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Google’s new Chromecast slings video from a computer or smartphone directly to your TV. It’s a tiny dongle that plugs into an HDMI port on your TV set, bringing Apple’s Airplay-like functionality to both Android and iOS mobile devices. But instead of charging $50 to $100 like the cheapest Roku model or Apple’s Apple TV, Chromecast is only $35.
Google is offering three free months of Netflix service for new and existing subscribers to anyone who buys a Chromecast, too, which is a $24 value, bringing the effective cost of the dongle down to just $11.
Chromecast should be available by Sunday, July 28 through a variety of online stores, including Amazon, Google Play, and others. We were able to place an order via Google Play today, where it says devices will start shipping on Aug. 7.
But you don’t have to wait that long to see how it will work. We got a unit to test at Google’s press event today. Here are our first impressions.
Chromecast is a cool, small, HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV. But it’s a little less elegant than you’d think. It needs USB power, which can come from the included power plug, or from a USB port on your TV.
Chromecast currently works with Android smartphones and with Mac or Windows laptops, or with the Chromebook Pixel. It’s not clear if it will work with other Chromebooks (we didn’t test this.) Google has said that an iOS app will be available soon, but it’s not available for download now. (Updated 7/25 with the Chromebook Pixel compatibility information.)
Once installed on your phone, it should work with any app that’s been made compatible with Chromecast. Right now, that includes only the Google Play, YouTube, and Netflix apps.
On your laptop, it will work to project an image of any browser tab in Chrome — but it works better (with higher-quality video) with the YouTube player, which has its own “cast” button and has clearly been optimized to work with Chromecast. Hulu, for instance, hasn’t been optimized, so you can play a Hulu movie in a Chrome tab, but the quality on your TV will be lower.
We considered the possibility of using Chromecast to send prank videos to a friend’s TV or to the conference room in our office. That’s not easy to do, partly because you have to smuggle a Chromecast onto an HDMI port and then switch the TV to the appropriate input. The phone or laptop you’re streaming video from also has to be on the same Wi-Fi network as the Chromecast device, and you have to pair the Chromecast with your device, a process that involves displaying a code on the TV screen. So: Prank possibilities are there, but it’s not as straightforward as we hoped (or feared).