The Chromecast is the company’s latest attempt to move into your living room, having tried and failed with expensive products such as the Google TV.
Chromecast is a small dongle that plugs into one of your TV’s HDMI inputs and has built-in Wi-Fi to connect to your wireless router. It comes with a power supply, as unlike USB, HDMI doesn’t provide power.
You can then stream video from supported services such as Netflix and YouTube – handy if your TV or set-top boxes don’t already offer these services.
Google Chromecast: no remote control
Instead of coming with a remote control, you use your own device. That could be an Android smartphone or tablet, but it also works with iPads, iPhones and laptops.
In many ways, Chromecast is a lot like the Apple TV. You can ‘cast’ a photo from your smartphone to your TV, show a video on the big screen or even display a website so people don’t have to crowd around a small phone or tablet screen.
The Apple TV lets you do the same, but as it uses AirPlay – Apple’s proprietary system which sends video and audio via Wi-Fi – it works only with the iPad and iPhone.
The Chromecast simply requires an app, which will hopefully be launched on other mobile platforms such as BlackBerry and Windows Phone. However, if you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, you can just install the Chrome web browser on your laptop and control your Chromecast using that.
Google Chromecast: no UK launch announced yet
Where Google TV was too expensive and too limited, the Chromecast will cost just $35. There’s no word yet on a UK launch, but replace the dollar sign with a pound sign and it’s still something of a bargain (the Apple TV costs £100).
Of course, Google needs to work with UK content providers if the Chromecast is to take off in any meaningful way. As a minimum, we’d expect BBC iPlayer and the other main catch-up TV services plus LoveFilm.
Don’t want to wait for Chromecast? Currently, a YouView box is one of the best ways to get catch-up TV on your TV. These can be free if you sign up for a broadband deal with BT or TalkTalk, but are expensive (circa £200) otherwise.
A very cheap way to replicate what the Chromecast can do is to connect your laptop to your TV with a simple HDMI cable. Some Android tablets (and phones) also have HDMI outputs, so if you can live with a wire, you can see on your TV anything you can do on those devices.
We’ll bring you a full review of Chromecast as soon as we can.