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Technology Untangled: Google Chromecast designed for entertainment, not business

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technology-bourI am always on the lookout for tools to help me present content from handheld devices onto larger screens, since so much of what we do these days is accessed through our smartphones and tablets. Sharing that content, especially video, is difficult when you have colleagues hunched over the tiny display of a handheld. Today we will look at an inexpensive device from Google designed to help with this. Chromecast is a small dongle-type device that plugs into your HDTV and facilitates video streaming.

I did not do much research into the Chromecast device when it first came out last year. I thought it was simply another video streaming box like a Roku that could add Smart TV capabilities to an HDTV. While it does do that, it also offers more. The small Chromecast package at the electronics store caught my eye when I noticed it had a picture of someone holding a phone in front of a large TV, and both were displaying the same video stream. The text said, “Send video or anything on the Web to your TV from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.” The price really got my attention, only $29 on sale. What could this thing possibly do for a price this low? I bought one to find out.

I was hoping to find an easy method to play back videos and photos that were stored on my smartphone out to a big screen. I did eventually discover one not-so-easy method to do that, and in the process learned more about other strengths and weaknesses of the Chromecast.

Here is what is involved with the setup and operation. The Chromecast dongle looks like a slightly oversized USB thumb drive, only it doesn’t plug into a USB port but rather an open HDMI port on the back of your HDTV. Strangely, it does not get power from that port, but has a separate micro-USB power cord and charger similar to the type used for your phone. The unit communicates with your WiFi router and acts as an Internet streaming device, but it doesn’t act alone. It needs to interact with your phone, tablet or computer in order to function. To complete the setup you must download the Chromecast app to a device that is on the same WiFi network and follow through with some simple pairing instructions.

Even though this is a Google product, it works well with both Android and iOS phones and tablets. Once the Chromecast app is launched, some of your favorite Web streaming services, Netflix and YouTube for example, will include a new icon in the corner of the screen. You tap that icon to facilitate playback of videos on your TV instead of your tablet. The term Google coined for this transference is “casting” your video. You then can use the tablet (or phone) as a simple remote to rewind, fast-forward, pause and adjust volume of the video stream. This data stream of video is not actually being beamed from the tablet to the Chromecast, but is instead being fed directly from the WiFi router to the Chromecast dongle. Unlike the picture on the package implied, you cannot simultaneously view the video on both your TV and smartphone.

There are a number of other entertainment apps that now include this Chromecast functionality, such as Hulu, Crackle, Pandora and HBO GO. Google continues to add more apps. Based on the offerings, this device is clearly designed for entertainment and not for business. I do not see a great advantage in using the Chromecast as an entertainment mainstay as opposed to a Roku or a Smart TV. In fact, it is less useful because you must employ a phone or tablet in conjunction with it to get it to work at all, and it has no remote of its own. This partially explains why the price is so low.

There is still one other casting function that might prove useful for business purposes. It works in conjunction with your laptop and allows you to project any Web page from the computer to the big screen. Google calls this “tab casting.” One catch: It will only work from within the Google Chrome Web browser. Setup is similar to the smartphone. Once the computer and the Chromecast are linked, you can display any Web page and any Web content simultaneously on the laptop and the HDTV. Resolution, however, was not as clear, and video playback was glitchy. That is because simultaneous casting uses a lot of computer resources and a big slice of your WiFi router’s bandwidth. This brings me back to that not-so-easy solution for playback of videos from a smartphone. If you upload your videos and photos to a sharing/viewing site on the Web, you could play them back via tab casting through the laptop to the Chromecast device. There are definitely better ways. There are also better ways to stream Netflix and other entertainment to your TV. In spite of its price, the Chromecast is not really worth it.•

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Stephen Bour (bourtech@iquest.net) is an engineer and legal technology consultant in Indianapolis. His company, the Alliance for Litigation Support Inc., includes Bour Technical Services and Alliance Court Reporting. Areas of service include legal videography, tape analysis, document scanning to CD and courtroom presentation support. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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  1. First comment on this thread is a fitting final comment on this thread, as that the MCBA never answered Duncan's fine question, and now even Eric Holder agrees that the MCBA was in material error as to the facts: "I don't get it" from Duncan December 1, 2014 5:10 PM "The Grand Jury met for 25 days and heard 70 hours of testimony according to this article and they made a decision that no crime occurred. On what basis does the MCBA conclude that their decision was "unjust"? What special knowledge or evidence does the MCBA have that the Grand Jury hearing this matter was unaware of? The system that we as lawyers are sworn to uphold made a decision that there was insufficient proof that officer committed a crime. How can any of us say we know better what was right than the jury that actually heard all of the the evidence in this case."

  2. wow is this a bunch of bs! i know the facts!

  3. MCBA .... time for a new release about your entire membership (or is it just the alter ego) being "saddened and disappointed" in the failure to lynch a police officer protecting himself in the line of duty. But this time against Eric Holder and the Federal Bureau of Investigation: "WASHINGTON — Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday." http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/us/justice-department-ferguson-civil-rights-darren-wilson.html?ref=us&_r=0

  4. Dr wail asfour lives 3 hours from the hospital,where if he gets an emergency at least he needs three hours,while even if he is on call he should be in a location where it gives him max 10 minutes to be beside the patient,they get paid double on their on call days ,where look how they handle it,so if the death of the patient occurs on weekend and these doctors still repeat same pattern such issue should be raised,they should be closer to the patient.on other hand if all the death occured on the absence of the Dr and the nurses handle it,the nurses should get trained how to function appearntly they not that good,if the Dr lives 3 hours far from the hospital on his call days he should sleep in the hospital

  5. It's a capital offense...one for you Latin scholars..

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