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Chromecast gadget beams media from Chrome to TVs

Jul 24, 2013  |  Rick Lehrbaum
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[Updated July 31] — Google began shipping and quickly sold out a $35 HDMI stick-style device that wirelessly beams content from the Chrome browser of a desktop, laptop, or mobile computer to an HDTV. The Chromecast beaming technology initially supports content from Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play, and the controlling Chrome browser needs to be running on recent versions of Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, and Chrome OS, but not Linux.

“With Chromecast, we wanted to create an easy solution that works for everyone, for every TV in the house, writes Google senior vice president Sundar Pichai on the Google Chrome blog. In addition to Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play (movies, TV, and music), more apps “like Pandora [are] coming soon,” adds Pichai.
 



Google Chromecast plugs into the HDMI port of an HDTV
(click image to enlarge)

 

“Once your Chromecast is set up, you can use your phone, tablet, or laptop to browse and cast content to your TV, play and pause, control the volume, and more,” continues Pichai. “But unlike other streaming solutions, you can still multitask — send emails or surf the web — while enjoying what’s on the TV screen.”

Pichai notes that Chromecast “works across platforms — Android tablets and smartphones, iPhones, iPads, Chrome for Mac and Windows (more to come),” in contrast to OS- or hardware-specific alternatives, such as Apple’s AirPlay and Intel’s WiDi.

In addition to beaming video from apps like Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play, a new feature in the Chrome lets you beam any currently-open browser tab to the Chromecast device for rendering on the TV. The tab-casting function, currently in beta, is said to be useful for sharing family photos and watching video clips from news or other websites, but it’s not clear what its constraints are.

One limitation of the tab-casting feature is that it requires a fast computer and WiFi network, according to Google. This could be due to the need to beam an entire screenfull of content from Chrome to the Chromecast device, rather than simply instructing the Chromecast device to stream a particular multimedia object directly from a website. Again, not much information was provided on these details by Google.
 

Installing the Google Cast Chrome browser extension

Before using a Chromecast device, you need to install the free Google Cast browser extension in your desktop or laptop system’s Chrome browser. To do this, select Chrome’s Settings > Extensions > Get more extensions, search in the Google Chrome Web Store for “Google Cast” extension, and then install it in your browser.



Installing the Google Cast extension in Chrome
(click image to enlarge)

 

Once the Google Cast extension is installed and configured on the desktop, laptop, or mobile device, when you browse to “Cast-optimized” sites like YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play, onscreen options will appear for selecting, sending, and controlling playback of content on the TV through the Chromecast device.
 



Chromecast plugged in; HDTV in discovery state
(click images to enlarge)

 

The screenshots below show the Chromecast device rendering Netflix, YouTube and Google Play videos, and displaying photos from a Chrome browser tab on the TV.




Casting Netflix, YouTube, Google Play video, and a Chrome tab
(click images to enlarge)

 

Google Cast SDK

Google has released a preview of the Google Cast SDK (software development kit), which allows developers to integrate Google Cast technology into additional apps, beyond the handful that currently exist. Additionally, the company says it expects Google Cast technology to be embedded in “a range of hardware from our partners in the future” and not be confined to Google’s own Chromecast device.

Google hasn’t said whether Google TV devices, such as the Vizio Co-star, will have their firmware updated to add Chromecast device capabilities, although that certainly would make sense, particularly in light of the fact that users can already beam YouTube videos from an Android tablet’s Chrome browser to Google TV for playing there.
 

What’s under the hood

Google’s list of hardware and software specifications for the Chromecast HDMI stick is quite sparse. However, thanks to the device’s FCC filing along with an iFixit tear-down, we’ve managed to cobble together the specs and photos below.

  • Embedded processor — Marvell DE3005-A1 SoC
  • Memory:
    • 512MB DDR3 SDRAM
    • Flash — 2GB NAND flash
  • Video output:
    • HDMI
    • CEC compatible
    • 1080p max. output resolution
  • Wireless:
    • 2.4 GHz WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
    • Based on AzureWave AW-NH387 802.11/Bluetooth/FM wireless module
  • Dimensions — 72 x 35 x 12mm
  • Weight — 34g
  • Power — via microUSB input (power adapter and cable are included)
  • Supported OSes at the Chrome casting end:
    • Android 2.3+
    • iOS 6+
    • Windows 7+
    • Mac OS 10.7+
    • Chrome OS — Chromebook Pixel; additional Chromebooks coming soon



Chromecast’s embedded electronics (from FCC filing)
(click image to enlarge)

 

As you may have noticed, Linux is conspicuously absent from the list of OSes able to cast content to the Chromecast. Seriously!

Regarding the Chromecast’s embedded OS, GTVhacker took a look inside and concluded that rather than running Chrome OS, as had been conjectured by some, the device runs a stripped-down version of Google TV’s Android OS. “To be specific, it’s actually a modified Google TV release, but with all of the Bionic/Dalvik stripped out and replaced with a single binary for Chromecast,” writes the site. “Since the Marvell DE3005 SOC running this is a single core variant of the 88DE3100, most of the Google TV code was reused. So, although it’s not going to let you install an APK or anything, its origins: the bootloader, kernel, init scripts, binaries, are all from the Google TV. We are not ruling out the ability for this to become a Google TV stick”

In April, Plair began shipping a similar device to U.S. customers. Like the Google Chromecast, the $99 Linux-powered “Plair” device (pictured on the right; click to enlarge) beams multimedia content from Apple, Windows, and Android devices (though not from iOS devices, to our knowledge) to “any HDTV” with an available HDMI port. Web-based content sources currently supported by the Plair device are listed here.

The Google Chromecast HDMI stick is available now for ordering on Google Play, as well as at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, and will also be sold at Best Buy stores in the U.S. starting July 28. It’s priced at $35, and for a limited time, purchasers of the device will receive a free three-month Netflix subscription, potentially worth about $8 per month.
 

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PLEASE COMMENT BELOW

4 Responses to “Chromecast gadget beams media from Chrome to TVs”

  1. Andrei says:

    But with Miracast you can mirroring content from devices,i think it’s better…

  2. Ricardo says:

    “With Chromecast, we wanted to create an easy solution that works for everyone…” well, except Linux users it seems.

    As a GNU/Linux desktop user, I find Google less apealing everyday.

    • ned says:

      its amazing how there is zero reaction to Linux users getting screwed by Google. Again.
      is it just because its been done often enough? are we supposed to care that they do Summer of Code and treat us like this.

      it takes a special kind of talent to NOT make Linux work with…. Linux.

      I have yet to find a reason or even someone who cares to know what the Google reasons for this are,…. maybe even a Linux gizmo site….

      Not that I care anymore… as a Linux user I expect as much of Google as MS or Apple.

  3. errsta says:

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

    http://www.youtube.com/html5

    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……

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