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Sorry for the lack of posts the past few weeks. Will try and get back into the swing of things again as I have a pretty large backlog of posts. Amazon Fire TV is sure to be on many of your minds. However, this post is about a Google Chromecast.
What is it?
The Chromecast is different from most TV boxes. It's a small little HDMI dongle. You insert into your TV, you add power, and then you interact with certain apps on your phone or tablet and "cast" the show to your TV.
Think of this like an extension of your phone/tablet except you watch the TV on the TV. This is different than say Apple TV and AirPlay where the phone is literally transcoding / sending the entire TV stream to your TV (resulting in a drain on your phone's battery). In this case the Chromecast is receivling the video stream direct from the service (Netflix or HBO) and the phone/tablet is acting as a remote.
This is all possible by some incredible technology called DIscovery And Launch (DIAL).
Unfortunately for the Chromecast, the inventors of HDMI didn't think about powering a remote device like this (say like USB). So there is no affordance for the TV to provide power to the Chromecast. This requires that you plug in a Micro USB cable and provide power. For me, I actually can do this via my Samsung TV which has two USB ports, but they are only powered when the TV is on. So instead, I have my Amazon Fire TV powering my Chromecast (oh the irony) via the USB port that's always powered.
Why did you get it?
Really for a few reasons.
It's cheap. I mean $35 cheap. For this price I literally don't care if it sucks or not. I even got 20% off as Amazon Credit Card owners get 20% off electronics right now.
It enables some neat scenarios like casting HBO Go on my Bedroom TV which my Amazon Fire TV cannot do (and cannot do for 7-8 months) and my Roku cannot do because Comcast hates Roku for some reason and doesn't support HBO Go if you are using Comcast.
It's the future. I imagine a world where every TV and TV box supports DIAL and all capable apps can cast to them. It's already the case that YouTube and Netflix can "cast" to Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and in some cases even Xbox One.
How has it made your life better?
Right now for $35 I have an awesome Netflix and HBO solution in our bedroom without the hassle of dealing with another "ecosystem" of hardware and software. The only thing you need is an iPhone or Android device with apps like Netflix, Hulu and HBO and you can pretty much watch anything you want.
I expect over time many more apps and services will support DIAL and the devices/apps that enable support will provide really inexpensive ways to get this content on your TV.
Are you going to keep it?
Yes, until there is something better. I like the Amazon Fire TV, but it solves a different problem. Say my kids want to watch something, it's nice that I can drive the discovery / viewing of a show through a dedicated hardware solution / voice. However, Amazon has the same problem everyone else does which is Amazon does not have all the shows, the apps do, and when a company with an Ecosystem like Amazon provides hardware, you get funny things happening through competitors like Netflix, HBO, etc who have to decide how deep they want to integrate with the hardware.
Chromecast gets around this because you are always using the App/Service from the Vendor and the Chromecast device is just a dumb terminal that doesn't care about your service.
To put this another way, I did not have to sign into my Chomecast with a Google account.... and that's shocking.