You read the post title and now you’ve sighed a huge, “again with the Chromecast.” Sure, I’m starting to sound like a gigantic Chromecast endorsement, but I really love the product. Also, I saw a recent Solosez listserv discussion, where one participant asked a question like this:
My family and I are looking at cutting our satellite TV. Has anyone on this list tried any of the internet based, streaming TV services out there? If so, what do you have, what are the pros and cons, what equipment is involved, and how much does it cost?
Just cut the cord
Our family ditched the satellite and cable television a long time ago; here’s where I talked about watching programs on my Android tablet. Generally, we don’t miss the cord, and Chromecast significantly changed how we watch television. I think we watch more television now because of the number of options available to stream media. The big problem is figuring out what’s necessary to make everything work.
Before diving too deeply, I suggest you take an opportunity to review of couple of posts, which will familiarize you with some of the basic principles. First, read and review my post on watching Flash videos on your tablet. Some sites still require Flash, so you’d better have the app to make the process work. Second, check out this post on connecting your tablet to your television. You’ll get an idea of the ports, plugs, and products you’re looking for during the process. This post won’t focus so much on those basic elements, except to provide a quick link, maybe.
Most new televisions are WiFi-enabled, meaning they’ll connect to your home or office internet and allow you to load programs like Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu. Some televisions, particularly those made by Samsung, will even connect with your Android tablet or smartphone, which allows you to share pictures, videos, and even presentations directly to the screen.
Of course, you’ll also want to be sure that your television has plenty of HDMI ports — the more the merrier.
Chromecast, Miracast, and an over-the-air antenna
WiFi capable televisions aren’t totally necessary though, because we have Chromecast and Miracast. These two devices help link your television to your WiFi network. Some readers will even remember the not-too-distant days of the enormous television antennas strapped onto the roof or side of the house. Well, with the digital television mandates and high-definition broadcasts, you can achieve great reception with an antenna the size of textbook. We purchased a RCA model, but there are literally dozens of different digital antennas.
Digital antennas plug into the coaxial connection on the back of your television. They’ll pick up the high definition signal from your local television stations. Note though, depending on your location (mountainous versus flat) you might need to experiment with your antenna — including maybe using an aerial — to get the best signal. Also remember, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS, among others, are all local channels available.
Of course, the antenna is only one portion of your television viewing arsenal, Chromecast boosts your viewing ability tremendously. Chromecast started rather disappointing, but with the release of the Chrome Cast SDK, we expect a lot of good things. There are several apps right now with casting capability.
Quite simply, Chromecast gives you the ability to to control your programming like a remote control. Simply click an app, click a television program or movie, and send the picture to your Chromecast. Chromecast will search the internet for the program and begin playing. You can purchase a Chromecast from Amazon, Best Buy, or Google Play for $35.
Similarly, a Miracast device — I talked about one here — gives you the ability to display your tablet or smartphone’s screen onto your television. Thus, you’ll see whatever is displayed on your Android device. Miracast devices usually cost more than a Chromecast dongle, and they’ll only work if your phone or tablet has Miracast capabilities.
Most Samsung phones and tablets, and most newer devices running Android 4.2+ can cast use Miracast. I say most, because even though my Nexus 7 (2012) tablet runs Android 4.4.2 and says Cast screen in the Display menu, it can’t. Fortunately, my Nexus 7 (2013) and my Nexus 5 each can. Sometimes finding out whether your device will work is just a matter of chance, but thoroughly research what’s available before purchasing a Miracast dongle — that means searching Google for the following keywords: Miracast and [your device name].
Apps and programs
Both services offer free programming (stuff that’s included with a subscription), while Amazon Prime also offers paid programs for purchase or rental. Netflix’s streaming-only package costs $7.99 per month, while Amazon Prime will set you back $80 per year. Unfortunately, only Netflix has an Android app (with Chromecast), so if you want to watch Amazon’s content you’ll need to connect your tablet (you can use a laptop connected via HDMI or VGA) and load the Amazon page in Dolphin browser or the default Android browser.
Since there’s no Amazon app, I find myself watching more movies from Google Play Movies.
Play Movies is one of the original Chromecast-enabled apps, and although the Play Movies store started with relatively minimal content, most of the paid programs you’ll find on Amazon are also available on Play Movies. The prices are usually about the same.
For folks who like watching their seasonal programming, you’ll also like the fact you can purchase “season passes” to view shows in almost real time — usually the next day after airing.
I used the season pass to view the final two seasons of Burn Notice, and seasons 3 and 4 of Covert Affairs. Sure, you’ll have to refrain from reading the spoilers, but I found I could hold off — especially with young kids — for a mere 12 hours. Plus, by the time you factor in monthly provider costs, I figured I saved about $300. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, you can watch Game of Thrones in full HD for $38.99 per season.
While you’re streaming, you should look at a $7.99 monthly investment in Hulu+ (there’s a free version but it’s not Chromecast compatible), which will allow you to replay shows from FOX, NBC, and ABC as though you’d recorded them. Sure, they’re not commercial free, but Hulu’s commercial beat annoying local car advertisements every day.
If you happen to love a program like Downton Abbey, which is only available via the PBS website, you can always hook your tablet to your television and stream the broadcast. Be aware, most “modern” websites (like the updated PBS site) will allow you to use Android’s Chrome browser to view the programming, though sometimes, you’ll need Flash. For other programming, such as watching the Olympics, you can connect your tablet to the television and stream through the app. This is how we watched Winter Olympic events, including NBC’s prime time broadcast, on Saturday and Sunday morning. Note, you’ll have to bribe a subscriber friend to loan you some information. Incidentally, you might be able to do the same thing with the WatchESPN app. I definitely don’t think your friend would mind a $25 “thank you” gift card. You know, for his/her long friendship.
Final thoughts, and stuff to add
Well, now that you’re all set to cut the cord, I have one parting piece of encouragement: you won’t miss cable (or satellite). Sure, you’ll miss the DVR, but you’ll love Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, which don’t require fast forwarding. If you’re really motivated to go all streaming, then you’ll want to check out Plex, which allows you to take your movie collection anywhere.
Finally, I should mention that you’ll want to considering increasing your broadband speed. You can easily test your current speed; anything below 3 Mbps is probably too slow for a good viewing experience. Also be aware that some internet providers “throttle down” connection speeds when they exceed a certain amount of data. The throttling could effect playback performance.