I am a cord-cutter and have been for years. No cable TV service. No satellite TV service. However, I do watch shows streaming from the Internet, and over-the-air broadcast television (digitally recoded and streamed to the home network of course).
One of the difficulties you encounter when leaving cable TV and satellite services behind is finding a convenient way to bring all the content available on the Internet into one place at home for simple, brainless enjoyment on your big TV.
On the other hand, dealing with broadcast television is no big deal at all, thanks to incredibly excellent software and hardware, such as the long-developed and free DVR system, MythTV and Silicon Graphics’ HDHomeRun digital tuner. By the way, if you’re interested in making yourself a MythTV DVR, I wrote up a big little howto of what I did.
Unfortunately, getting content streamed from the Internet isn’t as perfect. Most of the old-school big content providers, like television networks, sell and license their content differently, and many allow it to be watched only in certain ways, on certain devices. It’s a stupid mess, really.
For example, my Boxee Box, which I loved for several years, was one of the first devices to try aggregating this ugly mish-mash of content “out there” – and they did an exceptionally good job of it. Services like Hulu bring many shows into one website. However, if you wanted to watch a show that was from CBS, you could watch it on the Boxee Box just fine – but you couldn’t on Hulu. And Hulu blocked the Boxee Box, so you couldn’t use the Boxee Box to watch Hulu. Ugly. Ugly everwhere here with these old-school content providers, or new-school content providers owned by the old-school ones, like Hulu.
It’s not so bad when you have a major network like CBS though – because they broadcast their shows over the air, and MythTV picks those up just fine, and even lets you record them locally. And honestly, the HD picture quality of broadcast television is better than cable ever was, or satellite.
Netflix is great for watching content, and offers this content at a very reasonable flat monthly fee. They also seem to run on every hardware device out there, except for Free and Open devices. Netflix runs on Google’s new Chromecast device, if that tells you anything.
After I got hooked into the Linux-based Android devices, I decided I’d try out a new Google TV device from Vizio called the Co-Star. This quickly replaced my Boxee Box. Although Netflix was on the Boxee Box, Amazon Instant Video was not. And I loved how I could be watching a YouTube video on my phone or tablet, and then just send it out to play on my Google TV if I wanted to enjoy it more thoroughly. Honestly, I’m not very keen on watching video content on a phone or tablet. It makes me feel to constrained.
The Co-Star was, and still is, a super great little box, only costing $99 at the time I bought it. I use it every day. It’s what I use to watch Netflix, Amazon Video, and YouTube subscriptions. I also turn on the police/ambulance blotter from time to time, just because it’s bizarre what goes on out there. Or I watch NASA TV. Sometimes I’ll watch stock prices coming in from Google Finance on it. Or I’ll listen to my music from Google Play streaming in excellent audio quality.
Then along came Google’s new little $35 HDMI plug-in WiFi device called Chromecast. They didn’t call it Google TV, even though it was Google and a device that does the TV. So I was a little confused. The Vizio Co-Star was small, but not that small. So how exactly is Chromecast different from Google TV?
For $35 I figured I couldn’t go wrong, though, and ordered one. It turns out, it’s just like Google TV, only with almost everything chopped out of it, and one little piece added in. (Of course there is a lot of tech behind it, and a new direction I’m sure).
Like Google TV, a Chromecast device will allow you to send YouTube videos from your Android phones or tablets to the TV with the Chromecast device plugged in. It also lets your watch your Google Play movies, or listen to your Google Play music. Personally, I don’t use Google Play for movies because they never seem to be available at a high resolution for viewing on your TV – only on your devices.
Another neat feature is that you can send videos on any web page you’re viewing (using the Chrome web browser) to your Chromecast device. Basically, this turns your TV into a remote monitor that mirrors what you have displayed in the Chrome browser tab you’ve chosen to “cast”. Unfortunately, you can’t send these to your Google TV – at least just yet. More fragmentation? Hopefully it’s just that Google TV hasn’t yet been updated with this capability.
The Chromecast has Netflix, and it works great. Just like Google TV. However, that’s all it has. No Amazon video, and no apps you can install yourself. However, you can fire up Amazon Video in your web browser, and then “cast” that browser tab to the Chromecast TV, which works great – just be sure the computer doesn’t go to sleep or the stream to the TV stops.
I’ll tell you, though – I’m really impressed with this Chromecast device, though. Especially for $35. It allows you to plug it into any television in your house with an HDMI port, and from that point on, you can send content to that television. I’m finding I use it quite a bit, actually. Hanging out in the kitchen, I might throw on a YouTube video, and later in the middle of it, need to go to another room, and whether than room has Google TV or Chromecast, I can use my phone or tablet to just transfer what I’m viewing instantly to that room’s TV instead. I ended up buying another one, if you can’t tell.
However, for the TV I sit down in front of, Chromecast is no replacement for Google TV. Chromecast to me is best thought of as the device that lets you send something you’re watching on your tablet, phone or PC to a larger screen. It performs admirably, too – very good video quality. The TV you see here is one I just bought, specifically to have in the downstairs kitchen. It is showing the screen you see when nothing is being sent to it, and the background pictures periodically change. You can name the screens whatever you like – I chose “Downstairs Kitchen” for this one. It is powered by the USB cable that is included and plugged into a USB port on this TV. It can also draw power from the HDMI port, if your HDMI port is powered. The device boots when you turn on the TV, and it is a matter of a few seconds only.
If more Android apps begin to support Chromecast streaming, this little device would be indispensable. Well, if I’m honest, I think it probably pretty much already is for me. The tech they’ve implemented for this is wonderful. And at $35? It is spectacular.