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Chromecast: Everything you need to know

Chromecast with Google TV remote in front of TV
(Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

Using a Chromecast is simple enough. You can either stream movies or music natively on Google's popular dongle, or you can "cast" content from your devices to the Chromecast, even if it isn't available through Google's app store.

While the Chromecast (3rd Gen) and Chromecast with Google TV hold their own against popular rivals like Roku and Amazon Fire, you probably want to know more about how Chromecast works, which model you should buy, what the deal is with the new Google TV OS, and any tips or tricks you need to know to get the most out of one.

On that note, here's everything you need to know about your (future) Chromecast!

Price and availability

Chromecast 3rd Gen plugged into back of television

(Image credit: Android Central)

There are currently two versions of the Chromecast available for purchase: the Chromecast (3rd Gen) and Chromecast with Google TV.

The regular Chromecast is the most affordable of the duo — coming in at a retail price of just $30. Comparatively, the Chromecast with Google TV will set you back $50.

Both models are readily available from most major retailers, including Best Buy, Walmart, B&H, and the Google Store (to name a few). You can also buy the baseline Chromecast from Amazon, but if you're shopping for the Chromecast with Google TV, you'll need to shop elsewhere.

Google also used to sell the Chromecast Ultra, a powerful 4K dongle, but you'll only find it used these days.

Chromecast: Which should you buy?

Chromecast with Google TV

(Image credit: Android Central)

If you're in the market for a Chromecast but aren't 100% sure which one is right for you, try not to sweat it too much — we're going to help you decide right now. Your main choice is between the Chromecast with Google TV vs. the Chromecast (3rd Gen).

For shoppers that want to spend as little as possible and don't care about 4K, the regular Chromecast (3rd Gen) continues to be a really good buy. Plug it into your TV, open your favorite streaming app on your phone, and you can send your movies/TV shows/music from your phone directly to the big screen. All of your content will stream at up to 1080p Full HD, and given how affordable the Chromecast is, you can even afford to get a couple of them if you have more than one TV in your home.

That said, it's difficult not to recommend spending just $20 more for the Chromecast with Google TV. You can stream content in 4K HDR, Dolby Vision and Atmos support are available, and there's an actual user interface you can interact with using the included remote.

It's much more akin to something like a Fire TV or Roku, and if you ask us, that added functionality and power is worth the increased price. Not to mention, you can still cast content from your phone to the Chromecast with Google TV whenever you want — giving you ample ways to stream whatever tickles your fancy. Simply put, it's one of the best Android TV boxes money can buy.

The regular Chromecast is a decent pick if you want to keep things as simple as possible and limit your spending to a minimum, but for those that can afford it, the Chromecast with Google TV is a fantastic upgrade in more ways than one. 

Otherwise, you may want to look into the best Android TVs, as they all have Chromecast functionality built into them so you can spare an HDMI port for something else. Just check and make sure whether the TV supports Android TV or the new Google TV OS.

Or you can always check out our picks for the best Chromecast alternatives instead, if you'd rather look into another streaming OS entirely. You'll just miss out on the ability to cast content.

Casting

The difference between a Chromecast and other streaming dongles is your ability to connect different devices to your television, from Chromebooks to Android phones to your Oculus Quest. Android TV offers most of the major streaming apps, but casting lets you step beyond apps and stream nearly anything from a browser to your television.

If you've unboxed your Chromecast and want to know what to do with it, we have a guide on how to use a Chromecast that will take you through the basics. But you can connect any Chrome-enabled device to your TV fairly easily, and not just for streaming content. Plus, if you want to get a bit experimental and use unsupported apps, you can sideload an app on your Chromecast.

Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV home screen

(Image credit: Android Central)

As its name implies, one of the main draws to the Chromecast with Google TV is, well, Google TV. It's an interface layered on top of Android TV designed to help simplify your various streaming apps and more easily discover content to watch.

The home screen of Google TV is called "For you," and on this page, you can browse through a heap of recommended TV shows and movies based on what's currently trending, what Google thinks you're interested in, and recommendations based on things you've previously watched. Selecting a title will give you more information about it, along with shortcuts to instantly start watching it on whichever service is hosting it.

(Image credit: Android Central)

Google's idea around Google TV is that, rather than jumping back and forth between multiple streaming apps, you can find all of your available content right within the Google TV interface. And you know what? It actually works pretty damn well. Google TV is dead simple to navigate, it's substantially easier to find new things to watch, and its content recommendations are genuinely useful.

Of course, you'll need the right apps in order to get the best recommendations. We have a guide on how to download and uninstall Chromecast with Google TV apps

You can also create a Google TV watchlist of movies and shows you want to see, and then receive notifications when that content becomes available for free on specific apps. That way, you can wait patiently for something rather than pay to rent it.

You can learn more about Google TV in our Chromecast with Google TV review, but the tl;dr is that it's a huge selling point for Google's more expensive Chromecast dongle.

Stadia

Stadia Controller and Chromecast With Google TV

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Speaking of Google services, we should also mention Stadia — Google's platform for cloud gaming. Assuming you have a consistent internet connection and a compatible controller, you can stream games to your TV through your Chromecast with Google TV or compatible Android TV.

Being able to play AAA games with a tiny dongle instead of a powerful console is a pretty cool perk, and Stadia is technically free — though you'll need Stadia Pro to get the free Pro library and 4K-quality streaming. Also, when it comes to the best Stadia games, you'll have to buy them separately, unlike services such as Amazon Luna or Game Pass where you pay a monthly subscription fee. 

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.