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This device has been on the market for almost a year, and all it does is to put a web browser on TV. The Chrome cast happens to be one of the few devices made by Google in recent times, let alone the Nexus Q and Google Glass. At $35 (UGX 89,000) this device really occurred as an impulse purchase, but in a country like Uganda where the costs of data is still considerably high viz a viz the standards of living one wonders if its really worth it. Last week Google opened it’s entertainment doors (Play Movies) to four countries Belgium, Philippines, Switzerland and Uganda and I guess its the right time to try out such a device. Well, we got our hands on the Chrome-cast Google’s answer to the Apple’s Airplay and it’s time to gauge if a browser on TV is a great experience.
Once beaten twice shy, Google has in the past learned a hard lesson with its Google TV platform, that practically crashed and burned after it launched way back in 2010 that nearly caused one of it’s hardware partners Logitech to go out of business. The $35 Chromecast is basically an HDMI dongle that will put the internet on your home TV via WiFi screen and brings supported services like YouTube on your smartphone, tablet, or computer, just by hitting the new Cast button to send the videos to your TV. It will also allow you to send your Chrome browser tabs on Macs and PCs. So at what cost will this be? UGX 89k for the dongle plus your data costs assuming you have a good internet connection that can handle at least above 1Mbps constantly since we are talking streaming video.
A Chrome Cast Streaming
After a week of testing, it seems like the Chromecast might actually deliver on all that potential as Google promised last year, but in a country like Uganda a lot of thought has to be done before you purchase this device and I will come back to that point later on. I used a wireless WiFi router, Orange LTE network my PC and phone mainly during the tests.
However much impressive this little dongle was, I still found out that the Chromecast 2 is still a much wanted and a product to look forward to. In short Google still has lot of work to do and can’ wait for what the Chromecast 2 will bring to the table
The Chrome Cast Basics
First of all, your hunchback cathode ray TV is a no go for this device, keyword here is Flat-screen. Am sure you will agree with me if I say Flat-screen TVs are still a home appliance to be desired by many households in Africa. Your TV should at least have an HDMI port where you will insert the dongle and USB port to power it up. But if you don’t have USB on your TV, there is a small power adapter in the box.
There’s a short HDMI extension cable in the box to provide extra clearance if you can’t fit the Chromecast against the back of your TV. Please note if you have a newer TV with HDMI 1.4 ports, you might find they can power the Chromecast directly and no need to power the USB.
This is really one of the simplest set ups out there if you have all the ‘ingredients’ to connect. For my internet needs, I used the mid-night to 6am UGX 2,500 ($ 1) per GB package and I was sure I wasn’t going to be interrupted during the review. Once the WiFi (Only 2.4GHz networks are supported, which is a little bit of a disappointment) is set , the other thing left to do after you have plugged in the Chrome cast is to download the Android chrome cast app or set up page on Chrome on your PC. Next, give the Dongle a name in my case I used rogekkcast and lastly configure the WiFi connection which takes just a couple of minutes. For those using a MAC or PC you will also be promoted to install the Google Cast extension for chrome and there you go everything was set up for me within 6 minutes.
The Cast addiction
The first time you use this device and you land on great content you will get addicted. Before I forget let me make it clear that this is basically a small Google computer and here is why. When get a cast compatible app let me say YouTube, you hit the Cast button, this is basically what happens; the Chromecast directly connects to the internet via your network and streams the video itself — it should be noted that it never streams from your device. This is a brilliant solution, you can therefore use your phone or PC to do other things and no pressure on your device’s battery. You can however still use your device as a remote.
It is now almost a year since this device has been on the market and several developers have developed new apps or made their existing apps Chrome cast compatible. There is now a full Cast Store (3rd part app) with over 214 apps customized to work with this device. Of course in Uganda don’t expect apps like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Go to work or let alone Google to allow you to download them from the store. If you wonder why those apps wont work, the answer lies between your locality and complex legalities.
The cast offers a lot of flexibility which could sometimes lead to some confusion. First of all, the lack of a centralized control UI for the Chromecast can be annoying at some point I found myself watching a video without any quick way to pause, rewind, or mute — you will rely on good memory and trace where the video came from and open that app. For some users I reckon the added complexity may not be an issue for them. Google really needs to add basic playback controls like play, pause, and mute to the Chromecast setup app. Secondly Google also badly needs to include some password protection as any one can come in and take control your Chromecast and send video to it. This could unleash a different world of detailed trolling.
At some point you will have to ask yourself, “why the hell am I buying the Chromecast?” Is it for the YouTube Streaming? Because you can basically do that from everywhere. The few free entertainment apps I tired like Viki had a bunch of old movies and most not in English, trust me you will be forced to change channels often. So I was basically confined to watching my usual podcasts and YouTube Uganda Music videos 90% of the time. Until I bought The Amazing Spider man from the Play store for UGX 2,500. So let me spell it out for you guys, this is what UGX 89k really buys you, a simple way to send tabs from Chrome browser to your TV screen, and it works.
Where as you don’t expect music services like Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio to work for the same regional issues, I was able to use Google Play Music, HQradio, RocketPlayer and VEVO all worked fine as well. You can also drag files from your desktop into your browser and they’ll play as well, as long as Chrome supports them natively. (Video in .mp4 format and .mp3 audio files work great.) Don’t expect those Apple’s QuickTime formats to work — you’ll see the video on your TV just fine, but the audio will still come out of your computer.
Once you get your PC connected and good to go, the addiction will catch up with you, I spent a few hours watching everything we have on the techjaja video wall as I was also writing this review and downloading the latest episode of 24, and having control of everything from my laptop was very empowering. Basically having a second huge screen was a breeze to use. Once this is clear the chances of addiction of using the Chrome cast are high.
Your data plan is at stake
Every time I do a review of an app or device that sucks data like crazy I always spare a segment for how much it will cost you. The chrome cast is the mother of all of them, since you can connect several apps that can drain your data package mercilessly at once. For a good experience, if you have no dedicated internet you are better off using a wireless network that supports a minimum of 21 or 48 Mbps in 3G or a 4G LTE capable network. In my case I used Orange now Africell 4G LTE.
Just make sure whichever network you choose can at least offer more than 1 Mbps in average of constant connection. As you see in the video below. I was able to stream my tech podcasts that am addicted to in 720 HD with no buffer. With this version of Chromecast that’s the maximum resolution the Chrome cast can handle at the moment. You can choose a higher bitrate if you have the bandwidth or step down to 480p if your network is slow (I recommend that for people using 3G connections). You can also select “Audio Mode” in the Chromecast browser menu to lower the video frame-rate and save on that bandwidth usage if you’re listening to a music service.
In my usage after 2 hours of playing YouTube videos in HD, I had galloped 1.6 GB of my internet package. But with the night package at under a dollar per GB, I guess that’s peanuts.