Google’s Chromecast has almost reached its one year anniversary. The HDMI dongle serves as a bridge connecting Android and iOS compatible apps to your TV, with the ability to cast tabs from the Chrome browser.
If you’ve never used Chromecast before, the dongle itself doesn’t have any direct function other than to stream media. Even the Chromecast app for iOS and Android is only used to set up the device on a Wi-Fi network, as well as to control everything you see on screen.
Chromecast never positioned itself to replace set-top boxes or become the primary platform for streaming services, something that’s reflected in the small number of official apps on offer. Since Google opened the developer API, however, developers are able to code support for various apps. In reality, thought, Chromecast isn’t going to be a device you use all the time.
Still, the few official apps that are available prove useful for Chromecast. Below are the apps that cover the most common ways people use Chromecast (there are, of course, more apps, but some are from unknown developers and I’m hesitant to install them).
- Add Google Cast for Chrome
Best app for Chromecast: YouTube
YouTube is the reason I own a Chromecast. The fact is that there’s a ton of video content on YouTube, and a lot of video content producers release long-form videos with Let’s Play for games and video podcasts, which I watch often. I also discovered some TV networks who release full episodes of shows on YouTube, giving me the chance to catch up when I have time.
It’s more common for me to use YouTube and Chromecast rather than watching on a computer. YouTube on other platforms doesn’t work anywhere near as easy as it does through Chromecast, mainly because of the app. If you have subscriptions or use the Watch Later feature, it’s even easier to have a collection of videos to watch.
Paid streaming services: Netflix/Hulu Plus/HBO GO
You probably have a subscription to at least one of these paid services. The most logical is Netflix, but Hulu Plus and HBO GO have a lot of subscribers too. In fact, you may have subscriptions to all three. With these apps, you get access to the online libraries of streaming content, including TV shows, movies, documentaries, and original content.
There’s service-specific exclusive shows and movies, depending on which one you have. There is a noticeable difference in video playback, at least on Netflix. Streaming through the Chromecast, the high definition video is crisp, but it can’t display the 1080p Super HD that I see when streaming Netflix on the PlayStation 4. It’s not noticeable on newer videos, but older movies that are “HD” have some issues.
All of these services have options on other platforms, but they work well through Chromecast as long as your Wi-Fi network is stable.
- Download Netflix for Android | iOS
- Download Hulu Plus for Android| iOS
- Download HBO Go for Android | iOS
Music streaming: Google Play Music/Pandora/Rdio
An obvious exclusion is Spotify, which doesn’t have official support, but Spoticast is a good alternative. As for the official apps, Pandora is available, though I personally don’t find the service all that helpful. Rdio also has Chromecast support, but Google Play Music is my favorite because it lets me stream my music. Depending on how you have the Chromecast set up (directly into the TV or through a mixer), you’ll be able to stream music from your Google Play Music account.
Another nice thing about Chromecast is that multiple people can use it as long as they’re on the same wireless network. This could lead to arguments, but if your friend has a Rdio account, they can stream their music to the Chromecast, which is great for parties.
Music streaming doesn’t take advantage of the space offered by the TV though, and the apps all have sparse interfaces. It works when you need background music, but having the TV turned on to play music is a little bit annoying.
- Download Google Play Music for Android | iOS
- Download Pandora for Android | iOS
- Download Rdio for Android | iOS
Personal media streaming: AllCast/Plex
Plex and AllCast are built around the same idea – streaming personal media. Plex is an official app requiring a Plex Media Server to connect to your media, while AllCast is an app from ClockworkMod, a team that makes utility apps for the advanced Android user. AllCast is designed to be easier, and also supports multiple devices like Amazon Fire TV, Xbox 360, and some Smart TVs.
Plex is a more developed platform that allows you to stream media from a lot of sources like Google Drive or Dropbox. The basic premise is that Plex will access your Plex Media Server and load the content through the Chromecast for streaming. The important aspect of Plex is that it’s your music, movies, and photos.
Using these apps is the perfect option for people with a lot of personal videos that they can’t find anywhere else.
A growing ecosystem
If you’re unsure if you need a Chromecast, then you probably don’t. It can serve as an excellent quick option to play media, but the number of officially supported apps remains small.
Since I use Chromecast mainly for YouTube or Netflix, I get a lot of use out of it, but only for those two services. It’s good for Google Play Music when I need background music, but my computer serves the same function.
WIth Google I/O coming at the end of June and the expected announcement of Android TV, the Chromecast may lose its purpose with the arrival of a new device– unless Google has a way of implementing Android TV on the Chromecast with a firmware update.
Follow me on Twitter: @chrislikesrobot
Find out more about the excellent Google Play Music for iOS in this article: Google Play Music for iOS can replace the Music app