when you consider the product's $35 price tag, which -- as an added bonus -- includes three free months of Netflix service. The Netflix credit has a value of $24 in and of itself -- so in other words, if you intend to use Netflix, the Chromecast essentially costs 11 bucks.

For a simple little device, there's a lot to say about this new gadget. Here are 10 interesting things you might not yet know:

1. Chromecast has no real user interface.

Chromecast Netflix

One of the things that makes Chromecast most interesting is the fact that, unlike most media streaming devices, there really is no user interface; instead, it just works with apps already on your phone, tablet, or computer. Once it's set up, all you do is click an icon in an app's corner to cast its content to your TV. No clunky menus or arduous processes required; your device basically is the set-top box and UI.

2. Chromecast works with YouTube, Google Play, Netflix, and -- here's the kicker -- the Chrome browser.

Chromecast boasts direct in-app integration with YouTube, Google Play, and Netflix along with the promise of support for more apps -- including key players like Pandora -- in the future. But the wild card here is the fact that the device also allows you to play content directly from the Chrome browser.

That means anything you can play in Chrome can be cast wirelessly to your TV -- video from Hulu or HBO, photos from Facebook, or anything else. In some cases, you may need to use a laptop instead of a phone or tablet to accomplish this (hello, Hulu), but all signs suggest it can be done.

3. The Chromecast Netflix offer is valid for existing subscribers, too.

As someone who already subscribes to Netflix, one of my first questions was whether Chromecast's three-month free service offer would mean anything for me. Well, good news: It will.

Google has confirmed that the three free months of service that come with a Chromecast purchase can be applied to any new or existing Netflix account; you just have to get the device from Google Play, Best Buy or Amazon, watch for an email (or check your in-store receipt) to find a promo code, then go to netflix.com/chromecast to apply the credit wherever you want.

4. Chromecast is actually based on Chrome OS.

Google says the device technically runs a "simplified version" of the lightweight computing platform.

5. Even though you control it with your device, Chromecast plays content directly from the cloud.

Your phone, tablet, or computer serves as a remote control for Chromecast -- but the content comes straight from the cloud instead of being funneled through your device. Chromecast will automatically get the highest quality version available, up to 1080p with video.

(For anyone wondering, that does imply that Chromecast is designed exclusively for cloud-based content -- not locally stored content on your phone or tablet. So yeah -- time to start uploading stuff to Google Play Music if you want to use this thing.)

6. You can do other stuff with your device while it's controlling content on Chromecast.

Once you start content playback on Chromecast, you can use your phone, tablet, or computer to do whatever you want; you can open other apps, view Web pages, or do anything else your precious heart desires. That's presumably a direct result of the cloud-based playback (as opposed to device-based playback) we just discussed.

7. It doesn't take much to get a device connected as a Chromecast controller.

Once you set Chromecast up, all you've gotta do is sign a phone, tablet, or computer onto the same Wi-Fi network and it'll be able to control playback. Unlike the Nexus Q, no special apps have to be installed on the remote device in order for it to work.

8. Chromecast supports YouTube playlists.

You can set up a full playlist of clips for Chromecast to play using an option in YouTube called "Add to TV queue"; once you start the playlist, Chromecast will automatically keep moving onto the next video in the list each time a clip ends.

9. Chromecast can allow you to turn your TV on and off and switch inputs.

The stick has the capability to control basic TV functions, provided your TV supports the HDMI-CEC feature.

10. Chromecast does require external power.

Android Power Twitter

The Chromecast stick itself plugs into your TV's HDMI port -- but there is another step involved: You have to plug the gadget into a power source via USB. Not to worry, though: The product ships with both a USB adapter and power adapter. (It also includes an HDMI extender.)

I'll be spending some time getting to know the Chromecast up close and personal soon; stay tuned for some hands-on thoughts and impressions.


Google Chromecast review: Finally, Internet-to-TV streaming done right

Chromecast revisited: 1 month with Google's $35 streaming stick

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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