Google’s first foray into the world of streaming devices was a complete knockout when it debuted in 2013. Since then, Google has continued to update its streaming device for the future, including a faster new version of its original dongle and an audio-only version, as well as the Chromecast Ultra for 4K Ultra HD support, now available for purchase on the Google Store. Whichever version you use, the small device remains just as convenient as ever, providing you with a simple way to cast your favorite TV shows, music, and movies from a mobile device or computer to the big screen.
While the Chromecast’s popularity has spread far and wide already, those who have yet to be initiated into its world may still have a lot of questions about how Chromecast works and what Chromecast can do. We cover all of that below, so follow along to get your Chromecast on.
What is Chromecast and how does it work?
Chromecast devices run a simplified version of Google’s Chrome OS, and have limited memory and hardware specs. However, they don’t need to have a ton of power because they aren’t much more than glorified gateways to streaming content. To use a Chromecast, you simply plug it into your TV’s HDMI port and connect to your home’s internet network following the simple instructions provided. The device then acts as a portal for your favorite streaming apps on your mobile device to be “cast” onto your TV.
Here’s how casting works: Using apps on your mobile device or computer, you essentially hand off — or cast — content to the Chromecast by tapping the Chromecast symbol from within the app. Using the information it receives about what you want to watch, the Chromecast finds the TV show or movie on the web and streams it directly from the service. This way, your phone or tablet’s resources aren’t hogged up with streaming tasks, and battery life doesn’t take a huge hit. Think of your mobile device or computer as a remote control for the Chromecast. One exception to this rule is when the Chromecast mirrors your Chrome browser on your computer. In this case, the Chromecast is depending entirely on your computer as the source for what it displays. The other exception is an app called AllCast, which we dig into a little bit further along.
Introducing the Chromecast family
If you haven’t yet entered the world of 4K Ultra HD TVs, the $35 version of the Chromecast that was updated in 2015 (pictured above) is still your best bet. The updated specs include a puck-like redesign of the original dongle, with a circumference roughly the size of a can of soda. The devices comes in three distinct colors — dubbed black, coral, and lemonade — and feature three built-in antennas, a malleable HDMI cord, and support for 802.11ac and 5 GHz bands.
For those looking to step into the future of high-resolution content, the $69 Chromecast Ultra may be a better fit. Announced October 4 at a special event, Chromecast Ultra brings more than just a higher pixel count to your streaming toolkit. Along with 4K Ultra HD support, the device supports the two most popular versions of HDR (including HDR10 and Dolby Vision), to work with virtually any 4K HDR-ready TV. HDR content allows for deeper contrast, brighter highlights, and richer color. It is widely regarded as a key element to making 4K shows and movies look more realistic and engaging. The Chromecast Ultra also adds Ethernet support for a stronger, more stable connection. Google claims the device is “1.8” times faster than its streaming sibling. The company will be adding 4K Ultra HD movies to Google Play in November to coincide with its debut, a nice addition that will join Netflix as a top source supporting 4K Ultra HD resolution, though Netflix will charge you a bit more to get access to its 4K library.
Finally, Google’s Chromecast Audio offers a simple way to turn virtually any powered speaker into an audio streaming device. Similar to its video-streaming family members, the Chromecast Audio “casts” audio from streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and many others. However, instead of an HDMI connection, the Chromecast Audio connects via 3.5mm audio jack, or via a digital Optical input, though you’ll need an additional mini-Toslink adaptoer or cable to do so. For this guide, we’ll be talking about the video-ready Chromecast devices, but you can find out more about Chromecast Audio here.
What devices work with Chromecast?
Thanks to its “all devices” philosophy, Google’s Chromecast devices can run on Android tablets and smartphones, iPads and iPhones, and Chrome for Windows and Mac OS X. However, those with BlackBerry or Windows phones are out of luck … for the most part. An app called Tube Cast offers some limited YouTube functionality for Windows phones over Chromecast; but for now, it’s safe to say that functionality is extremely limited at best.
Google Chromecast is available at: