How to set up and use Google Chromecast

Use this small HDMI dongle to get YouTube and other Google content onto the big screen

Google Chromecast
  • Google Chromecast
  • Google Chromecast
  • Google Chromecast
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

Pros

  • Small and easy to install
  • Best suited for streaming YouTube content to a TV

Cons

  • Not a good solution for streaming locally stored video files

Bottom Line

If you've always found it a chore to watch YouTube videos on your TV, the Google Chromecast is a neat solution. It simply plugs into an HDMI port on your TV, and receives YouTube content that you send to it from your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Would you buy this?

The long-awaited Google Chromecast is now available to purchase in select Australian retail stores for the modest sum of $49. It's a device that can make it very easy for you to enjoy YouTube and other Google content on your big screen TV. It does this is by connecting to your wireless network and then receiving play instructions from your smartphone, tablet, or computer, which you can think of as remote controls.

Physically, the Chromecast is a small device that has an HDMI port on one end, and a micro-USB port on the other. It acts as a receiver. Simply plug the HDMI end into your TV (or any display that has an HDMI input), and give it some power, either by plugging it into a powered USB port on your TV, or by using the supplied wall adapter. A little HDMI extension cable comes with the Chromecast, and we recommend using this to give your device some clearance from the back of your TV.

What's in the box? Here are the contents of the Chromecast retail box.

After it's powered on, switch to the HDMI input that has the Chromecast attached, and you will see its setup screen. Whether you are using a phone, tablet, or a notebook, you have to use an app or a setup program to get the Chromecast configured. It's very easy to do it from your Android smartphone, so we'll use this scenario as our example.

Setting it up from a mobile device

Go to the Google Play Store and download and install the Chromecast app, which will help you get everything up and running. Upon running the Chromecast app, it should detect that there is a Chromecast nearby, and it will give an identification number for that device, shown as 'Chromecastxxxx'. Make sure the number given matches the number that you see on the screen.

The Chromecast actually emits its own Wi-Fi network, and once you start the setup process through the app, your phone will connect to this network momentarily. It does this so that you can then give your Chromecast a unique name, and then enter your wireless network's Wi-Fi password in order for the Chromecast to be authenticated on your network. Once this is all done, your phone will automatically switch back to your regular Wi-Fi network, and you will be ready to use Chromecast from any suitable device on your network without having to set it up on each device.

Setting up the Chromecast is a matter of connecting to it and giving it your Wi-Fi network's details.
Setting up the Chromecast is a matter of connecting to it and giving it your Wi-Fi network's details.

For the most part, the Chromecast is designed to make it as easy as possible to view YouTube and Google Play content on a big screen. For these tasks, the Chromecast excels. Launch your YouTube app, search for a video, and then tap the little icon that looks like a square with a Wi-Fi symbol on it (the 'second screen' icon) to send that video to your Chromecast. You'll be asked which Chromecast device you want to send it to, so just tap on the one it shows and you're set.

It might go through some updates before you can start using it.
It might go through some updates before you can start using it.

Image quality and performance will be dependent on the quality of the videos that you play, as well as your wireless network, so keep this in mind if you are experiencing performance issues. Wireless issues can manifest as poor image quality, out-of-synch audio, or slow loading and stuttering. In these instances, you will have to get your router closer to your Chromecast device, or consider other options, such as using a different Wi-Fi channel, moving to the 5GHz band to minimise interference, or even installing a wireless extender to boost the Wi-Fi signal in the vicinity of your Chromecast.

Playing YouTube files from a smartphone through the Chromecast. You can continue to use your phone for other things while the video streams.
Playing YouTube files from a smartphone through the Chromecast. You can continue to use your phone for other things while the video streams.

For our tests, our wireless router was in the same room as the Chromecast, and we had no problems streaming content from YouTube at up to 1080p. The image was crystal clear, and we didn't experience any stuttering at all. In fact, the device excelled in this area, which we expected since that's what it's designed to do, and we recommend it if your main need is to watch YouTube and other Google content on your TV. However, low-quality YouTube files will look blocky, and perhaps unwatchable when viewed in full-screen on a Full HD TV, so keep this in mind.

Playing locally stored video files from a mobile device

If you have video files stored on your phone that you want to play through the Chromecast, you will have to download a third-party app that supports Chromecast and which can act as a media server. One such media server is LocalCast, and it's free (ad supported) from Google Play. Using this app, you can browse your phone for files that you have stored on it and use the 'second screen' icon to send those files to Chromecast. It's a neat solution that will let you play downloaded files from your phone or tablet, as well as videos that you have recorded yourself. However, we noticed some stuttering when playing back files that we recorded in Full HD with our Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone.

Using the third-party app, LocalCast, to play videos stored on a smartphone through the Chromecast.
Using the third-party app, LocalCast, to play videos stored on a smartphone through the Chromecast.

When playing content from a phone or tablet, be it a YouTube clip or a local file, you can continue to use your phone for other tasks. The streaming will continue on in the background, and you can still browse the Web or catch up on your social networking.

Using Chromecast with a computer

To stream content from your computer to the Chromecast, you have to use the Chrome Web browser and you have to make sure the Google Cast add-in is installed. That will add the 'second screen' icon to your browser and you will be able to send any content within Chrome's browser window to your Chromecast. This means that you can not only watch YouTube videos on your TV, but also video from any site on the Web. The Google Cast add-in will only stream content from the tab on which the connection to the Chromecast was made, which means you can switch tabs in your browser while the content continues to stream uninterrupted in the background.

Local files can be streamed from a computer to the Chromecast if you have a media server installed that has a Web interface. We used the Plex Media Server for Windows, which we could then load up in Chrome and send videos from the computer to the Chromecast. The performance of this wasn't great. Even when we used a Core i7 laptop, videos ranging in resolution from 576p all the way up to 1080p, dropped frames and the audio stuttered.

As such, we can't vouch for the performance of the Chromecast as a solution for streaming your own local content — you're better off making a direct connection with a laptop to a TV, or streaming media from DLNA-enabled NAS device to DLNA-capable smart TV rather than using the Chromecast. Let us know in our comments or user reviews sections what your own experiences are in this area.

Mostly, we think it's best suited to those of you who are avid YouTube watchers, or to those of you who have Google Play Movie content that you want to watch on a big screen without having to plug in a laptop to your TV. For these Google-specific services, it's an ideal device that meshes easily with other Android devices on your network and through the Chrome Web browser on computers.

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