Google is making another foray into the living room with the Chromecast, a small $35 dongle that allows users to stream videos from a phone or tablet to their TV using Chrome. Essentially, it turns every TV into a smart TV, but it lets you control it through whatever device you’re on rather than providing a new interface. “Everyone loves their phones, tablets, and laptops,” said Google. “Unlike other solutions, we will not force you to have the same operating system on all your devices.” It connects over HDMI and is powered by USB.
The Chromecast doesn’t directly mirror to devices a la AirPlay. After what Google promises is quick and painless syncing, it turns your phone or computer into a remote and streaming hub, allowing you to queue up and play videos, control volume, or even turn on the TV; from there, you can use other apps without interrupting playback. It will also continue playing even when your phone is asleep, and unlike Google’s failed Nexus Q, it will work the same on Android and iOS — Windows Phone, at least for now, is not supported. On the traditional PC side, it supports Chrome on recent versions of Windows and Mac OS X: users can stream directly from the browser, then go on with their normal computer use as video plays. Somewhat ironically, the only currently supported Chromebook is the high-end Pixel, though wider support is coming.
Besides YouTube, we’ve also seen it play back video from Netflix and audio from Pandora, and Google is releasing a developer preview and SDK that will let other apps support streaming. The Chromecast is currently available for order on Google Play in the US, though inventory appears to have quickly sold out; Google says it will also be available through Amazon and Best Buy. For a limited time, it will come with three free months of Netflix, and international expansion will be coming “as soon as possible.”