Everything you need to know about Google’s Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra

By Posted on June 2, 2017 5:00 pm

Update: Added new updates to the Google Home app, new available live TV streaming apps, and other timely information. 

Google's first foray into the world of streaming devices, the Chromecast, 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. 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 (or speaker) of your choice.

While 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 it can do. We cover all of that below, along with some very handy apps you'll want in your arsenal, 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.

Google Chromecast

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 (a square with wavy lines in the corner) 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 to the TV.

This way, your mobile device's resources aren’t hogged up by streaming tasks, and battery life doesn’t take a huge hit. Think of your mobile device 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 down.

Introducing the Chromecast family

If you haven't yet entered the world of 4K Ultra HD TVs, the $35 version of the Chromecast is still your best bet. The device comes in three distinct colors — black, coral, and lemonade — and features three built-in antennas, a malleable HDMI cord, and support for 802.11ac and 5 GHz bands.

Chromecast Ultra

For those looking to step into the future of high-resolution content, the $69 Chromecast Ultra may be a better fit. The 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 shading. 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, which checked out in our review. The company has begun adding 4K Ultra HD movies to Google Play, a nice addition that will join Netflix and YouTube as top sources supporting 4K Ultra HD resolution, though Netflix will charge you a bit more to get access to its 4K library.

Google Chromecast Audio

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 adapter 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.

Which devices work with Chromecast?

Google's Chromecast devices are supported by Android tablets and smartphones, iPads and iPhones, and Chrome for Windows and Mac OS X.


Google Chromecast is available at:

Best Buy B&H Walmart

Which apps work with Chromecast?

To say that Google Chromecast has seen an explosion of apps since launch would be an understatement. Google's trademark device now supports more than 300 different apps and counting, allowing users to stream movies, play games, and engage with a myriad of entertainment services that includes everything from HBO to chess. Developers continue to unleash more Chromecast-friendly apps with each passing week, though we doubt many of the off-brand apps will make it to your TV with much recurrence. Ever heard of FM Nederland? Yeah, neither have we.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the more notable apps that have found their way to the Chromecast, including HBO Now, WatchESPN, and others.

Google Home


Google Home is the official Chromecast app, and though it's essentially required to set up the device with your TV, it's also loaded with a wealth of convenient features that make it a one-stop shop for exploring what you can do with your new device. The app lets you browse trending content from your Cast-enabled apps, as well as search for specific movies and actors using your own voice. You can also use it to customize your TV with an array of handsome images, whether you're into sprawling vistas or aquatic life. Pacific cleaner shrimp, anyone? Finally, you can use the Home app to control Google smart home devices, as well as search YouTube, and even call up DVR recordings from Google's live TV streaming service, YouTube TV.

Download now for:

iOS Android

YouTube and YouTube TV

It should come as no surprise that Chromecast is quite proficient with the Google-owned video mecca. Directed by the YouTube app from your mobile device, Chromecast pulls the video from the cloud and plays it directly on your TV. You can search on your device without disrupting what’s happening on the TV. Users can build up a playlist of videos, hypothetically creating a video music box from YouTube music videos, or just zone out on random memes from around the web.

In addition, Google's $35-per-month live TV streaming service, YouTube TV, is also brilliantly integrated into the Chromecast app family. Those who get their live sports and network TV from the streaming service will find convenient Chromecast features, including the ability to conduct voice-chat searches for content on YouTube TV's cloud DVR, among other useful features.

Download Youtube now for:

iOS Android

Download Youtube TV now for:

iOS Android


No dedicated streaming device would be complete without the king of streaming. Another stalwart app that initially launched with the Chromecast, Netflix is part of the daily arsenal for so-called "cord-cutters." The app works extremely well across multiple devices, allowing you to save your place no matter what you’re using for casting. So, if you’re watching a movie with your spouse’s iPhone, and he or she has to leave to pick up the kids, opening the Netflix app on your own device allows you to instantly control the movie and continue watching. For those looking into the Chromecast Ultra, this is an essential service thanks to Netflix's growing collection of 4K Ultra HD content, much of which also adds HDR.

Download now for:

iOS Android


While Google now allows full mirroring of Android devices, AllCast is an app that was created shortly after the Chromecast was released to do the same for iOS devices (and Android devices before Google added native mirroring for them). While Google once decided to block the app in a very unGoogle-like show of exclusionary force, AllCast is back and ready to spread the love from your device to your favorite TV.

Download now for:


Vudu and Crackle

Streaming sites Vudu and Crackle have long been mainstays in the Chromecast family, with both bringing some excellent options to the table. Vudu allows users to access a plethora of newer on-demand movie titles and TV shows, most of which are new releases for purchase or rental. It can also provide access to your cloud-stored UltraViolet titles.

Crackle adds its own list of older movies, as well as some decent TV content including original programming and rebroadcasts of older TV shows.

Download Vudu now for:

iOS Android

Download Crackle now for:

iOS Android

Hulu and Hulu with Live TV

A service that is still very much on the rise, Hulu is the place to catch up on current episodes of all of the most popular network programs, old movies, and increasingly impressive original programming. The app was a major score for Chromecast in its early days, and despite is lackluster appeal in the beginning, shows such as The Handmaid's Tale have garnered it critical acclaim.

In addition, the service has recently joined the growing collection of services offering live-streaming TV. For $40 per month, you can get Hulu with Live TV, which streams popular channels live or (often) on-demand, including broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, as well as cable networks like CNN and A&E (among many others). There's also live sports from ESPN and Fox Sports 1, all delivered to your Chromecast device.

Download Hulu now for:

iOS Android

Download Hulu with Live TV now for:

iOS Android

HBO Now and HBO Go

Sure, Game of Thrones is always breaking piracy records, but HBO is still the best (legal) way to access the cable network's unparalleled array of original programming. This makes both the subscription-based app, HBO GO, and stand-alone streaming service, HBO Now, must-haves for any legit streaming device. Whereas HBO Now will run you $15 a month, HBO Go is available at no additional cost to HBO subscribers via cable or satellite.

Download HBO Now now for:

iOS Android

Download HBO GO now for:

iOS  Android

Showtime and Showtime Anytime

Showtime and Showtime Anytime operate akin to HBO Now and HBO Go. All of the content found on the premium cable network is additionally available via the subscription-based app, Showtime Anytime, and as part of the the company's stand-alone streaming service, Showtime ($11 per month). The network's original programming may not be quite as in-demand as HBO's, but shows like Homeland, Billions, and the British-American drama Penny Dreadful give Chromecast users plenty to binge.

Download  Showtime now for:

iOS Android

Download  Showtime Anytime now for:

iOS Android


In a nutshell, WatchESPN exists to give users access to live coverage from their favorite ESPN networks. There are some caveats, however, in that you need a paid cable or satellite subscription to access ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, and the laundry list of networks that fall under the company's umbrella. Still, if you have one, WatchESPN gives you a means to view live games, up-to-the-minute news, and highlights via your Chromecast. Disney also offers a similar service for those willing to shell out for a premium subscription, though it's more suited to Frozen fanatics than fans of King James.

Download now for:

iOS Android

Sling TV

Sling TV took the tech world by storm when it first launched in 2015, though that was only the beginning. The service now offers more channels than ever, and includes the likes of popular sports programming like ESPN, big-time cable networks like CNN,  and many others that you can tack on to your subscription for an additional fee. The official Sling TV app provides a convenient way to peruse said content and stream live TV directly to your television.

Download now for:

iOS Android

Playstation Vue


Once restricted to Playstation devices, even Sony's live TV streaming service has made its way to Chromecast devices. Like its rivals, the service offers a host of live cable and broadcast networks in a variety of packages, which start as low as $30 in some markets (depending on the availability of local channels). As the second major live TV streaming service to hit the web, Vue has grown with its rivals, offering features like a cloud DVR, the ability to pause and rewind certain channels, and much more, all from your Chromecast device.

Download now for:

iOS Android

DirectTV Now


Following the lead of rival satellite provider Dish Network, DirecTV's live TV streaming service DirecTV Now offers a host of ways to get your live TV fix via Chromecast. The service offers multiple packages, from its 60-plus-channel Live a Little package for $35, all the way to the $70-per-month Gotta Have It Plan, which boasts more than 120 channels. The service offers the usual array of popular cable networks (Comedy Central, Spike, ESPN, etc.) online, including broadcast networks like ABC, Fox, and NBC.

Download now for:

iOS Android


Despite Apple Music's progress, Spotify remains the undisputed champion of music streaming. The dedicated mobile app works with Android and iOS devices, meaning you can pull any of the millions of songs in Spotify's catalog and play it through your HDTV and/or accompanying home theater system. From there you can follow the enlarged interface to play, skip, browse, and search as you would normally, as well as take calls without the music stopping.

Download now for:

iOS Android


Most of us are familiar with Pandora, the app that plays the songs, albums, or artists that are like the songs, albums, or artists you want to hear. The service also dove into on-demand streaming in 2017, offering a Spotify-style tier for $10 per month. Casting Pandora to your TV from your devices is an extremely simple way to open up the service’s prescient musical algorithm on your home theater system. Add in a soundbar or other supplemental sound system, and your home theater quickly transforms into a powerful wireless jukebox.

Download now for:

iOS Android




Want to watch a video from your Chrome web browser? After all, it’s not like every video on the web is on YouTube. Chromecast will allow you to access content from the web from a Chrome tab projection. Simply open a tab in Chrome and click the Chromecast icon (a square with wavy lines in the left corner), and you can fling anything open in your tab to the TV. If you have 10 tabs open but just want to view content from one tab, everyone in the room won’t see all the other tabs you have open on your computer, nor will they see the URL. This works well for things like photo sharing, as well as casting virtually anything — yes, even adult content — right on your TV.

Download now for:


Plex Media Server

The Plex Media app allows you to leverage Chromecast as a bridge between your TV and Plex’s Media Server program running on any home computer. It allows you to watch any content or listen to any music stored on or connected to said computer through Plex’s organized interface. To use Plex, simply download the Plex Media Server application to the computer and point the program toward the folders where your media is stored. Plex will catalog all your movies, TV shows, and music and, voila, you can now access it using the Plex app for multiple platforms, including Chromecast.

Past updates also allow those who have signed up for the $5 per month Plex Pass to easily share any photos directly from their iPhone’s photo library, which will land in Plex’s photo library automatically from their wireless network.

Download now for:

iOS Android

The list above is only a fraction of available Chromecast-supported apps. With an easy-to-access software developer kit (SDK), brilliant apps designed to circumvent the status quo, and a mostly open-source attitude, Chromecast’s only real limitation is the imaginations of programmers. Sadly, Google does a terrible job of listing all of the options for third-party apps. Fortunately, there’s an app for that, too. Check out this link to find an Android app that curates Chromecast-compatible apps in a much richer, categorized list.

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