Google’s Chromecast is a slick way to wirelessly beam media from your favorite apps and services to that gorgeous flat screen on the wall. However, unlike other streaming devices like Roku, Blu-ray players, or Smart TVs, Chromecast-friendly apps can be a little more difficult to find. There’s no cross-platform universal search, no carousel of apps to spin through, and no standard user interface. That means getting the most from the little dongle can take some extra legwork.
Since Google opened Chromecast’s development kit to the world, the dam has burst, resulting in a veritable funhouse of ways to play. Still, while the device’s build-your-own-adventure design may be preferable to the tech savvy among us, for casual users, it can be a bit daunting. As such, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite supported apps that take the Chromecast from mediocre to awesome. If you have the nagging suspicion you’re not taking advantage of your Chromecast, you’re probably right. Check out our list below, and learn how to ‘cast’ like a boss.
The usual suspects
It’s a pretty safe bet that if you’re here, you’re already familiar with Netflix, the most ubiquitous streaming service in the land, and one of the first apps adapted for Chromecast. Other stalwarts for the dongle that are nearly as famous include Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant (Chrome browser extension only), Youtube and HBO GO.
All of these services are streaming allstars, providing a convenient way to call up oodles of videos, TV shows, and movies on your device, and cast them to the big screen. Each service has its pros and cons, and you can even find a shootout of the first three here. Though Amazon Instant isn’t yet a natively supported app, we added it as a favorite through the Chrome browser extension thanks to its massive content arsenal. With the exception of YouTube, each service requires a subscription, and HBO GO requires you have cable or satellite service with HBO – or really good friends.
When it comes to buying/renting new and classic movie titles, it’s hard to beat Vudu. Apart from that, the service’s talents include the ability to access your stockpile of UltraViolet movies, and even share the collection with up to five friends. If you don’t yet have Vudu for your Chromecast, it’s time to get onboard.
Google Play Video
Another great way to buy video and play it on the tube, Google Play Video has a ton of options, and deals for movies, like Inception for $3. Things can get pricey quickly using the service, which is why we prefer subscription packages, but if you need to find a movie or show to play on your TV right now, this is a great way to do it.
Slightly lesser known, but picking up steam, Crackle has a nice selection of older movie and TV content, including some stuff that’s hard to find elsewhere, like featured Seinfeld episodes. Speaking of Seinfeld, the superstar’s new show, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, is part of Crackle’s growing lineup of original content, along with Chosen, Tight Rope, and Sports Jeopardy.
If you’re a huge baseball fan, MLB.TV is your best friend on the Chromecast. At $130 per year, the premium plan is a pretty pricey affair, but that buys you front row tickets to every out-of-market regular season game on your TV or device, all season long.
An app of unfathomable worth to sports fans, WatchESPN is the real deal, offering a full stream of the go-to network for all things sports. Users will need a subscription, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be shackled to the full weight of a cable or satellite ball and chain. Depending upon your Internet provider, you may be able to add a bare-bones basic cable subscription to your Internet service for a minimal fee. In many Comcast markets, the option is a $10/month proposition. With that in place, the Chromecast will be able to stream ESPN on your television directly from the network’s video servers – no cable or satellite box necessary. If you love SportsCenter like we do, that could be worth the dough right there.
Accessing files from your PC and the cloud
Got a ton of files stored on a computer or hard drive, but tired of plugging in your laptop to the TV like a caveman? Then Plex is your badass solution. The app/server is an excellent way to organize all of your stored video and music files for easy access on Chromecast, as well as other devices that use DLNA like Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, and more. To use the service, just download the app from the Plex site, and then start building your library. You can also find out more about Plex here.
Available on: Android
If all that organization, building, and categorizing sounds like more than you want to sign up for, or if you just have a few random video files that you don’t really want to add to a library, Videostream is your super simple solution. Simply download the app from Google Play, and launch it on your PC’s Chrome browser or your Android device. The app will ask what you want to play, and all you need to do is locate the file, choose your Chromecast, and: voila, it’s up on the tube.
If you’d rather task someone else with storing your video files, RealPlayer Cloud offers cloud storage, as well as auto-conversion of multiple file formats, including FLV, WMV, MKV, DIVX, XVID, MOV, AVI, and MP4. Its diverse skillset for a myriad of file formats allows you to share just about any video in your collection across platforms, and send it all to the Chromecast. The service currently offers 2 GB of storage free, or you can sign up for 25 GB for $5/month or $50/year.
Available on: Android
When it comes to sending your videos, photos, and music to the TV from your Android device, Allcast is king. The app debuted with Chromecast before being subsequently shut down by Google. Now it’s back in all its glory, turning your flat screen into a gallery for all media on your device. The free app puts a 5 minute time limit on pictures and videos, but you’ll have to download it before upgrading to the $5 premium version. If you have an Android device, this is a must have.
Chrome Beta/Google Drive presentations
And of course, the other standby way to mirror content is to simply call up any website on Chrome, and cast it using the forever-beta-casting icon in the corner. This is a workable solution to get content on from your PC to your TV, but it’s still choppy and not ideal if you can find the content elsewhere.
If you’re doing a slideshow or presentation to showcase before a large group, Google Drive makes an enticing plea to use its services as your building blocks, allowing you to cast the media you create to any screen with excellent results. The feature was quietly released by Google recently, but it works extremely well if you’re down with Drive’s presentation parameters.
Available on: Android
If you’re simply looking for a quick and easy way to show off your photos from your Android device, Dayframe is a great option. Not only is it reasonably reliable and easy to use, it has a glut of customization features to allow you to take your photos to the next level. There is a similar app created by Google for iOS users called Photowall. It’s designed to allow multiple parties to share photos in conjunction with Google +, but it can be pretty sluggish to load multiple pictures, and its user interface is less appealing.
Available on: iOS
A simple app for a simple device, Photo Cast is the easiest way to show off photos from your iPhone or iPad. There aren’t a whole lot of bells and whistles here, but that’s why it works so well, and we had better luck with this app than others for iOS gear, including Google’s own Photowall.
The Super Friends
If you have a nice home theater system, you may want to share your favorite online radio app through Chromecast, allowing you to create a wireless jukebox controlled from your device. You likely have a go-to favorite, but in case you’re unaware, major supported apps include Pandora, Rdio, Songza, Napster, Rhapsody, and, of course, Google Play Music. Spotify is still starkly absent from the list. However the app outlined below can help remedy that dilemma.
Available on: iOS
We have a love hate relationship with this app. We love it because it can access your Spotify playlists, and then pull available videos from the cloud based on the list. It even gets creative at times, such as when it pulled a video of an extremely raw Ray LaMontagne’s early career that looked like he was playing a student open mic. The hate part comes from Projectify’s user interface, which is a little hard to navigate, and a can be buggy. Still, if you can deal with that, you’ll easily get $5 of enjoyment from this app, which has multiple applications for music fans.
That’s our list of the best Chromecast has to offer so far. There’s a good chance we’ve left out one or two of your favorites, so don’t be shy about letting us know in the comments which apps we missed. We’ll be updating our list as time goes on, and making some more specialized guides in the future as the arsenal expands, so stay tuned.