…okay, that might be a little unfair. I haven’t even played with one yet.
Google announced several new products yesterday, one of which I got really excited about for almost a whole day. Chromecast is a little device that you plug directly into your TV’s HDMI port so that you can stream video to it. At first blush, it sounds an awful lot like an Apple TV, something I feel confident was intentional on Google’s part. And, since they’re only charging $35 for it, versus $99 for the Apple TV, it seems like a really great deal.
But today, I spent a little more time delving into the details of the device and discovered that it’s not quite as incredible as it appears. I was really hoping that I could use it as an ultraportable AirPlay receiver. Imagine visiting a friend and plugging this device into his TV and streaming photos of your kids from your iPhone or iPad. Or envision being able to connect the Chromecast to a projector and giving a presentation or demoing your latest iOS app wirelessly from anywhere in the room. But, that’s not something it can do out of the box. Or maybe ever.
Okay, maybe not ever. Obviously, dedicated developers should be able to expand the features of the Chromecast, which could (one day) make it a compelling alternative to the Apple TV. A program on your home computer could behave as a web server which could be accessed by your iPhone or Android or iPad and then redirected to the Chromecast locally. And the eventual support of streaming Chrome tabs to the device will open up the content available significantly. But there’s something about the Chromecast that still feels like it’s too much work for the masses. It appeals to the gadget geek in me, and I can definitely see some benefits to it as a cheaper alternative to the Apple TV for those of us that don’t mind doing a little extra work to get our content on the TV. But having to use a phone or a tablet or a computer as your “remote” is daunting for a number of people, and makes this device actually a fair bit more expensive than the $35 for which it retails.
However, all of that aside, the biggest complaint I have with the Chromecast is one that I discovered while writing this article, and is the one thing that keeps the Chromecast from being elegant, even if it is affordable. The device is not powered by HDMI, but rather must be plugged in to a wall outlet or a powered USB port to make it work. Suddenly, the “ultra-portability” I was hoping for is gone, as is my desire to buy the device. I might still pick one up, if only because of the three free months of Netflix that are bundled with it (bringing the total price of the device down to $11, a much more affordable “toy” with which to experiment).
I hope it gets better fast, though. The Apple TV is an amazing device and one I love having in my living room. I can only imagine how much better it or future generations will get if there is real competition in the space.
But so far, this isn’t it.