Chromecast.

Did this $35 dongle just make Google a player in your living room? We think so

Chromecast came out of nowhere and got a lot of people excited about what it had to offer. Everyone had been expecting Google to do something with the idea that was born in the Nexus Q, but the media and the public were both pleasantly surprised when Sundar Pichai showed us the little dongle that held so much power.

Chromecast is not quite Google TV, and it's not quite a Roku. It fills a happy medium between the two, and is a great way to get your content on to your television. With platform support from Android and iOS, as well as the Chrome browser and OS, it's useful for most people. With an open set of APIs for developers to use we can imagine big things from this little stick. If you're tied into the Google ecosystem, it's a no-brainer. Even if you're not, it's a cheap solution to get content from the web to the television without any wires or hassle. Let's have a look at what it is, what it does, and how you can use it.

More discussion in the Chromecast forums

The Good

It's $35. That $35 gets you a cross-platform way to push content from the devices you likely already have, to the screen and sound system you've spent the most money on. It's also very easy to setup and use. This is the Google gadget people have been waiting for — cheap, easy and fun.

The Bad

It's not going to work for you if you use a BlackBerry or Windows Phone phone or tablet. For you 19 people, I'm sorry. Relax — I'm kidding. I sincerely hope application developers for these platforms can find a way to work with the existing API, or that Google extends the SDK to include them. 

Conclusion

There's a reason these have pretty much sold out everywhere and are on eBay for $50 plus. People want them because they support the expensive electronics they already have, and setup without any issues. It's a great addition to your living room, and we can't wait to see where things go from here.

Inside this review

More info

What is Chromecast?

Chromecast concept

Chromecast is a small, USB-powered dongle that connects to an HDMI port on your television or a monitor. It uses the new Google Cast screen sharing technology to show Internet content, as well as some local content from devices running the Android, iOS and Chrome platforms. As you can see from the diagram above (courtesy the Google Developers blog) it's not a pure screen mirroring device, though it can mirror some screen content. it's also not using technology like DLNA or Miracast. It's something a little different.

"It sounds over-used and cliché, but it does seem magical the way it just happens. "

It's not exactly a secret how it works, but we're not yet sure of the exact details. The heavy heavy lifting is likely done on a Google server somewhere where taxes and energy costs are low. A connection is set up using a sender API appropriate for the platform, and a receiver API running on the Chromecast device that developers can customize to allow things like authentication. When you tap the cast icon in something like the YouTube app, magic happens behind the scenes that pushes the video down from the cloud to the Chromecast, while still keeping track of things like the video timeline on your phone, tablet or computer. The same goes for Netflix, or Google Play Music, or any of the (currently small) handful of apps that use the Google Cast API. It sounds overused and cliché, but it does seem magical the way it just happens. 

Chrome extension

There's also a Chrome extension that allows you to mirror content from a Chrome browser tab to the Chromecast. This works a little differently, because you're feeding the data that is being displayed on the television from your browser to the Chromecast dongle. It appears that the Chromecast takes the tab's data, but the content in the tab itself comes from the Internet and not your computer. In other words, it follows the URL path. This means that if you're playing local content in a browser tab, like a video on your hard drive, you're sending it from your computer to the Chromecast. If you're watching Hulu, it can get the stream from the Internet. The extension, as well as the APIs it uses, are still in beta and things can get a little fussy here. 

"Don't let all these technical details get you confused ... It really is that simple."

Don't let all these technical details get you confused. Know that as long as you have a good connection on your phone, tablet or computer as well as at the Chromecast device itself (you need to be on the same Wifi network), you can tell it what to show on your television screen. If you're using the cast feature built into a service, like Google Play Movies on your Android device or YouTube on the web, you can multitask and don't have to stay focused on the content you're casting to the Chromecast. The Chrome extension allows you to cast one tab and switch to another as well. Of course, to do things like pause a video or song or scroll a webpage you will need to be focused on that task. In addition, other folks on the same Wifi network can add to the playing queue, cast their own content and generally have a lot of fun. 

Chromecast.

What the Chromecast is not is a display mirroring device. If that's what you want to do, say to give a presentation or play a game on the bigger screen, you'll need to dig out some HDMI cables. Future devices using the Google Cast APIs may have more mirroring features, but right now this is an entertainment focused device aimed squarely at the living room.

Some other misconceptions that need addressed:

  • You need to supply the Chromecast with USB power. There's an included AC power block, or you can use a powered USB port on the back of your TV, but you need to power it.
  • Chromecast uses CEC over HDMI to intelligently switch inputs, but it won't necessarily override CEC commands from your cable or satellite box or AV receiver. If you plug the the Chromecast directly into a relatively new TV, there's a good chance it will switch inputs and begin playing on its own when you tell it to. If you're using older equipment, or have a more elaborate setup with Google TV or AV receiver, chances are it's not going to work the way you want it to work. In the end, pushing a button on a remote might be necessary.
  • The Chromecast does not run Android. It's running a very slim OS based on Chrome technology, on top of the Linux kernel. Yes, it will be rooted in time. When it is rooted and that news is popularized. Chromecast runs a crazy mix of Android, Chrome, and Google TV software. Yes, it has been rooted. Hopefully, content delivery companies won't be scared off — remember the Netflix fiasco.
  • Chromecast is not designed to be an <insert XBox, Apple TV, Roku, Boxxee, PS3, etc> killer. It is an inexpensive and easy to use device that lets you watch and listen to stuff on the screen and sound system you spent the most money on. And it does that really, really well.

Setting up the Chromecast

Chromecast.

This is the easy part. Open the box, and you'll find the Chromecast dongle itself, a USB power cord and wall block, a small instruction manual, and an HDMI extension. Look at your current TV stand and entertainment system, and decide where you're going to place the Chromecast. We've tried a few different installations, and found that plugged directly into the TV with power supplied from the wall block is the best way if you want to use CEC to switch things automatically. If you want great sound, you'll want to use an input on your AV receiver. If you don't really care and just want to start casting, any HDMI port that delivers video and audio to your screen will work.

Chromecast.

If things are a tight fit, you can use the short HDMI extension. If things are a really tight fit, you might have to order a 90-degree HDMI adapter from Amazon or Monoprice. Once you have it plugged in and are providing power, turn on the television.

Chromecast.

When you're on the right input you'll see the setup screen. Next, grab your computer or Android device. You'll see a web address displayed on the TV screen, and you can visit it from your computer to get started, or you can install the Android setup app from Google Play. The instructions are simple, just follow along with the prompts you see and get connected.

Chromecast setup

Chromecast will act as a wireless access point, and your computer or Android device will connect and get things going. When it's done, you're back where you were without any intervention and your TV will let you know things are ready to cast.

Using it with your smartphone or tablet

It really is that simple. In fact, the reason that the Chromecast is such a cool product is that it really is that simple. When you combine fun with simple, then add in a low price, you've got a hit on your hands. Right now, just a few apps are using the Google Cast API and work with the Chromecast. You've got Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and TV, YouTube and Netflix. More are coming, and we've got a great place to keep track of their progress right here in the forums.

YouTube on the Nexus 7

You can try it right now. Make sure you have the latest YouTube app update, then tap this link on your Android or iOS device to open Andrew's video. Choose the YouTube app if you're given a choice, and tap the Cast button. Android devices have great, high-res screens. But videos look and sound so much better on a proper entertainment setup. You're starting to see why the few people who had one really loved the Nexus Q by now, I imagine. 

iOS

Look how cute the iPhone screen is with it's little Google Cast button!

Using it with your computer

While the Chrome extension is in beta and can be a little squirelly sometimes, it generally works fine for a first-generation product. The YouTube Google Cast button works very well and reliably. Again, now is a good time to try it. Click right here if you're browsing while on your computer and open the video. In the new tab that opens, tap the little Google cast icon in the bottom right corner of the video player. You should be able to cast it right to your Chromecast and then be able to switch away from the tab or even close it, and the video will continue to play. If you stay focused on the Chrome tab that the video is playing from, you can control the player a little bit, such as using the seek bar to fast forward or rewind, and play, pause and stop the video.

Google cast in YouTube website

The Google Cast extension for Chrome (the browser) will also allow you to play local media files on your Chromecast. Simply drag a movie, image, or sound file that Chrome can play into a new browser tab and tap the Google Cast extension. It's a little janky, and will often send you back to the "Ready to Cast" screen, but again — we're dealing with an early beta product. You'll find some performance degradation dong this, especially when using an underpowered computer. My MacBook Air will choke after a few minutes, but my desktop will keep chugging along usually. This is because the computer is rendering the media and sending it to the Chromecast dongle -- there is no copy on the Internet to grab. Remember when we said that Google Cast follows the URL path in the first section of this review? Your local media has a path something like "file:///Users/gbhil/Dropbox/videos/stupid_bird.mp4" so it's rendering, playing, and casting from your computer. It's still pretty cool, and we hope that this is something Google fleshes out in updates to the Google Cast APIs. We'd love to see programs for Windows, Mac and Linux that play slideshows and video on our Chromecast devices.

Stupid bird

Just like using the Chromecast with your smartphone, it's easy enough that you'll soon be watching everything on the big screen instead of the little one.

The bottom line

Chromecast.

This one's a no-brainer, folks. If you use Android or iOS, spend the $35 to easily push content right to your television. The Chromecast is mostly cross-platform (Sorry, Windows Phone and BlackBerry) which makes it usable to about 90-percent more devices than Apple TV, and the open APIs mean application developers, web developers, and the folks building desktop programs can extend it in all sorts of ways. If you're on my Christmas list, I've already got one of your presents delivered.

 

Reader comments

Chromecast review

109 Comments

Can't wait for mine to ship from Google, have to wait 3-4 Weeks for it to ship though.

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Maybe not. Don't know where you bought yours but Amazon was telling me I had to wait till August 21. But I just received an email today saying it shipped today. Can't wait for Wednesday.

I wish they would have Compared Chromecast to an Android stick to see which one is better for people with more options and versatility. I think an Android stick would be better turning your HDTV into an Android tablet might be better and have more options than the chromecast offers write now with not only browser and video play, but with apps and widgets and flash ability seems better.

Anyone know when the Archos TV Connect is suppose to release that was showed off at CES back in Jan? It has a web page but no release date.

Got mine on Friday from amazon! This thing is awesome! Easy setup, and surprisingly responsive. I cannot wait for plex support.... its gonna be incredible.

Unofficially, Plex works with the Chromecast, just run a Plex Media server on your PC, load the URL in Chrome, and cast that Tab. Of course, official support would be great.

I am not really seeing the greatness in this. If it was able to stream video from my Hard drives over my network I would be into it, but just Netflix, YouTube and videos over Chrome...No thanks

Then it's not for you. So don't buy it. As you can see from sales plenty of other people are using it.

Via Android Central App from a Galaxy Note 2

I think you are over simplifying the power of this little device. It's not just the fact it streams, its how simple it does it with your existing devices.

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You can do that with BubbleUPnP and an android TV dongle, such as an MK808. Nearly the same price, but with full android functionality.

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that's because you are the 1% of people who dont use Netflix,youtube or web.
you are the person who rely on local content more than the web.
this is where this device shines. it made 99% of people happy

I just read that Plex is looking into possible adding Chromecast capability to their mobile app. If that's added then you'll be all set.

I currently have a media PC and I just use Google Play Movies, Google Play Music, Netflix, YouTube, MLB.tv and local videos on it.

If Plex and MLB.tv update their app for Chromecast. I will be able to replace the $500 PC and the keyboard and mouse that goes with it, with a $35 device, that's amazing.

Yes, you can. If you look at the 3rd-to-last paragraph, Jerry explains that you can play local content from google chrome using the chromecast extension.
if you networked hard drives support SMB (windows shares) than simple map them to a drive letter(s) on your windows PC and stream the content via the chromecast extension.

It would be wonderful if the Chromecast could stream from SMB/nfs by itself, like it does with YouTube/Netflix. Streaming from your laptop/tablet/whatever means you first have to move the data from your network share to your device, then from your device to the Chromecast which means twice the network traffic.

Actually it can stream from your hdd. Just drag the picture video, whatever onto a new tab in chrome an voila. interested yet

I managed to get video on my hard drive to play in the chrome browser. I heard think outside of the box when it comes to chromecast.

It does have the ability to play local files via drag and drop into a browser tab:

"The Google Cast extension for Chrome (the browser) will also allow you to play local media files on your Chromecast. Simply drag a movie, image, or sound file that Chrome can play into a new browser tab and tap the Google Cast extension."

It can stream video from your hard drive across your network to your TV. Just drag and drop it into a Chrome tab or put the local address into the URL bar (C:\\Video, or whatever) and hit cast.

Works beautifully for Netflix and youtube, but like the review said local stuff can be choppy. I swear Netflix looks almost Blu-ray good, and music files run great and on my system I even get a volume boost. Will be a great tool when more sources sign on.

Still waiting on mine to ship from Amazon. Can't wait for it to get here though.

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An iPhone on Android Central? Blasphemy! All jokes aside, I can't wait for mine to arrive!

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I really hope you can't wait for your chromecast.... cause it sounds like you can't wait for your iphone to arrive and that's just un#holoyolo

Why don't folks just check best buy and see which stores have them in stock? With in 60 mile radius I have 10 best buys and as of Sunday 8 stores had stock. If there was a way to watch videos in my movie folder on my android phone this would b awesome. Also I read if your network has a security code the dongle doesn't work? So how would some one use this in a motel? Also you didn't mention that kills the phone battery faster and your Better to keep the phone charged.

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Why would it kill the battery faster? It streams off the Internet, not your phone/tablet. The way I understand it, you could start up Netflix, and shut your device off if you wanted to.

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I hope your Wifi network has a passcode. And you'll enter that in the Chromecast setup.

Where it doesn't work in when there's some sort of intermediate authentication.

I really hope that they (or someone else) release a way to get it to work with browser-based authentication methods. I spend three or four nights a week in hotels, and I was hoping against hope that I'd be able to plug this thing into the hotel TV and get big-screen Netflix and Play Music.

To bypass crappy hotel wifi, you'd need to tether from your phone and a third device like a tablet or laptop to do the casting. Haven't tested this setup yet, but it should work well.

I don't think it effects battery life since the dongle is doing all the work.

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who doesn't have a security code on their home network? Can you imagine the outrage if that statement were true?

I'm talking about hotels that have the screen popup asking you to agree to there terms before log in

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Many Best Buys reporting inventory are wrong.... Happened around me on Sunday. None were in stock.

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This. Best bet is to call them and speak to a real live person who is able to check their internal inventory, and even that is a gamble depending on whether or not the employee you're speaking to is actually competent or not.

I'm posting this comment from a Hampton Inn, and I can confirm that if you're using an open network that has a browser-based login protocol, it will not be able to connect.

All Best Buys in the whole Houston area (that's a Hell of a lot) and all sold out!

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Keeping my eye out for when these are back in stock. Figure even my wife won't mind me buying this.

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Can I be on your wish list?? Wait....its only $35! I keep missing my local best buy shipments! They sell out so quickly. Gonna try Thursday if I can since they should have them in then. Can't wait! And my nexus 7 is coming tomorrow;)

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Right now, for $35, this thing is mythical! It's sold out... EVERYWHERE!!!

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Its really hard to get! They're selling better than hotcakes for Christ sake! You gotta have the right timing to get it anywhere.

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Looks like we're on the same boat. Keeping an eye on best buy for further shipments but so far no luck.

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Yeah best buy is the only place I'm gonna get it at. I've been there once and called twice. They have had a couple shipments but I was too late.

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I just got mine today, I hope it works on the TV my dad is giving me, it's a older TV, but has HDMI. Has anyone tried Hulu yet? I wonder if Apple will allow it to stream media from iTunes? Probably not. It would be cool if you could upload movies to Play Movies, like you can with the music app. I have a bunch of movies on a hard drive.

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I tried hulu through the tab cast. There was about a 2 second delay between my laptop and TV but other than that it worked pretty well.

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Why not upload your iTunes collection to Google music? Google gives you free storage of 20,000 songs.

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Honestly just having this thing to stream my music library on the cloud sans Google TV is worth it for me. I'm really excited to see the support that this device will be getting in the future (Pandora of course, also gotta think Hulu is coming).
I honestly think that Google was just expecting this to be a small splash in the water.
With the kind of demand this is getting, the support for it will come...
Build it, sell it, they will come....

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Honestly, it feels like Google was in my brain and seeing my use cases when designing this thing. I've got the Google Music All Access subscription, and was looking for a great way to pump the music through my home theater.

I first tried a bluetooth dongle, which kind of worked, but there were times I wouldn't want the sound going to the stereo, and would have to turn off bluetooth to do so. Disconnecting would then turn off the dongle, and I'd have to turn it back on a reconnect next time I wanted to use it.

With the Chromecast, I can cast the music to the theater system, and use the tablet freely without worrying about stuttering (it's an old Xoom, it couldn't play music and browse the web at the same time). This thing has definitely earned a spot in my living room.

Plus, the sound quality of Google Play Music over wifi is far superior to what I was getting over bluetooth.

This thing is amazing.

Great Review!

Not sure Jerry is quite right that when the CC is tab casting from your pc that it's separately following URLs and rendering the content. Sure looks like a direct stream over the local network to me. This is consistent with:

1) the ability to send local content
2) the ability to change the quality settings in options
3) the ability (apparently, don't have said only on the chrome beta track) to mirror the entire local pc screen, but only a tab. It's a clever stream, not a completely separate render.

The app casting is clearly a different deal, and functions the way Jerry suggests.

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That should have read "some have said" not "don't have said". Predictive text let me down...

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As both a GoogleTV and a Chromecast owner, I have to say "meh" to the Chromecast. It does absolutely nothing better than the Sony GTV, and does very little at all.

I see the potential, and the appeal for those without some other media stream device already at their disposal, but if you already have roku, googletv, ps3; Xbox, TiVo or even a decent smart tv, there's no reason to get this device at this time.

How much was that Sony GTV? Also I have an Xbox 360 and still ordered one... Why? Because it will be a faster, easier to use Netflix solution (and because it was only $35... $11 really cause I got in early) From pressing the power button to watching a movie via Xbox 360 takes far too long. Can't wait for mine to get here.

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What does the price of the Sony GTV have to do with it? My premise was that IF YOU ALREADY HAD A GTV, the Chromecast adds no value to your ease of use or experience. If you had any of those other devices I mentioned, you can do all the Chromecast does now. I bought three Chromecast, but really can't find a use for them that enhances my lean back experience in any way at the current time.

Not only Google Music but also casting from your Chrome browser. You can't do that with all you mentioned.

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You can do both with a Google TV. You can cast webpages with the Panasonic TV (share to Viera Remote App).

At $11, why not, if you were lucky enough to get and use the Netflix coupon, but I stand by my remarks...in its current state, the Chromecast adds no value to someone with a stable of smart devices already hooked to their television.

For me, it's Google Play Movies and Music, which none of the Roku-types do, and I can buy 6 of these for the price of the Sony GTV and don't have to deal with the crappy interface or walk the dog while waiting for Netflix to load...:)

If you're in a household that has more than one TV, this thing is spectacular. I had a roommate previously who had her Wii set up in such a way that she could disconnect it from the living room TV and bring it into her room to watch Netflix in about three minutes. No need to bother anymore. You can put a Chromecast on three TVs for the same price as one Apple TV.

I have an internet connected Blu-ray player that does Netflix and Youtube among other fuctions. While it works pretty well, the interface is terrible and searching for anything is a major pain. Chromecast is a huge step up in these areas.

I managed to pick up 2 last Friday at Best Buy. They weren't even putting them on the shelves in Houston. They had them behind the customer service desk because they were selling out so fast. Folks who keep comparing this to alternatives just don't understand the combo of ease of use (essentially no UI to speak of), low price ($35!!!) and quality video & audio. Netflix @ 1080p on with a $35 device?!! It's completely replaced Bluetooth and RCA-converter cable as my go-to way of listening to All Access at home too. For that alone I would've spent more than the $35 apiece on these.

If the chromecast only follows a URL when casting a tab from the browser, couldnt i use chrome in my phone and cast a tab as well?

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" Your local media has a path something like "file:///Users/gbhil/Dropbox/videos/stupid_bird.mp4" " what about my samba share drive? I already read that it works, but will I be able to closer the tab and let the CC keep getting the content from my network? Phil or anyone that already got out can test n tell?

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The only thing missing from my Roku is the ability to play Google content like music and movies. The Chromecast fills that need nicely. So glad I picked one up early. Just got delivered today, now I can start building up my digital movie library!

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For some weird reason I couldn't get Live YouTube broadcasts to play through my Chromecast, initiated from desktop browser casting or android app casting. Everything else YouTube works fine but with the Tomorrowland festival and Spa 24hr races both broadcasting live through YouTube this past weekend they wouldn't cast no matter what I tried.

Very strange right?

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What about streaming Web pages from a tablet for like TV shows. Like tvseries. Net.? Free movies found online will stream?

Well, for me, I have an extra desktop box hooked up to my digital TV. It runs XP, was free to me since it was a second hand machine from someone who was upgrading. Does everything that Chromecast does. Otherwise I'd be interested....

Great review Jerry! So many talking heads out there saying it's great "if you just want to stream YouTube", but this has so much more potential.
I was one of the lucky ones who happened to grab one at Best Buy, just as they were unloading a new shipment, and I've used it every day since. My Roku 3 is getting rather lonely :)
Look for a giant boom in Play content sales, because all excuses for not investing in it have been thrown out.
Nice move, Google.

I'm sure a lot of folks are asking that same question. That's part of the genius of this device though, at $35 it's a pretty cheap risk. You don't have to use it much to make it worthwhile.

What about watching pictures on your Android phone on the Chromecast? Is that possible? And how?

So, do I need this? If I already have Hulu, Netflix, Amazon etc on my TV what is the reason for this? Other than using this in a hotel, I'm not sure what the reason is for it.

if you're a music fan you can also cast your songs on television.I'd be suprised if you couldn't showcase photos & personal videos as well.

It's #chromecastic
Can't wait to easily push some music to my receiver. I received mine last night, but wife was watching TV so I only got it set up and briefly tested.

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I'm glad it doesn't work with Windows Phone or BlackBerry because they have been hindering us from using their products for years. BBM being locked up. And everyone knows how MS has a tight grip on things to hinder innovation. Their lose.

Apple would be off the list too but Google is going to make millions off of them so I understand why they have iOS compatibility. They aren't losing much keeping Windows Phone and BlackBerry in the dark.

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I already have Netflix and don't need the free three months I got with mine (which is in transit). Any way to give away the 3-month Netflix to someone who can use it?

Thank you Jerry, for yet another technically-focused and very helpful article. I understand Chromecast now better than even after seeing the Google presentation. . .

It is simpler and does much more than I thought!
Thanks again --keep writing!!!

Some people can't see the potential of this device... I can't wait to see game developers taking advantage on this. The SDK is out, do you really think this is gonna stop on music/video apps? That's just the beginning.

Great article Jerry . For those who live outside US like me, you can access Netflix, Hulu and similar media stations on your Chromecast by using UnoTelly or similar tools.