The Chromecast is a great bit of kit, and we’ve been using it to stream everything from Formula 1 to This American Life to our TV since I picked one up a few weeks ago.
Chromecasting is already supported by all media-centric Google services (YouTube, Play Music etc.), and more apps are building in support on a weekly basis. Pocketcasts has become a firm favourite of ours, and we used a Photowall at our recent housewarming.
Google’s smart play here was creating a protocol and a cheap bit of hardware to receive it, rather than a whole streaming media system. It’s obvious from the current crop of set-top boxes that nobody has mastered making TVs “smart” yet, so flinging data to it from various devices quickly and easily is a good middle-ground, and also gives developers a lot more freedom to play around. This protocol-iness also means Chromecasts can be used for more than just streaming media.
So… what else can you do with this thing?
With the CR Cast Chrome browser extension you can turn your browser window into a Chromecast receiver (basically, your browser will appear to other devices as a TV with a Chromecast plugged in). Activate CR Cast on one Chrome instance and cast to it with the Google Cast extension – voilà, you’re screensharing.
Note, of course, you won’t be able to interact with the casted Chrome tab from the browser running CR Cast – but you’ll be able to see it in real-time.
Turn on your TV automatically
Most people don’t realise the Chromecast needs an external power source – it’s an HDMI dongle, not USB, and HDMI doesn’t carry power. The simplest (and tidiest) way to power the Chromecast is to loop the power cable back around and plug it into a spare USB port on your TV. This does mean, though, that your Chromecast will only get power when your TV is on.
Use a mains power cable for your Chromecast instead and it can idle on your wireless network and power on your TV as soon as you cast to it using a nifty system called HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronic Control). You may have to activate this on your TV, and all TV manufacturers give it different (but uniformly daft) names. See Google’s help here.
Stream local media, including cameras
When did streaming local and network media become passée? Google haven’t built this into their services, but luckily there’s another handy Chrome extension for shooting locally-stored media to your TV for playback (the new Game of Thrones, perhaps?). Videostream will sort you out, and even has its own Android remote app. For Android devices, AllCast is a good option.
If you like your video content live, Tinycam will stream any IP camera direct to your TV. Great for security cameras and baby monitors.
Cast to Android devices
Download an excellent little app called Cheapcasts and you can turn your Android device into a Chromecast receiver – much like the CR Cast browser extension above. When your device is active on a network as a Chromecast receiver you can push anything you like to it.
I use my Nexus 7 and dock with an audio-out into the back of our Crosley turntable. Music can be casted from anywhere in the flat to the Nexus 7, and played through the turntable speakers.
As an open platform and with Google’s army of developers behind it Chromecast (both the physical device and the protocol) have the potential to be huge. The Chromecast is off to a good start too – Currys sold one every 4.5 seconds on launch day. Here’s what I’d like to see next.
Google Drive support
I’m thinking specifically Presentations here. We’re thinking about putting Chromecasts in all the TVs in the office, and being able to share documents on big screens through Drive would be amazing. Spreadsheets, documents and presentations being flung to TVs willy-nilly would not only be something of a nerdy dream, but would also remove the need for fiddling with cables, projectors and second screens.
Casting directly from the Google Drive mobile app would also be hugely useful for on-the-go presentations – just take your Chromecast and your phone!
Photos, videos and music are all excellent cast-fodder, but there’s absolutely no reason a “cast mode” couldn’t be built into popular apps. A Twitter wall could be casted from the Twitter app, or a “Who’s here” wall from the Eventbrite checkin app.
A fuzzy version of this can be done with various services and a desktop Chrome tab for now. For example, a few well-set-up Tweetdeck columns can make a great Twitter wall.
Currently any device on a network can take over any Chromecast at any time. This leads to what has become known as Chromejacking (in our house, at least) – stealing someone else’s screen to play whatever you want.
Linking individual Chromecasts to individual devices (via a Google account would seem logical – the same way Android devices are linked to Google accounts) would not only stop this nefarious pastime, but would mean – connection speed allowing – Chromecasting could be done outside individual wireless networks and take place over the wider Internet.
More useful idle state
At the moment the Chromecast has a selection of perfectly lovely – but totally useless – wallpapers that rotate when it’s not in use. Why not pull in your Google Now cards? Why not stream some Google+ posts or photos? Open up the homescreen to developers (just like in Android) and see what they can come up with!
Thankfully it looks like Google already has plans here, and things like Immersive Weather will get you most of the way there.