Google Chromecast – Review

On November 22, 2013, in Automation, Google, Home Automation, Reviews, by LuCuS

Google ChromecastI’ve spent the last few days showing you how to do home automation using products such as X10 & Insteon. (See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Today, I want to introduce you to something a little different that you can add to your home automation system but probably haven’t ever thought of. It’s called the “Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player” which is available from Amazon for $35.00. Beofre I show you how you can use it with your home automation system, I want to first tell you what the Chromecast is. As I do, I’m sure you’ll already start thinking of reasons to add this to your home automation system. Even if you aren’t into home automation, the Google Chromecast is still something you will want to buy and here is why.

Introduction
The Google Chromecast is a small (less than 3 inches) dongle that plugs directly into the HDMI port of your TV. Once connected, it will allow you to stream almost anything from your computer, cellphone, or tablet to be displayed on your TV. The Chromecast currently supports Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Google Play Movies & Music mobile apps, and pretty much anything that can be displayed in your Chrome web browser. It works with Android, iOS, Chrome for Mac, and Chrome for Windows.

To give you an idea of what it can do, think about what it’s like to watch a movie on your cellphone. Then, imagine what it would be like to take that same video and play it on your TV without the need for any additional wiring. Instead, you can stream the video from your cellphone over your wireless network and play it back on any TV in your house that has the Google Chromecast installed. Not only does it stream the video, but it also streams the audio too. That way you don’t have to rely on the speakers in your cellphone but can use your home entertainment sound system instead.

The Google Chromecast is great for things like parties or other social events. Imagine being able to allow guests at your party to show their family photos & videos from their cellphone on your TV without any wiring or other contraptions. Or imagine allowing a parent to play back a recording of their children’s ball game earlier that day for everyone to watch without having to cram together around the cellphone. All they would need to do is connect their cellphone to your wireless network and voila! They can now stream whatever they want directly to your TV.

The Google Chromecast is also great for so much more. Although internet connected televisions are abundant these days, many people still have to watch their internet video from their computer. For example, in order for my parents to watch Netflix, they have to gather around a laptop which isn’t very big and doesn’t have very good audio. With the Google Chromecast, they can stream that same video from their laptop directly to their TV where they can watch it much larger and with better sound quality. Aside from streaming from your cellphone or tablet, you can also stream directly from your Chrome web browser too. For instance, as I’m writing this article, I have a YouTube video streaming directly to my TV in my office. Even though I have multiple monitors on my computer and have a decent sound card, it’s still nice to have my videos playing on my TV, leaving my multiple monitors for actual work. Plus, I’m doing this without connecting any wires from my computer to my TV.

Installation & Setup
As mentioned earlier, installing the Google Chromecast is extremely simple. All you have to do is plug it into an open HDMIGoogle Chromecast Installed port on your TV. Then, you’ll have to provide it power by either plugging it into a wall outlet using the provided power adapter or by connecting it to an open USB port on your TV if it has one. Since all of my TVs are fairly new, they have built-in USB ports which I opted to use for my setup. This prevents me from using up another power outlet on the wall and keeps everything discretely hidden behind my TVs where no one can see them.

Once you have the Google Chromecast connected to your TV, you will need to power on the TV and change its input to the HDMI input you plugged into. Give the device a few seconds to boot up. Once it has started, you should see a Google Chromecast window appear on your TV. If you see this window, you have a few different options for setting it up. First, you can download the Google Chromecast app for Android from the Google Play Store, for iOS from the Apple Store, or on your PC by opening a web browser and going to https://cast.google.com/chromecast/setup and clicking the blue “Download” button. After you have downloaded and installed the app, go ahead & launch it and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the setup process. The entire setup shouldn’t take you more than 3 or 4 minutes.

Usage
Once you have the Google Chromecast working and have the appropriate app installed on your device, you are ready to begin streaming from your mobile device or computer to your TV. To do that, you will need to launch one of the apps that supports casting to the Google Chromecast. As a quick test, launch the Chrome web browser and head over to YouTube. When you get there, click on any video you want. When the video begins to play, you should see an icon in the bottom-right corner that looks like this:

Google Chromecast YouTube Button

If you do not see that icon, make sure that your TV is turned on and that everything is connected and working properly. If you do see it, click on it and select the name of your Google Chromecast that you entered during the setup process. If everything worked correctly, you should now see your YouTube video playing on your TV. You can also test that everything is working correctly without using YouTube. If you are using the Chrome web browser, you can install the Google Cast Chrome extension by pointing your browser at https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-cast/boadgeojelhgndaghljhdicfkmllpafd?hl=en and clicking the “Install” button. After the extension has been installed, restart Chrome and look for the Google Cast button in the upper-right corner of the browser. If you see it there, you can click it which will allow you to display the current web page on your TV. As you visit other pages in your browser, you will see those pages change on your TV. This is great for doing presentations, playing browser based games, or for when you just want a bigger screen. Here is what the Google Cast button should look like in your browser:

Google Chromecast Chrome Cast Button

With the Google Chromecast app installed on your mobile device and your device connected to the same wireless network that your Google Chromecast is connected to, launch one of the apps supported by the Google Chromecast as mentioned at the beginning of this article such as the YouTube app. If you’re using the YouTube app, click on any video you want. When the page loads, you should see the same Cast button near the top of the video. If you do, click the button and select the name of the Google Chromecast device you want to cast to. If it worked correctly, you should now be watching the YouTube video on your TV.

Home Automation
As promised, I will now share some ideas with you for using your Google Chromecast with your home automation system. In a future post, I will share with you the details & code I am using in my home automation system. For now, I want to quickly mention some of the things I am using it for and will hopefully inspire you to come up with some new ideas. One of the things I am using the Google Chromecast for in my home automation system is when I pulled into my driveway, my house is alerted that I have arrived home which will open the garage door, turn on certain lights in my house, turn on my TV & surround sound system, connect to one of my favorite music streaming services, and will begin streaming that music to my TV & surround sound system.

On my home automation controllers, I have a button called “Netflix” which when pushed will control all of the lighting in my house to set the mood for watching a movie and will begin streaming whatever movie I select from Netflix to my TV. Since I have several TVs in my house, all equipped with the Google Chromecast, I even have the ability to walk from one room to another and my home automation will move whatever is being streamed to the TV in the last room to the TV in the new room I enter. It’s kinda creepy having your house follow you around and stream your TV shows to the TV in whatever room you are in. But, it’s also really cool and one of the reasons I started my home automation project.

Another thing I am doing with my home automation system and Google Chromecast is that whenever someone trips one of my motion sensors or is picked up by one of my security cameras, the video of them will automagically begin being streamed to the TV in whatever room I am in. Since the TVs are plugged into the X10 controlled wall outlets, the TV doesn’t even have to be turned on. As soon as the home automation controller detects a trespasser, it will send the “on” command to the X10 wall outlet for whatever room I am in which will turn on the TV in that room, will set the TV to the HDMI input that the Google Chromecast is plugged into, and will begin streaming the video feed to the TV. I can even have it flash the lights in the room using the installed X10 wall switch module as described here.

Conclusion
In case you haven’t picked up on it, I am a HUGE fan of the Google Chromecast. Aside from the cool things I’m using it for with my home automation system, this is a very cool product to own. At only $35.00, it’s very affordable and is a lot cheaper than most of the other streaming media players on the market today. It’s extremely simple to install & setup and works with every computer I own as well as every cellphone and tablet in my house. I can think of a million things I can use this for, but the simplest ideas are already worth the $35.00 (Amazon link). Despite some of the reviews you will find on the web about this device, take it from me. As an actual Google Chromecast owner & user, this is a great product. I have several installed in my house and have already started buying more which I’ll be giving to friends and family for Christmas. So, do yourself and favor and get one for yourself. You’ll be glad you did!

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