For such a simple device, Google’s Chromecast has created a surprisingly complex network of technology at my place.
Google says that Chromecast works roughly like this:
Actually it’s more complicated than that. My setup is about as simple as you can get (no NAS, no existing media servers, no Netflix or Hulu or Foxtel or anything), and it looks like this:
Chromecast in the real world. Not so simple, really.
Six casting workflows
That is, depending on what exactly I want to watch and how, I have to choose between 6 different workflows:
- YouTube? Just go to the YouTube website in Chrome, and click the Chromecast button in the video window. This works really well. Great for music playlists, too.
- iView or SBS? Go to the site, and use the Google Cast extension to “TabCast”. This works so-so. It’s great for randomly showing something funny you found on the web, though.
- Movies you’ve downloaded? Use the VideoStream Chrome app to load it directly off disk. This works perfectly.
- Movies in your Plex library? Use the Plex web interface. For some reason you have to go through http://plex.tv, and the whole experience is a bit complicated. There are some issues with transcoding that I don’t really understand.
- Vimeo? Plex to the rescue. Add Vimeo as a channel (a slightly complicated procedure to view your own uploads).
- Want to watch something without using your computer? There’s only a couple of “Google Cast ready Android apps” (YouTube is the only one that works well for me), or use BubbleUPnP to access your Plex library.
And I haven’t even mentioned a couple more complications:
My advice? Figure out the smallest number of workflows to do everything you want to do, and get rid of any extraneous apps, servers, websites etc.
Google’s world centres around casting stuff from your phone. If that was all you could do, the Chromecast would suck. There are few apps, a lot of them are very niche (eg, anime or baseball), junk (like this) or just don’t really work (like the Red Bull app, which drops out every few minutes).
Fortunately, third party tools like VideoStream and Plex fill in a lot of the gaps.
But does it work?
The end result is actually great. Compared to having to plug my laptop into the TV, these things are now easy and fun:
- Put on some background music: go to YouTube, Pandora or GrooveShark, and cast. No more hooking up audio cables.
- Show a silly video to my partner. Even from the other room. Stuff I previously wouldn’t have bothered with, but it’s so easy – the TV even turns on by itself.
- Keep watching a video while doing something else. Easy to leave my study, keep watching the same thing while making coffee or something.
- Show photos: Just go to Google Plus or Flickr, and cast.