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 with a speedier, puck-shaped iteration of its original streaming stick and an audio-only version, as well as the Chromecast Ultra for 4K Ultra HD support. Whichever version you use,the Chromecast remains just as convenient as ever, providing youwith a simple way to cast yourfavorite TV shows, music, and moviesfrom a mobile device or computer to the big screen (or speaker) of your choice.
While Chromecast’s popularity has spread far and wide, those who have yet to be initiated into its world may still have a lot of questions about how Chromecast worksand what itcando. 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.
Chromecastdevices run a simplified version of Google’s Chrome OSand have limited memory and hardware specs.They don’t need to have a ton ofpower, though, because they aren’tmuch more than glorified gateways tostreaming content. To use a Chromecast, you simplyplug it into your TV’s HDMI port, plug it into a power source, and connect to your home’s internet network following the simple instructions provided in the Google Home app. The device thenacts as a portal for your favorite streaming apps onyour mobile device to be “cast” onto your TV.
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) within the app. Using the information it receives about what you want to watch, the Chromecast finds the TV show or movieon the weband streams it directly from the streaming service to the TV.
This way, your mobile device’s resources aren’t hogged up by streaming tasks, and battery life doesn’t take much of a hit. Think of your mobile device or computer as aremotecontrol 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.
If you haven’t yet entered the world of 4K Ultra HD TVs, You’ll be happy to know that the $35 version of the Chromecast is still your best bet. The device comes inthree distinct colors black, coral, and lemonade andfeatures three built-inantennas, a malleable HDMI cord, and support for 802.11ac and 5GHz bands.
For those looking to step into the future of high-resolution content, the $69 Chromecast Ultra may be abetter fit. The Chromecast Ultra brings more than just a higherpixel count to yourstreaming toolkit— along with 4K Ultra HD support, the device supports the two most popularversions of HDR (including HDR10 and Dolby Vision) to work well 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 we found to be the case when we reviewed it. The company offers plenty of 4K Ultra HD movies via Google Play, a nice addition that will join Netflix and YouTube as top sources supporting 4K Ultra HD resolution on the device.
And last, but not least (unless you’re talking price), 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 a 3.5mm audio jack or 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 in our full review.
Google’s Chromecast devices are supported by Android tablets and smartphones, iPads and iPhones, and the Chrome browser for Windowsand Mac OS X.
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To say that Google Chromecast has seen an explosion of apps since launch would be an understatement. Google’s trademark device now supports hundreds and hundreds of different apps, 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 willmake it to your TV with much frequency. Ever heard ofFM Nederland? Yeah, neither have we.
Below, we’ll take a closer look at some of the more notableappsthat have found their way to theChromecast, including HBO Now, WatchESPN, and others.
Google Homeis 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 makeit a one-stop shop for exploring what you can do with your new device. Theapp lets you browse trending content from your Cast-enabled apps, as well as search for specific movies and actors using your own voice. Youcan also use it tocustomize your TV with an array of gorgeous 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.
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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 zoneout on random memes from around theweb.
Google’s $40-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.
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No dedicatedstreaming devicewould be complete without the king of streaming. Another stalwart app that initially launched with the Chromecast, Netflix is part of the daily arsenalfor 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 isan essential service thanks to Netflix’s growing collection of 4K Ultra HD content, much of which also adds HDR.
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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.
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Streaming sites Vudu and Crackle have long been mainstays inthe 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 contentincluding original programming and rebroadcasts of older TV shows.
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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 and newer movies, and increasingly impressive original programming. The app was a major scorefor Chromecast in its early days, and despite lackluster appeal in the beginning, shows such asThe Handmaid’s TaleandThe Looming Tower have garnered the service critical acclaim.
Hulu has joined the growing collection of services offering live-streaming TV. For $40 per month, you can get Hulu, as well as Hulu with Live TV, whichstreams 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.
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Sure, Game of Thronesis alwaysbreaking piracy records, but HBOis still the best (legal) way to access the cable network’sunparalleled array of original programming. Thismakes both thesubscription-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 those who subscribe to HBO via cable or satellite.
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Showtime and Showtime Anytime operate akin to HBO Nowand HBOGo, respectively. All of the content found on the premium cable network is additionally available via thesubscription-based app, Showtime Anytime, or as part of the company’s stand-alone streaming service,Showtime ($11 per month). The network’s original programming may not be quite as in-demandas HBO’s, but shows likeHomeland, Billions,and the British-American dramaPenny Dreadfulgive Chromecast users plenty to binge.
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In a nutshell, WatchESPN exists to give users access to live coverage from theirfavorite ESPN networks. Thereare some caveats in that you need a paid cable or satellite subscription to accessESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, and the laundry list of networks that fall under the company’s umbrella. Still, if you have one,WatchESPNgives you a meansto view live events, 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 toFrozenfanatics than fans of King James.
In addition, ESPN+ (priced at $5 per month) offerssome of ESPN’s programming, including MLB, NHL, and MLS games, Top Rank Boxing, PGA Tour Golf, Grand Slam Tennis, and thousands of college sports events, all without a cable subscription. It’s actually not available as its own app, and instead accessed through ESPN’s regular app. ESPN+ is not a full-on substitute for the cable channel from which it stems, but could be worthwhile for sports fans who no longer subscribe to cable.
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Sling TV took the tech world by storm when it first launched in 2015, though it has since bifurcated into two services — Sling Orange and Sling Blue (each priced at $25 per month). Depending on which service you choose, you can access popular sports programming like ESPN or Fox Sports, big-time cable networks like CNN, and manyothers thatyou can tack on to your subscription for an additional fee. The official Sling TV app providesa convenient way to peruse saidcontent andstream live TV directly to your television.
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Once restricted to PlayStation devices, even Sony’s live TV streaming service has made its way to Chromecast. Like its rivals, the service offers a host of live cable and broadcast networks in a variety of packages, which start at $45 per month. 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, though its pricing has also increased in kind.
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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 than120 channels. The service offers the usual arrayof popular cable networks (Comedy Central, Spike, ESPN, etc.) online, as well as broadcast networks like ABC, Fox, and NBC.
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Despite Apple Music’s impressive progress(by the way, it does not offer Chromecast support), Spotify is synonymous with music streaming and a fantastic choice to pair with your Chromecast. The dedicated Spotify mobile app works withAndroid and iOS devices, meaning you can pull any of the millions of songs in Spotify’s catalog and play it through yourHDTV and/or accompanying home theatersystem via Chromecast. From there, you can followthe enlarged interface to play, skip, browse, and search as you would normally, as well astake calls without the music stopping.
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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.
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Sometimes you just want to watch a random video from your Chrome webbrowser. After all, it’s not like every video on the web is on YouTube. Luckily, 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, evenadult content right on your TV.
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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, voil, you can now access it using the Plex app for multipleplatforms, including Chromecast.
Pastupdates 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 theirwireless network.
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As noted at the top, the list above is only a fractionof available Chromecast-supported apps. With an easy-to-accesssoftware developer kit, 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.