Updated on 2-20-15 by Rick Stella: Added tips on how to use Chromecast as an audio streaming device, how to use it as a 3D virtual reality experience, how to redeem special offers from Google, and how to use headphones with the device.
Chromecast has been around for nearly two years now, and the device has quickly become a staple in living rooms across the country, thanks in no small part to rapidly rowing app support. Capable of streaming Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, HBO GO, and a host of other video and audio content, the Chromecast is a worthwhile investment (just $35) for those looking to smarten up their TV on the cheap.
But aside from the staple video and music streaming, Google Chromecast offers a bevy of useful features which can easily go overlooked. From mirroring your full desktop on your television to turning on your TV with a smartphone — or even turning your TV into a lava lamp — there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to get a richer Chromecast experience. If you’ve just gotten your new device, or you’re looking to unearth more of its hidden secrets, you’ve come to the right place. To help you master your Chromecast, we’ve put together a breakdown of our favorite lesser-known features that allow you to get the most out of your Google Chromecast.
First things first: You’ll want to download the Google Cast extension for your Google Chrome Browser via the Chrome Web Store. This extension allows you to send content to your Chromecast from your browser, and it’s crucial when executing many of the tips and tricks listed below.
Setting up Chromecast
While not necessarily a tip or trick, we wanted to help you set up your Chromecast in case you’re new to the product and just pulling it out of the box. Here’s the essential equipment: a TV with an HDMI input, Wi-Fi accessibility, a USB port or free power outlet, and a computer, smart phone, or tablet with either Google’s Chrome browser or the Chromecast app installed. Simply plug the device in to your TV’s HDMI port, give it power, then visit the Chromecast setup page to download the necessary app, and the Chromecast will walk you through the rest.
Note: If after connecting your Chromecast to your Wi-Fi network, you still can’t “see” the Chromecast from your Chrome browser casting extension or compatible apps (such as Netflix), you may need to make some adjustments to your Wi-Fi router. Visit the aforementioned Chromecast page for troubleshooting help.
Use Chromecast as an audio streaming device
Ever wish you could pump your favorite tunes through the giant speaker system in your living room? You can, now that a slew of iOS and Android music apps — i.e. Pandora, Google Play Music, and Rdio — now support Chromecast. However, you’ll first need to purchase a standard HDMI to VGA adapter like Mnxo’s offering ($13). Also, make sure the adapter has an audio out port when purchasing, thus ensuring you’ll be able to utilize the Chromecast with your at-home speakers. Once obtained, just plug the Chromecast into the HDMI port of the adapter, plug the other end of the stick into your TV, and run an audio cable from the audio out port to a set of powered speakers or a stereo amplifier. Afterward, any music streamed via your Chromecast will play through your speakers.
Note: For those of you with A/V receivers, plug the Chromecast directly into any HDMI port on the receiver for even higher quality sound. You may also want to consider apologizing to your neighbors in advance.
Experience 3D virtual reality without the clunky headset
This tip is a bit more expensive than others on our list, considering you’ll need a 3D TV and Google’s freemium cardboard app to pull it off. Nonetheless, if you find yourself in this category, keep reading. To use the feature, you’ll first want to activate SBS mode on your 3D TV, typically via your television’s settings menu, and launch the cardboard app on your smartphone. Afterward, simply mirror the content of your smartphone to your television as you would normally before putting on the pair of the 3D glasses packaged with your TV. Doing so will allow you to enjoy a 3D, virtual reality experience from the comfort of your living room.
Score free offers from popular apps
As if owning a Chromecast wasn’t its own reward, Google often goes out of its way to thank its users with an abundance of monthly freebies. The tech giant offers deals for apps like Hulu, Epix, and Google Play among others, many of which include access to free movies, extended streaming trials, and months of unlimited music. At the time of this writing, Google offers a $6 Google Play credit good toward any movie when you purchase a Chromecast, as well as a free trial of Epix and 90 days of unlimited music streaming courtesy of Google Play. Simply visit Google’s Chromecast offer page to see a list of available offers, or if you prefer, access them through the options menu in iOS or Android.
Use headphones with your Chromecast
Never again will your roommate, significant other, or neighbor chastise you for watching your Chromecast at high volumes once you make use of this helpful feature. Chromecast doesn’t offer the option directly out of the box, though, so you’ll need to employ the help of the Android-only casting app, Localcast, to pull it off. The Localcast app — available via the Google Play Store — provides the option to route any audio from your television to a smartphone or tablet. After downloading, simply plug your favorite pair of headphones into your smartphone or tablet to enjoy all the audio from your favorite Chromecast apps without disturbing those around you. The audio and video feeds don’t automatically sync, so it does take some tinkering with both before everything works properly. Keep in mind the app also restricts users to routing audio from media saved in Google Drive or your smartphone, essentially rendering apps such as Netflix or Hulu useless with Localcast.
How to stream local videos
Although Chromecast doesn’t work like an Apple TV or Roku, you can nonetheless stream videos stored on your computer or network if Chrome supports the file type on your PC or Mac. With a Chrome browser open, hit CTRL+O for PC or Command+O for Mac and locate the video you wish to play. This gives you the option to choose local videos from an installed hard drive, an external hard drive plugged in to your computer, and some network locations.
Check out the natively supported file formats here or move onto our next tip for playing additional file types.