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Chromecast: The Cheap Smart TV Device I Only Bought for Netflix in 1080p

January 22nd, 2014

I already had 3 options in my living room for streaming media. I have an LG Smart TV with a ton of apps and DLNA. I have a Sony Blu-Ray player with a ton of apps and DLNA. I have a HTPC (home theater personal computer) running Windows 7 connected to my TV which I use to watch live TV and as a DVR. So why did I need to purchase a Chromecast? Isn’t it redundant? For the most part, yes the Chromecast is totally a redundant device for me, but it never occurred to me I wasn’t getting Netflix in 1080p. Yes, Netflix, the company that said 1080p streaming was available to all users, except when your device is not capable of 1080p. However, my Blu-Ray and HTPC both max out at 720p because of the age of their software. My TV is supposed to be capable of 1080p and even 3D streaming, but it does not seem to be getting enough bandwidth to stream in 1080p. Then Chromcast went on sale. At $26.48 after tax, it seemed like a good investment to try to get to 1080p.

Chromecast Unboxing Slideshow

Chromecast, created by Google, was their attempt to bring streaming media to the masses at a cheap cost. The small device gets plugged into an open HDMI port on your TV and it is powered either through a USB port on your TV or using an AC adapter. After plugging it in and setting it up, the Chromecast can then play video from Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO and Google Movies, audio from Google Play and Pandora, and saved videos and audio. None of this stuff is actually selected directly on the Chromecast like other Smart TV software. Instead, Chromecast receives a URL from any capable device with Chromecast app such as your smartphone or Windows PC and then streams the content.

Unboxing the device might have been the hardest part of setting it up. The box is very small so there is no unessential packaging. There is a little plastic sticker holding the box closed. I don’t usually like cutting those stickers. I try to peel them. I should have just cut it. Peeling this sticker probably took me several minutes. After peeling the sticker, then I had to slide the box out of the sleeve casing, which was a tight fit. Then the box lid opens easily and the device is right there. Under the device is the USB cable, the AC adapter and a HDMI extender cable.

Setting up the device was really quick from this point on. I plugged the Chromecast into one of my available HDMI ports and powered it using USB on my TV. My TV immediately recognized it and switched to the Chromecast setup screen, prompting me to go to a URL on my phone or PC to download the Chromecast app. The rest of the setup is done from the app. I downloaded it on my phone. The app walks through finding the Chromecast, renaming the Chromecast, setting up WiFi on the device and updating the firmware. This whole process took at most ten minutes. The next thing I did was begin testing out Netflix. The picture definitely looked clearer in comparison to my other devices. I started with a standard definition cartoons (Futurama) and a High Definition action movie (Marvel’s The Avengers). I also ran the Netflix Example Short to see the streaming quality statistics. I found Netflix maxed out at 4300 kbps and 1920×1080, which is good enough for 1080p, but not Super HD.

So far I have been pretty happy with Chromecast usage. I have watched two movies on Netflix using it. The quality is definitely better. I have noticed the picture does occasionally drop out of 1080p until the connection improves and the video buffers again. What I really like about the Chromecast, since it is so easy to set up and so portable, I can see bringing it to friend’s houses or while traveling to easily set up streaming media wherever.

The real downside to Chromecast is there are still a lot of apps not available to be used with it. I would like to see Spotify and Amazon Instant Video. Hopefully in time, more apps will be able to stream to Chromecast to make it a much more robust device. At about $30, I don’t see it as a waste of money and it is a good investment if you need to upgrade to 1080p streaming for cheap or don’t have a smart TV at all.

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