Smart TV is a interesting area of tech at the moment. Clearly “something needs to be done” but no-one in the industry has quite nailed what that is yet. As a consumer this can be a little frustrating as one wishes companies could sort out what they are doing before one lays down a considerable amount of cash on a shiny glass screen. But as a tech journalist it’s exciting as companies are experimenting/throwing the proverbial against the wall. And it’s fun to see what sticks.
Speaking of sticks, Google Chromecast has just been released. The tiny dongle pops into an HDMI port and enables you to beam images, video and audio from your browser, smartphone or tablet to the big screen. It’s only £30 and is in retailers such as PC World and Currys so has a great chance of mass adoption.
I got my hands on one yesterday and it’s fairly painless to set up – although not quite as easy as I would like. The Chromecast is like a chunky USB key and pops in an HDMI port of a TV. Surprisingly it requires power but you can loop a cable around and feed off the USB port of your TV. It’s a minor niggle, adding to cable clutter but I get why it’s necessary. After that installation is a case of joining the Chromecast’s wifi network, running a few updates and installing apps on all the relevant platforms. Having to run multiple updates out of the box was a little disappointing – you want things like this to “just work” and waiting around 15 minutes before things were finally working felt a tad frustrating, although I am fully aware that this is a petty gripe for a device that magically beams content from one shiny screen to another. It also only uses 2.4 Ghz wifi and seems to tap out at 720p so if you’re into high quality content you may have to fork out a little more.
Actual use is fairly simply. I was watching an improv4humans YouTube video on my iPad, hit a button and it was there on my screen. That’s pretty neat … but in my case at least slightly redundant as there are already several ways of getting YouTube to my TV screen. Admittedly I have a fancy TV, but it’s also on my Playstation, BluRay player, built-in to my TV and on my Roku. iOS implementation is limited – rather than being able to share my screen system-wide, and maybe play a game or two, it seems like yet another way to get Netflix and iPlayer. However, when you move to a laptop it makes a bit more sense as you can beam any Chrome tab to the big screen. This means that any audio or video you have playing in a Chrome you can transfer, which is great if you’re streaming a Korean drama off a website or anything like that where there isn’t a traditional app infrastructure.
There were a few instances of lag and a noticeable but not off-putting downward shift in quality, but overall playback was decent for a £30 key. It was certainly nice to have – almost like a second screen for web video. But if you’ve bought a TV or piece of home cinema equipment in the last 3 years, there’s an element of “do I need this” to the Chromecast in its current form.
Out now from Currys.