Amazon recently made headlines by refusing to stock Google’s Chromecast and Android TV devices, justifying its decision because they aren’t compatible with Amazon’s own Instant Video and Prime Video services. This was instantly controversial, not only because it limits availability of goods on Amazon’s retail site, but because the decision to support alternate streaming devices is entirely in the hands of Amazon itself.
But you don’t need to buy a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick to get Amazon Instant Video on your television. In fact, if you already have a Chromecast or an Android TV set-top box, you probably don’t need anything else at all. Here’s how to get Amazon’s video content onto your television without paying an extra cent.
What you’ll need
This guide assumes that you already use a Chromecast or Android TV device and have it connected to your television and local network. You’ll also need a computer connected to the same network. Windows or OS X is fine, but you’ll need to use Google’s Chrome browser. If you have a Chromebook or another device powered by ChromeOS, that’s fine too.
Set up the Chromecast extension
Turn on your computer and open Chrome. Go to this address and download the official Google Cast extension from the Chrome Web Store. Click the blue button marked “ADD TO CHROME,” then click “Add extension” in the pop-up window. After a few seconds a Chromecast icon will appear in upper right-hand corner of your browser window.
Click the new button, then select whether to automatically send Cast extension usage statistics to Google (checking or unchecking are both fine). Click “OK.” If your Chromecast or Android TV device is already set up, there are no extra steps to take — the extension will automatically detect any Cast-capable devices connected to your local network.
Now you’re ready to Cast. Navigate to Amazon Instant Video here and select a movie or television show in you library, or if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, pick a video that’s included in Prime. Make sure your television is on and your Chromecast or Android TV device is connected. Click the Cast icon in the corner of your browser, then click on a Chromecast or Android TV device. Your tab’s video and audio will appear on your television. Click Play and you can sit back and enjoy your video on the big screen.
The Cast button has a few options you might want to consider. As of fall 2015, it can Cast video in standard (480p), high (720p), or extreme quality (720p, but with a higher bitrate). Click the Cast icon, then the settings icon (the gear) to change your streaming quality. You can also mute or unmute the audio with the volume button, but there is no option to change the volume level — you’ll have to adjust it with your TV remote.
The Google Cast extension can cast any tab with any content, so almost any web video will work, not just the ones on Amazon. When you’re finished, simply close the tab or click the Cast icon and then “Stop casting” to end your session.
Disadvantages of browser casting
This solution will work to get Amazon Instant Video on your Chromecast or Android TV, but it’s less ideal than a dedicated app. For starters, the video quality tops out at 720p, which is unfortunate since most Amazon videos are available in 1080p if your Internet connection supports it. And even at the lower resolution, the bitrate is considerably lower than you might be used to, resulting in more video artifacts, extra pixelation, low-quality audio, and occasionally complete signal dropouts.
That’s not all. The Cast extension requires that your computer be on and connected during the entire video session — it’s literally streaming a copy of the screen and audio output across your local network. That can take a severe toll on a laptop battery, so you might want to keep your charging cable handy. (If you’re using a desktop this isn’t a problem, but it makes the video harder to control. You might consider using Chrome Remote Desktop from your phone or tablet as a sort of makeshift remote control.) Lastly, you can’t pause playback or seek a specific section of the video with your television remote – everything has to be done in Chrome itself.
Hopefully Amazon will add Casting capabilities to its Android Instant Video app, and provide a real solution to Android TV as well… but that doesn’t seem likely. In the meantime, without an Amazon-compatible device like the a Fire TV, Roku, TiVo, smart TV, Blu-Ray player, or game console, streaming tabs in Chrome is your best bet.