So, Google have finally released the Chromecast dongle in the UK - adding support for iPlayer and Netflix in the process. They've also chosen to release it at a similar price to that which our US chums currently pay - £30.
What is it?Chromecast is a small HDMI device that, coupled with your smartphone, tablet or computer will turn ANY TV into something more than a Smart TV. It gives you the ability to 'cast' from supported apps on your device to your television without the need for set-top boxes or other devices. It's discrete and 'just works'.
How does it work?Use any supported app on your phone or tablet and you'll have a small icon that connects that app to any Chromecast on your wifi network. You can then chose to display video or audio from that app on your television. It's really easy to set up (install the app on any supported device - Android, iOS, OSX or Windows) and then connect it to your wifi network. There is no user interface as such - it just uses the apps your already familiar with.
What can I do with itRight now the selection of apps that support Chromecast is relatively small - Android users will get the most benefit as it's tightly integrated with Google Play, so any movies, TV series or music you have on Google's cloud service are all available to view over the device. In addition, UK users can take advantage of iPlayer for BBC TV and radio catchup, Netflix for movie streaming and most excitingly for us, Plex, which (if you're running a Plex server) will give you Chromecast access to all of your network accessible media.
Sounds amazing! What are the disadvantages?The biggest problem is the limited app support right now, however that's likely to change as Google have opened up their SDK for developers to build their own Chromecast apps. Also, despite the price, there are other alternatives at similar price points that do a lot more right now - a Raspberry Pi for example might be a bit more complex for the home user but you run Linux on that or use XBMC or Plex and do most of the things you can on a Chromecast. There's also the competing Roku stick (or their small boxes) that give you a much bigger selection of apps (channels in Roku's terminology, including Netflix, iPlayer, 4oD, Demand 5 and NowTV) AND you get a dedicated remote control.
In the longer-term we expect Chromecast to become much more essential and eventually it'll probably outclass most of the competitors. Right now though you could pick up Sky's version of the Roku box for a tenner and the only thing you'd be missing is Netflix support, but with access to many more options in terms of on demand services.
Should I get one?It really depends on whether you're looking at the long term or not - for the price it's an easy purchase to recommend, but the alternatives DO give you more variety and right now even though it's cheap there are even better value options out there. We LOVE Chromecast but our Roku box will be the device we're more likely to use right now unless we want to play some of our music on Google's cloud. If Google are able to bring support for ALL of the main terrestrial UK TV channels and the likes of NowTV, Sky Go, BlinkBox or Amazon Instant Video, we can see a future where we'd exclusively move over to Chromecast - and chances are that future isn't that far away...
You can buy a Google Chromecast for £30 from Amazon, Currys PC World or via Google Play.