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Chromecast: What It Can and Cannot Do (Right Now)

My Chromecast dongle has sat faithfully plugged into my HDTV for the past week, and I’ve dutifully used it to what I believe is the maximum capacity for evaluation. I’m really excited about the possibilities for Chromecast, especially since it looks like a lot of developers are trying to maximize the device’s capacities. Chromecast, if done right, will be a serious Apple TV competitor.

But first, let me rehash a bit of what the Chromecast is. First, Chromecast is a dongle that plugs into an HDMI port on your television.

Chromecast

 

At $35, this is easy to mistake for an over-priced, helpless, USB storage drive. It’s not. At least not yet, and perhaps not ever.

Chromecast is specifically designed as a replacement for HDMI cables running from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. Chromecast is for media, but you can also broadcast information from your Chrome browser on your laptop or desktop.

Unlike Apple TV or the signal through an HDMI cable, Chromecast isn’t actually mirroring your desktop or workspace. Chromecast actually seeks the information from the internet and relays the signal to your television. 

You Can’t Mirror Your Desktop

Regardless of what device you’re using, you can’t mirror your desktop. This confuses and frustrates some people who really want the mirroring capabilities. In my opinion, this doesn’t kill the Chromecast, but for now, severely limits its usefulness in some areas.

For instance, I’d really like to be able to plug in my Chromecast and showcase my Android tablet’s screen, showing off apps, home screens, and other settings. This just isn’t possible. For now, the ability to broadcast to Chromecast needs to be built into the app, a feature which some apps will never receive. Right now, we’re limited to using YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play Movies. Not much of a selection for users who want “more.”

You Can Still Present

Koushik Dutta (famous for his work on the ClockworkMod rom) seems to be one of the top Chromecast developers actively working on showcasing the potential Chromecast capabilities. Koush posted this picture of his “MyCast” app that will allo you to use Chromecast with your gallery pictures, Dropbox, or Google Drive. Koush also posted this demonstration of the Dropbox share:

It’s not necessary to wait for Koush, or more specifically, Google, to release the app, since Chromecast is a great presentation tool right now.

First, and Chrome tab is “projectable”  via the free Google Chrome extension. Casting is simple:

Click the Google Cast extension link;

Choose the Chromecast to send to:

Google Chromecast Chrome ExtenisonAnd cast the tab:

Chromecast Tab Cast

The application is beta, so it may not work for some applications. I wasn’t able to find any though that didn’t work.

Since the Chromecast extension works from the Chrome browser, you’ll need a laptop or desktop to broadcast. Yes, that means no Chrome for Android. And yes, that sucks. I’m sure there’s not much time before Google introduces the ability in Chrome Beta or full.

For the time, I found the best use of the Chromecast tab cast is for presentations from mobile cloud sites, such as Drive or Dropbox, rather than watching movies or television on websites like Hulu.

I note that there is an option to “cast your entire screen” from Chrome. This is supposed to function more appropriately like a standard mirrored or cable connection. However, I found this way too buggy and “experimental” at best. I couldn’t ever get the function to work, which might be a combination of my internet speed and lack of patience. I’d certainly never use the feature for a presentation or other important event.

It’s The Lag, Stupid

You won’t see any lag when you’re using a mobile device; that only exists on the Chrome extension. Yes, lag sucks. No, it’s not a killer. But, the broadcast lag makes it nearly impossible to watch browser-based videos.

Unfortunately, because the Chromecast programming is actually beaming from the device through the internet (wireless router), to the Chromecast, out to the internet, the signal lags slightly. Okay, not really slightly, but a lot. Sometimes as much as 2 seconds (between browser and television) by my experience. Obviously, quality sucks at that point.

Hopefully, as Google develops the Chromecast product and developers have their way, we’ll see more non-cloud reliant programs arise.

You Can Still Play a Movie

Since most presentations aren’t necessarily video intensive, you probably won’t have to worry too much about the lag problems. In fact, you can still play movies, relatively well from directly from Chrome.

Download the video file you’d like to play to your laptop or desktop. Open a new tab in Chrome and follow the cast instructions above. Drag the video file from the saved folder to the new tab, and you’re casting. This trick works for every media file.

Also, since you’re only casting the one tab, you can still prepare or view content in other open Chrome browser tabs. Note: if you’re viewing in full screen, you’ll lose the full screen shot.

You’ll want to be aware of the bitrate though, since Chromecast is only available up to 720p. Any higher quality videos might lag on the linked connection.

You Can Tether

Perhaps the most useful feature of Chromecast is the fact that you can link it to any WiFi internet connection. Since setup is easy (basically a password and scan), you can be connected anywhere instantly.

For my purposes, this also meant testing whether I could connect Chromecast to my phone’s WiFi hotspot. And thankfully, Chromecast quickly connected to the hotspot. I was able to set my Chromecast up on my office, home and phone’s connections, thus giving Chromecast extreme portability.

You Can Conference

I give full credit to Ryan Price for this Chromecast hack:

Or this hack:

Video conferencing via Chromecast requires a fast internet connection. Unfortunately, my home connection at 3 Mbps didn’t really cut it.

This looks like a low-cost way to meet clients or co-counsel using a semi-secure conferencing method.

Chromecast is the Future

Overall, you should get your hands on a Chromecast. It’s a versatile piece of equipment that will quickly become littered with updates to improve the device.

I foresee a bright future for Chromecast, including improvements in streaming and app associations.

14 Responses to Chromecast: What It Can and Cannot Do (Right Now)

  1. monkey god says:

    The first thing I did when syncing to my chromecast was to find that “cast this tab…” button on my Chrome in android and was puzzled why I wasn’t able to locate it.

    To my dismay, this wasn’t supported and it was only after many reviews and articles that was I able to get confirmation that in fact this was not a supported feature in Android chrome. This is the only article i’ve seen that has plainly pointed this out. I wish Google was more clear on this feature.

    • Jeffrey Taylor says:

      Yes, unfortunately Chromecast is only available for desktop browsers. I’m hoping that a Chrome for Android update will bring Chromecast usability.

      • Larry says:

        Funny, as backwards and behind the times Windows on a tablet (and Windows RT) is, it can cast from the tablet… No desktop needed.

        • That’s what amazes me about the Windows tablets. Their problem is poor pricing and poor UI. Without those, I think the Windows tablets would perform better.

          Android tablets can “cast,” however with Chromecast the ways are limited.

  2. brian says:

    do i need a fast internet connection to cast from my chrome to the tv??? i have a 1 Mb connection

    • Jeffrey Taylor says:

      Your connection is important since the content comes from the internet. For instance, when you view YouTube or Netflix, you’re really just pulling the content from their sites. I suspect you’ll need 3 mbps connection.

  3. proto732 says:

    You might want to update your article, you can cast you entire desktop to your Chromecast.
    You select Cast Entire Screen (experimental) from the Cast extension. Works fine. Haven’t ever had a problem with it.

  4. Srini says:

    I think you can cast (mirror) your desktop also.
    Enter C: drive or D: drive in chrome browser and then cast the tab.. you can see all the folders and also play video files in TC from laptop hard disk

  5. Homer Gibbs says:

    Recently I was surprised to find that my android tablet wifi connected to the internet thru the Chromecast which was inserted in my TV. I could go to different web sites thru this connection. This TV connects thru DSL. Does this seem possible?

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