Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Google Chromecast

by Bill Holmes

Monday 7/29 was my lucky day. Right after I installed the Android 4.3 OTA update on my Nexus 7 (2012) I went to the mailbox and found a Google Chromecast. Here's my first impression of the Chromecast.  

  • The install is a breeze. I used the Chromecast setup app on the N7. I checked the setup website on my PC but got a message that maybe it wouldn't work because my OS isn't fully supported (I run Linux Mint). The install and setup took less than 10 minutes including fat fingering my WiFi password the first try.
  • I didn't try Netflix yet, but YouTube and Google Play Music & Movies/TV work great on the N7. There is no way to cast from the Android Chrome browser yet.
  • The Google Cast extension for Chrome on the PC is pretty much unusable for video. The video barely moves, more like a slide show, and the CPU usage goes through the roof. Despite the bad video the audio plays normally. The high CPU usage was mostly due to Chrome GPU processes. WiFi network usage wasn't too bad but then again not much video was actually being transmitted to the TV.
  • When I chose full screen for the videos the TV screen would go black but the audio kept going. As soon as I exited full screen on the PC the picture reappeared. Don't know if this is a Chromecast or Linux problem. I tried several websites with video all with the same results.
  • The video on the PC screen was also moving very slowly. It didn't seem to matter what quality I set in the Cast extension. 720p high bit rate, 720p and 480p are the three options. 
  • Pandora and Google Play Music websites cast OK. The album cover graphics moved very slowly on Play Music when I expanded them to the large size. CPU usage is medium to low. I didn't try Play Movies/TV web sites.
  • I kept losing the connection between the PC and Chromecast when I tried to display pictures stored in the cloud. Both Google Drive and SkyDrive had problems. The rendering of the pictures on both the PC and TV was extremely slow.
  • The YouTube website has a Chromecast icon right under the video on the bar with all the other controls. This works great. It automatically goes to full screen on the TV. No delays and good quality video with insync audio. Since the streaming is handed off to between the cloud and the Chromecast dongle on the TV, there is no CPU usage problem on the PC.
This is only a first blush review but I think it's pretty clear that there is a huge difference between native support and just getting a Chrome browser tab cast to your TV. The Chrome browser Cast extension is a Beta release, so some problems are to be expected. I realize this is a bigger obstacle because the PC or mobile device, the TV and WiFi LAN are involved during the entire cast. There is work to be done. I'll be interested to see how other users do with different PC operating systems and WiFi networks. 

There will be other apps and websites that get native support. Pandora is already announced as coming soon. While Google Play Music & Movies/TV apps on Android have native support, the web sites don't yet have it. I'm hoping that the apparent popularity of the Chromecast will encourage many other app and website developers to add native support. I've already seen some articles that indicate this may already be happening.

Bottom line it was a worthwhile purchase. It's a bargain at $35 and I ordered mine while the three months free Netflix bonus was still in effect. That made the Chromecast price $11 plus tax and shipping. I bought it for YouTube access since that's one thing Roku doesn't stream. YouTube on the TV works great with the N7 and PC. I would have loved it if the casting from a Chrome browser tab worked but maybe some day. There are a lot of websites that have video I would like to watch on the big screen without using an HDMI cable between PC and TV. One small bonus was that the USB to Micro USB cable that came with the Chromecast is longer than the one that came with the Nexus 7. Since my TV has a USB outlet close to the HDMI connections I used the old N7 cable for that and now use the longer cable for charging the tablet. That gives me a little more slack for the times I need to charge and use at the same time. I also now have another AC to USB charging brick. Every little bit counts in the life of a geek.



  1. Using Linux, Youtube started behaving once I opted into the HTML5 trial

    Not as good an experience as I get with phone/tablet but it’s working (including the stupid “Content Owner Has Not Made This Video Available On Mobile” videos)

    I wonder if it’s a flash thing……

    1. I'm not having any problems casting YouTube content. I'll give HTML5 a try to see if it makes any difference. Thanks.

    2. With youtube I was just getting a black box and sometimes would get audio (usually not)

      Using Debian with latest unstable (tried stable and beta, as well) versions of chrome. Tried with included pepperflash plugin and with adobe's flash plugin - didn't get it to work until I went the html5 route :)

    3. I tried HTML5 & no change.

      I'm on Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon with Chrome stable version 28.0.1500.95 with the mint-flashplugin-11 which is actually Adobe

      YouTube works great with or without HTML5.