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The Chromecast can stream a variety of content.
The Chromecast can stream a variety of content.

In focus: Google Chromecast

How the Google Chromecast can become the centrepiece of your work and leisure needs

Despite all the spin-offs, there is only one original—the Google Chromecast. It is officially available in India now, which means it is easier to get content from laptops, phones and tablets and watch it on TV. The Chromecast can be used for a work presentation with colleagues, to work on the latest sales charts over endless cups of coffee, or to watch the latest Hollywood release, huddled in a blanket on a cold winter’s night.

For some reason, the Chromecast is perceived as an “oh, it streams YouTube to the TV" device. But it does much more. We tested the device, and illustrate some of the scenarios in which it can be useful—at home and at work.

What exactly is it?

This little dongle looks like a typical USB drive. It is essentially a bridge between your TV and the phone/tablet/PC. The Chromecast runs a tweaked version of the Chrome OS (seen on Chromebook laptops made by Samsung, HP, etc).

Setting it up

Plug in the Chromecast to the TV’s HDMI port and connect the accompanying USB cable to the TV’s USB port, to provide power. The Chromecast app (free for Android and iOS) or the dedicated website (www.google.com/chromecast/setup) run you through the short set-up process. For ease of use with certain apps later, connect it to the same network that the content source device (phone, tablet, laptop) is hooked to.

To stream apps and video chat services, we would recommend a broadband connection with at least 2 Mbps speed. The more the better, in fact.

Do your devices work with Chromecast?

Android phones and tablets (version 2.3 or newer) work seamlessly, and so do Apple’s iPhone and iPad (iOS 6 or newer). For Windows PCs and laptops, the minimum requirement is Windows 7, whereas the MacBook and iMac should be running Mac OS 10.7 (Lion) or a newer OS.

If you are using a smartphone that runs the Windows Phone OS, then the app support is limited. There is Tubecast (free on Windows Phone app store) that can stream YouTube videos from the phone to the Chromecast. For BlackBerry (BB) users, the scenario is bleaker, because there aren’t any apps that can make a BB phone play well with the dongle.

The 7 points of relevance

The Chromecast supports several productivity and entertainment usage scenarios in addition to YouTube streaming.

u Mirror the laptop’s screen

Useful for: home and office

The Google Cast extension (free download for Chrome, Windows and Mac OS X) is the critical piece of software needed to stream from the Chrome Web browser. Once you’ve installed it, you can basically mirror any Web browser tab, even your entire PC screen, on to the big-screen TV. If you happen to be watching a match on Starsports.com or working on a presentation, you aren’t restricted to the laptop screen.

u Mirror your phone’s screen

Useful for: home and office

The Chromecast app (free on Google Play Store) allows you to mirror everything on the Android phone’s own display on to the TV. This is very useful if you want to use an app or a game that doesn’t support Chromecast, for browsing through your phone’s photo gallery, or even looking at a document or presentation.

u Stream the media library to the TV

Useful for: home

In this age of digital downloads, chances are that most of your movie collection is sitting in your PC’s hard drive, or on external storage. Install the Plex Media Server (free for Windows and Mac OS X) on the PC, and point it to the folders that may be holding the movies, music or photos. Open the Chrome browser and point it to http://plex.tv/web/app. The Web browser version basically picks data from the installed software and makes it compatible with Chromecast.

We streamed standard definition (SD), 720p and 1,080p files during testing. SD and 720p files streamed smoothly over the home Wi-Fi network. Certain 1,080p files, on rare occasions, paused to buffer. The picture quality is distinctly, and surprisingly, better than some dedicated media players—the WD TV Live and the Boxee Box, for example.

The Allcast app for Android (free for basic version; 311.48 for premium, on Google Play Store) lets you share content from an Android phone or tablet—music, videos and photos. It can also pick files from your Dropbox or Google Drive storage. A version for the iPhone and iPad is in the works.

u Slide show and document presentations

Useful for: office

Carry the device to work and simply plug it into the conference room’s projector or TV’s HDMI port. If your documents and presentations are on Google Drive, open those in a tab in the Chrome Web browser and stream. The entire tab is now mirrored for everyone to see. For files saved on an Android tablet or smartphone, you can use Polaris Office (free on Google Play Store). This office suite lets users create, edit and view documents, presentations and spreadsheets.

u Access online services via apps

Useful for: home

Not everyone has a smart TV that can download and run apps. Content streaming services, such as Eros Now, Spuul, YuppTV and TuneIn Radio, can all be accessed from your PC’s Web browser or through apps on your phone or tablet. They are free to download, but may require a subscription.

u Videoconferencing

Useful for: office

Certain organizations use Google’s Hangouts for Business to communicate with teams in different locations. The videoconference tab in Chrome can be streamed, letting more people become part of the discussion. For home users, video chats with relatives abroad become a more engaging experience.

u The travel companion

Useful for: everywhere you go

Carry this dongle with you, hook it up to the hotel’s Wi-Fi, and you can stream movies from your phone or PC, work or chat with loved ones back home. Or, take this to your friend’s home and enjoy the movie you saved on the phone, on his TV.

Room for improvement

The Chromecast is a Google product, and it is understandable that the app ecosystem is stronger for their platforms and devices. Apple’s ecosystem is building up, but restrictions on iOS mean that the same apps on an iPhone or iPad aren’t as easy to use with Chromecast. Windows Phone smartphones and BlackBerry have pretty much got the cold shoulder.

At the end of the day, however, people care about usability. For example, at the time of writing this, Google’s own Cast extension was available only for the Chrome browser, and not for Firefox or Opera. Our experience on Android, Windows 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite suggests that the Chromecast has immense potential—but it needs better compatibility for that potential to be realized.

Chromecast is currently exclusively available on www.snapdeal.com, for 2,999.

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