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Digital Trends’ Best Product of 2013: Google Chromecast

Despite some optimistic 2013 predictions falling flat on their faces, Digital Trends’ editors have delighted in any number of impressive gadgets this year, from the first glimmers of smartglasses to curved OLED TVs and an amazing full-frame camera that defies its size. But the best tech product of 2013 – the one brilliant invention we really think caused a tectonic shift in 2013 – isn’t nearly as glamorous as any of these. You might even mistake it for a petty thumb drive if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

We’re talking about Chromecast, Google’s tiny HDMI dongle that allows you to throw content from your laptop, tablet or phone straight to your TV – no cables, remotes or fussy voice control needed.

Let’s get this out of the way: As a technological feat, Chromecast isn’t much of one. Several wireless streaming schemes have achieved similar feats in the past – WiDi, AirPlay and Wireless HDMI to name a few. The thing is, Google made the Chromecast outperform all of them, and then slapped it with a ridiculous $35 price tag that makes sticking it to cable companies cheaper than a night out on the town.

Unlike WiDi, you don’t need a specific TV model to use Chromecast – any model with an HDMI port will do. Unlike Wireless HDMI, you can turn your device completely off after you start streaming something from the cloud – Chromecast takes over the decoding to save battery life. Unlike AirPlay, you don’t need to be submerged in the Apple ecosystem – you can stream from a Galaxy Tab just as easily as from an iPad. And none of these technologies offer a price of entry even close to $35.

Google’s Chromecast is nothing less than the AK-47 of the cord-cutting revolution.

In the months since its launch, Chromecast has only gotten better. The list of mobile apps it works with keeps getting longer, and tab mirroring allows you to pretty much play anything on a PC and Chromecast it to your TV.

This unprecedented mix of flexibility and low cost is fundamentally changing the way we watch TV by lowering the bar for ditching cable. Up until Chromecast, “cord cutting” always entailed expensive hardware like a home-theater PC, or dealing with the limitations and awkward interface of most set-top boxes. Now all it takes is a $35 piece of hardware you simply plug in, and using a familiar interface you already know on a tablet, smartphone or laptop that you already own.

When Google announced Chromecast in July, we knew it was something different. Working in tech news has made Digital Trends editors virtually immune to the hype of new devices, but in the hours after Google showed it off, our editors rushed online to order them like they were Beatles reunion tickets. Not surprisingly, the first batch of Chromecasts sold out in a hurry, and sales kept going. The little devices were one of Amazon’s top sellers this holiday season, even outselling the company’s own Kindle tablets.

Google’s Chromecast is nothing less than the AK-47 of the cord-cutting revolution. During the Cold War, the Soviets flooded impressionable countries around the globe with the venerable assault rifle in a subversive attempt to arm rebels there and steer them toward revolution. It’s an ugly analogy for Google, and we’re not ready to equate its motives with the Kremlin’s, but Chromecast serves the same role in the fight against the overlord that is Big Cable: It’s cheap, readily accessible, astonishingly capable, and ready to cause a revolution.

Lock ‘n load. And watch out, Time Warner.

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