Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Google Chromecast, Kindle Fire and iPhone

I used to use a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable to watch Amazon Prime Streaming videos and youtube videos from our Kinds Fire HD as well as the Toshiba Excite 10-inch tablet. Somehow the cable stopped working, but even when it worked the process was convoluted. It was time to "upgrade" to Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player.

I got the Google Chromecast for less than $33, shipped. And despite my reservations about how easy the setup would be on our secure WiFi network, it actually worked like magic. Apparently, in the beginning of the setup process, the Chromecast does not try to connect to your WiFi router (for which it would need to know the WiFi password/key), but rather lets the Chromecast app connect to it directly and then lets you enter the WiFi password in the app.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Chromecast is a little HDMI dongle-like device. It comes with everything you need: HDMI extension cable in case you need to either reposition the Chromecast for better WiFi reception or to let you connect it so another HDMI jack nearby could be used, a USB cable to provide power to the Chromecast from the TV's USB jack or from the supplied AC-to-USB power adapter.

Since our Panasonic Viera TC-L32C3 32" IPS LCD TV has two HDMI jacks next to each other, I had to use the supplied short HDMI extension cable. And since the TV lacks USB, I connected the USB cable to the supplied AC power adapter.

The WiFi connection was super-stable even through a couple of concrete walls. I did have to move my TP-LINK TL-WR841N Wireless N300 WiFi Router slightly further from the wall.

The setup was a breeze, sort of. As mentioned before, I had to download the Chromecast App for Android and use it for entering the WiFi password and renaming the Chromecast. But after that, I could easily send Youtube videos from either the Toshiba Excite 10-inch tablet or the iPhone 5. But I cannot find the official Youtube app for Kindle Fire HD and Amazon Instant Videos (Amazon Streaming) doesn't work on Chromecast either. Netflix should work though.

I then enabled my Kindle Fire HD to install apps from sources other than Amazon and downloaded the official Android Youtube app. I think it means I "sideloaded" the Youtube app from the Internet. Now, I can easily send Youtube videos from the Kindle Fire HD as well. It even turns the TV on if it is off or switches to the HDMI input where the Chromecast is attached automatically when you select to cast to the Chromecast from the Youtube app.

Casting from Netflix

Streaming from Netflix works flawlessly. Not only is the playback responsive to commands (e.g. pause/resume), the picture quality is amazing in 1080p. While streaming Breaking Bad, you can see every little imperfection on the face of the main character.

Casting from the Browser

You currently cannot make videos from internet play on Chromecast from Chrome on mobile devices, only from computers.

It is frustrating Amazon doesn't support the device natively. But at least now I can send some youtube videos to my TV from the iPhone, queue them up and my son can enjoy a few of hist favorite cartoons on the big screen with excellent picture quality and without me having to deal with cables.

You can send Youtube videos from your iPhone or Android device to Chromecast (and consequently to your TV) to be played, pause and control the playback of those videos, add them to the TV queue, manage the queue and even play videos from the Chrome browser (with somewhat worse quality though).

Using Chromecast with Windows Phone

It used to be impossible. I got a Nokia Lumia 521 Windows Phone. Chromecast could not be cast to from this phone - the Youtube app provided by Microsoft didn't have the "cast" button and was, in fact, a wrapper around a mobile version of the Youtube web site.

But things changed. Now there is an app that lets you watch Youtube videos on your TV using Chromecast, Read my review of TubeCast.

Bottom Line

The Google Chromecast is excellent and easy to use. Not only does it let us watch Youtube and Netflix videos on our TV with no messing with cables, but it does so in excellent quality and lets us control the playback with a variety of devices. We use an iPhone 5, Android-based Toshiba Excite tablet and Kindle Fire HD to control it, plus even a Windows Phone 8.1. And certainly there will be more apps coming soon. I highly recommend this device if you don't have a smart TV.

Thank you, Google!

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