Are you looking for a cheap but effective method of streaming video content to your television? Well, even if you don’t have a spanking new smart TV, Google Chromecast, now into its third generation, is the obvious answer. Today, we’ll look at both the regular super-cheap model along with Chromecast Ultra, the slightly more expensive 4K-enabled version. Whichever you choose, you can uprate your home media experience at an almost throwaway price. We’ll also explore some surprising functionality you’ll get from what is superficially a cheap dongle so you can get the very most from Chromecast. First thing’s first, though, what exactly is this nifty little device?
What Is Google Chromecast?
Chromecast is a simple device you plug directly into the HDMI slot on your TV. It’s powered by USB with the cable included so you’ll be up and running in two minutes flat. You use your smartphone or computer as a remote and you can stream video content straight onto the big screen. You’ll also be able to mirror more or less anything on your Google browser to your TV, too. All you need is a simple extension. You can do the same from some Android phones. With 55 million sales since its release way back in 2013, this poky little portable device is still going from strength to strength. While that explains the essence of Chromecast, today we’re here to show you this dongle can do much, much more with the minimum of effort. Before we explore 20 ways to get the most from Chromecast, though, a little more background…
To use Chromecast, you’ll need the dongle itself and a TV with an HDMI port. A stable WiFi connection
is vital. If you’re suffering from dead zones and instability, you might want to check out our recent article on mesh WiFi networks since you don’t need to put up with a weak and unreliable signal, especially not if you plan to stream content from Chromecast. Power is by USB with the cable provided. You can plug this directly into a USB port in your TV or use the wall adapter thrown in. For control purposes, you can use either Android or iOS smartphones and tablets. You’ll also be able to use computers running Mac OS X or Windows so you’re spoiled for choice.
How Does Chromecast Work?
At core, Chromecast serves as a transmitter between your television and whatever streaming provider you have in place, whether a set-top box or an antenna. Content is broadcast to your dongle and then displayed on your TV. Running a stripped-down version of Chrome OS, Chromecast is limited in terms of hardware specs and memory. Since it’s nothing more than a portal, Chromecast doesn’t call for too much firepower. Also, your mobile device won’t become overburdened by streaming and battery life doesn’t take too bad a hit either. As you can see, the concept is super-simple and, fortunately, so is set-up…
Setting Up Google Chromecast
Chromecast embodies plug-and-play technology. You’ll be up and running straight out the box in a matter of minutes. Grab your mobile device or computer and plug Chromecast into the TV via HDMI then power it up with the USB cable. Download the Home app on either Google Play
or App Store
. Follow the simple instructions on screen and you’re ready to roll.
Google Chromecast: Meet The Family
You’ve got 2 choices with Chromecast along with a much less popular audio-only version we won’t be covering today: • Chromecast • Chromecast Ultra
The original Google Chromecast debuted in 2013 and featured an HDMI plug built into the body. In late 2015, the second generation launched with a length of HDMI cable instead. The newer iteration also included 3 antennas to improve connectivity with your router. This model also offered an optional Ethernet adapter to further bolster connectivity. Now into a third generation as of October 2018, Chromecast hasn’t changed much except for a matte finish and support for 1080p content.
Coming in at twice the price but still representing outstanding value, Chromecast Ultra can broadcast content at 4K resolution thanks to HDR color tech. There’s absolutely no difference between the two models in terms of functionality or channel selection. While Chromecast Ultra has an integrated Ethernet port, you’ll need an external power source rather than the USB connection on your TV. If you’ve got a range-topping 4K TV, Chromecast Ultra is the obvious choice but if not, the original version delivers in fine style for less than a round of drinks. OK… Many smart home products stand up to involved and detailed reviews but, due to its innate simplicity, Chromecast is not one of them. So, with that overview in place, we’ll give you what you came for: how to get the very most from Chromecast the easy way.
20 Ways To Get The Most From Google Chromecast
1) Bypass Weak WiFi With an Ethernet Adapter
Do you have patchy WiFi at home and a budget too tight to invest in a mesh WiFi network? If so, you can firm up connectivity to ensure seamless streaming with Chromecast. As we mentioned, Chromecast Ultra comes with Ethernet capability built in but if you have Chromecast, you can easily pick up a cheap Ethernet adapter and put a stop that tedious buffering that spoils a preview never mind a full movie. Just connect the Ethernet cable from your router into the adapter and hook it up to your Chromecast via USB.
2) Casting Virtual Reality
If you’ve wondered what someone else is seeing on their Google Daydream View VR Headset
, you don’t need to wonder if you’ve got Chromecast in the house. As long as your phone and VR set-up are on the same WiFi network and you’ve got Home app installed, just open the app then select Cast. Choose the Chromecast device you want to send virtual reality images to and put the phone into the headset. Bingo: everyone in the family cans see exactly what’s happening in the immersive world of VR without needing to wear the headset. Go on a journey with the whole family to round out the holiday season and make sure your friends know Chromecast is about far more than just streaming YouTube videos.
3) Supersize Your Social Media
If you’re in business groups on Facebook and deluged with valuable Facebook Live content but tired of watching it on your smart phone with its fairly small screen, bypass this by mirroring the content using Chromecast. As with all these tips, it’s assumed you’re using the same WiFi network so all you need to do is hit Cast and enjoy Facebook Live on the large wall-hanging TV not the cramped real estate of your cell phone.
4) Get Creative With Chromecast Background
If you’re anything like us, default backgrounds just don’t cut it. Ambient Mode on your Chromecast lets you switch things up a treat. Google serves up a healthy selection of landscapes, artwork and satellite photography to liven things up. You can also, of course, use your own photos. Open up Home app first. Pick Chromecast from after clicking through Account and Devices. Head to Menu then click More and you’ll see Ambient Settings pop up. This presents you with the multiple options outlined above along with the ability to add the time and weather to your Chromecast display. Right there, you’ve made things much more personal and any time you get bored, just change it up.
5) Cast Yourself a Photo Slideshow
If you’re a fan of Google Slides, you can mirror your presentations to your TV with consummate ease since Google Cast comes baked into Chrome itself. At the top-right, you’ll see Present then you’ll be able to Present on another screen so just select your Chromecast device, kick back and watch your slides larger than life. You can also Cast pictures from Google Photos, perfect if you don’t have a digital frame or a projector in your smart home. Google Photos comes with Chromecast support and all you need to do is click Cast (above the Google icon) then connect to see supersized slideshows without needing any extra equipment.
6) Lost in Music: Google Play
If you want more than the Chromecast Audio offers, don’t sweat it since you can also quite easily stream music with the regular Chromecast. One method is to bag yourself Google Play Music, available on both iOS and Android. Just open the app, hit Cast then select your Chromecast along with the music you want to play. If you want access to more than just your own music already in place, Google Play Music offers a paid subscription plan well worth investigating. How about Spotify? Well, if you’re a member of Spotify Premium, casting tunes is a cakewalk. You can also take full advantage of Pandora so you’ve got a broad spread of options when you want some music to fire you up for the day. And if you want Chromecast Audio, buy this device and hook it up to your speakers directly. You can then easily stream music from all nearby devices making it a great DJ tool for parties in your smart home.
7) It’s All About The Apps
Chromecast supports thousands of third-party apps. From music and movies to gaming and general entertainment, the scope of app support just keeps on growing. Here are some of the welter of options at your disposal: • YouTube and YouTube TV: Video is pulled from the cloud and played directly onto your TV thanks to Chromecast. A neat touch is the ability to search on your device without interrupting playback on your TV. You can build out playlists to streamline viewing further. YouTube TV is a paid service. At $40 a month, it’s not exactly cheap but if you’re a power user, it might be worth looking into. • Netflix: Netflix is a must on any streaming device. The app works nimbly across devices and comes fully into its own with Chromecast Ultra since Netflix has an impressive body of 4K Ultra HD material, much of which has HDR, too. • Vudu: If you’re looking for new and on-demand movies, Vudu will hit the spot. You can also access cloud-stored Ultraviolet content. • Hulu: Hulu is a star still on the ascendant and boasts a decent amount of original content along with movies old and new. Hulu also offers live-streaming TV with most of the major networks available live or on-demand. • HBO Go and HBO Now: The standalone service HBO Go is accompanied by the paid alternative HBO Now. If you get HBO on cable or satellite, you’ll get Go thrown in free while Now is a modest $15 a month This really is just scratching the surface but we just wanted to give you a brief teaser of the range of hard-hitting apps you can use with the mighty Chromecast.
8) Google Home
As well as using Home, the official Chromecast app, for set-up, you can also use this app for browsing and searching. Voice commands are a nice touch inkeeping with the essence of smart home technology. If you want to hunt down all recent Christian Bale movies or the most recent Scorsese film, for example, just say the word and Chromecast will help you hands-free. As an added kicker, you can also control compatible smart home devices using Google Home so play around, have some fun, and you might be surprised at just how much you can extract from Home and your Chromecast.
9) Bring Selfies to Life
Since you can mirror your Android device to your TV with Chromecast - as long as you’re running KitKat MR1 or above – you can beam those grinning across with ease. This is just one example of what you can do since you’ll be able to Cast anything you see on your device to your television meaning imagination is your only limitation. Chromecast does all the hard work for you.
10) Get Plex-ible
Chromecast does not offer local media support which is a grind, particularly if you have a bunch of cloud-stored content you’d prefer to watch on the big screen. Plex, a robust media management app, allows you to sidestep this and stream music, movies and photos from your collection and you can Cast it to your TV fuss-free. Just sign up to Plex
, snare the app and then wing over content from your devices to your television all day long.
11) Put Those Old DVDs To Work
Do you have piles of old DVDs and no DVD player in the house? If so, the Vudu app we name-checked above helps you convert old media into streamable form with relative ease. Once you’ve set up your account, just select Disc to Digital then scan the code from your DVD. Choose from a standard $2 copy or pay $5 to watch your DVD in high def on screen thanks to the magic of Vudu and Chromecast.
12) Playlists For Seamless Media
If you spend the whole day with your cell phone seemingly glued to your hand and you want a break from it when you’re relaxing with the TV on, you can very easily build up some playlists. Use the TV Queue feature in-app on YouTube, create playlists for all occasions then leave your smart phone aside while you kick back with your feet up for some uninterrupted viewing on your huge TV.
13) Something For The Kids
Chromecast is certainly not an adults-only piece of kit. With YouTube Junior, you can make sure your kids have no shortage of content tailored to their age and you can teach them how to use Chromecast without any headaches about inappropriate material popping up. We should add that kids are remarkably tech-savvy these days having known nothing except a digital age so there’s no substitute for properly educating them making their online experience save and savory.
14) Fire Casting
Although you won’t be able to pick up Google Home in Amazon’s Appstore, you can still Cast from your Kindle Fire. In Settings, you’ll need to enable Allow Installation of Applications. You can then use 1 Mobile Market which will allow you to workaround this block and get Home on your fire. We should point out this is an unofficial app so we haven’t included a link and we’d urge you to do your own due diligence here. We’ve included this tip purely to show you the flexibility of Chromecast and how easy it is to find solutions to any problems in your smart home if you use a little creativity.
15) Guest Mode
If you regularly have guests but don’t want your home WiFi network compromised, you can initiate Guest Mode on Chromecast. This will allow you to rest easy while your guests can take full advantage of streaming privileges. This is in Settings > Turn Chromecast to Guest Mode. All anyone then needs is the Google Cast Ready app and they’re good to go.
16) Take a Router To Bypass Lame Hotel TV
If you frequently travel and find the selection of TV channels in hotels underwhelming, just pack your wireless router and Chromecast and enjoy the full home streaming experience of home even if you’re on the road. Plug your router into the Ethernet port. Hook up your Chromecast and the device you plan to stream from then kiss goodbye to a handful of lame channels and say hello to watching what you want, when you want.
17) Privacy: Cut Back on Tracking
As you’ll probably now, Chromecast is watching you just as surely as you’re watching your TV. If privacy concerns you, you can at least minimize the amount of tracking in place without too much effort. Head to Chromecast in your Devices on Settings and uncheck a couple things. Get rid of Crash Reports to Google and also usage data and you can cut right back on the information Google can mine from you without affecting your Chromecast experience in the slightest.
18) Remote Control for Your TV
As long as your TV supports HDMI-CEC, you can use your smart phone to change inputs when you’re Casting. Head to Settings – you’ll need to search for the trade name linked to the brand of your TV which is easily accomplished by Googling – and enable HDMI-CEC. Just like that, your phone will become a de facto remote control, a small but neat little extra.
19) A Glimpse Into The Future
Chromecast offers a Preview Program allowing you to take a look at upcoming features long before early release, perfect for those early adopters among you. Sign up in-app on Google Cast and decide whether or not you’d like email notifications. If you’re anything like us, you’ll have a dedicated email address for this kind of thing so your primary account is not flooded with endless notifications ruining any chance of achieving Inbox Zero. There are times when Google temporarily stops enrolling new members so if you’re rebuffed, be patient and head back again later.
20) Beat The System: Get Amazon Video on Chromecast
To round out these 20 tips, we’ve got another sneaky workaround enabling you to enjoy Amazon Video if you have a computer and Chrome browser handy. Head to Amazon Video in your browser and use the top-right Google menu – those 3 dots - and choose Cast. We will say the quality is not the greatest and you’ll need to control everything in your browser but it’s a neat little trick worth trying out.
We hope you’ve seen quite clearly you can do far, far more than watch a YouTube video on Google Chromecast. Now the holiday season is all but done, we’re back in the saddle with some more detailed product reviews on the slate. Check out our home automation blog on a daily basis as we’ve got a great deal of awesome smart home products to tempt you within 2019!