2014 seems to have been the year of cutting the cord: streaming has gone, well, mainstream. It’s not just edgy millennials giving up (or never getting) a cable subscription, now even their parents and – gasp – grandparents are saying bye-bye to ATT and Comcast and hello to Roku and Apple TV. I should know – I’m one of them.
Tired of high prices and even more tired of paying for 200 channels – of which I never watched 150 – we cut the cord and kissed our cable bill goodbye. In its place, we bought high-end antennas to get local broadcasts and a bunch of streaming devices. We have a Roku 2, a Roku Stick, and a pair of Chromecast sticks. Today’s subject? The Chromecast streaming device.
What is streaming?
It’s television served over broadband internet, on demand. Instead of following a set broadcast schedule, streamers pick and choose at their leisure. Most people use subscription services like Hulu Plus and Netflix or pay-per-view services like Vudu, all of which have huge libraries of television programs and movies from which to choose. There are also free services and even pirate services (don’t use those – they’re illegal).
A Chromecast stick allows you to connect the internet to your television so that you don’t have to watch content on five-, seven- or eleven-inch screens. The device is small, about the size of a grown man’s thumb, and plugs directly into the HDMI port of a television (if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI port, you’re out of luck. It requires a small amount of power, either from a wall plug or from a powered USB port on the set.
You watch by “casting” content – video or audio – from a mobile device or a tab on a chrome browser. The stick has no external controls, no remote, no on-off switch. It’s easy to set up and (fairly) easy to operate. Netflix and Hulu (among others) allow casting direct their apps on mobile devices or you can watch something in a tab and cast from there simply by clicking on the “cast” icon. This last allows you to cast from network sites such as CBS that don’t share their content with Hulu.
It’s a great device – but IMO it’s not as good as Roku’s Streaming Stick. For one thing, the lack of a remote makes Chromecast clumsy to pause, restart, rewind or fast-forward. That’s not really important – what is important is that the signal quality of a Chromecast seems to be poorer: it eats bandwidth, at least compared to standalone devices like a Roku or Apple TV box. We bumped our internet speed from 3 mbps to 8, and the Roku works just fine. Video on both Chromecasts is slightly jerky and audio drops at the same time. My guess is that the 8 mbps internet speed isn’t sufficient, even though it’s fine on the other devices. Perhaps it’s because the content is streaming both to the device and to the Chromecast stick, so the two are fighting for the wifi signal. Your mileage may vary, especially if you stream from a wireless device.
Setup is straightforward, and the quick-start walks you through it without problems. Support is mediocre to poor – google’s tech writers apparently speak a different version of English from me, and (like far too many companies these days) they’ve abdicated support to a “community” made up of people who like to talk about things they know nothing about.
Overall, the streaming thing works. For me it would work better if I paid an extra $20 a month to double my internet speed – ain’t gonna happen. Still, I like to keep it around for watching content that isn’t available on any of the services, and a Google Chromecast remains a pretty good solution to the cord-cutting problem – just not the best.