Chromecast, Roku, Fire TV Stick… it’s totally understandable if you feel perplexed by the number of streaming devices on offer today. Have you ever wondered “what is Chromecast?” Well, we’re here to cut through all the jargon and explain exactly what Chromecast is, how it works, and what you can do with it.
Key points to remember:
- Chromecast is Google’s inexpensive, lightweight and user-friendly streaming device with thousands of apps including Netflix, Hulu and Spotify.
- There are currently two Chromecast devices to choose from: Chromecast and Chromecast with Google TV. The latter has more advanced features and is well worth the extra $20.
- Chromecast devices have multiple uses, from streaming movies, music, and TV shows to displaying photos. You can even use your TV as a second computer screen with a Chromecast and the Chrome browser.
If you fancy a home cinema experience but don’t want to spend the money on a smart TV, grab some popcorn and read on.
There is no monthly charge for the Chromecast device after purchasing it. However, some apps, like Netflix, are not free and you will have to pay monthly or yearly subscription fees for those. Other apps, like YouTube, are of course still free.
Chromecast is a streaming device that connects to your TV and the internet, allowing you to cast content to your TV. It uses a protocol called “Google Cast” to allow you to easily cast music, videos or images to your TV screen.
Smart TVs come with many popular apps like Netflix already available, so if you already have one, you’re unlikely to need a Chromecast. However, smart TVs are the more expensive option, so you might want to consider a Chromecast instead.
The latest model, Chromecast with Google TV, has voice commands. You can press the Google Assistant button on the remote to give voice commands and even match your voice to get a personalized UI experience.
What is Chromecast?
Chromecast is the name of Google’s line of streaming devices, or dongles. Streaming devices are hardware that connects to your TV and the internet, allowing you to stream and stream content like movies or music to your TV.
There are currently two Chromecast models available on the Google Store: Chromecast and Chromecast with Google TV. The classic Chromecast allows you to cast content from your mobile device or tablet to your TV, it only works as a streaming device.
The latest model is even more advanced. When Google launched Chromecast with Google TV, things kicked things up a notch with a whole new user interface.
There’s also a third Chromecast model – named Chromecast Ultra – which is currently sold as part of Google Stadia Premiere Edition.
We also explained in our Chromecast buying guide, but for now, let’s explore the basic principles of operation of Chromecast.
How does Chromecast work?
If you fancy an evening with stranger things Where The crown but want the full-screen home theater experience, you might want to consider a Chromecast. It uses a protocol called Google Cast to let you cast your content to the big screen and get the most out of your viewing time.
One of the benefits of Google Chromecast is the simplicity and streamlining of the setup process (see our guide on setting up Google Chromecast). If you have a TV with an HDMI port, a phone or tablet, and a WiFi network, you’re good to go (although there’s a way to use Chromecast without WiFi as well).
What is Google Chromecast used for?
While Google Chromecast is mainly used to distribute movies and shows, it is far from its only goal.
You can also use Chromecast to stream music, which is great if you’ve got a party planned and want your Spotify playlist cast on the big screen. (If you want to know how to bypass geo-blocks when using Spotify, see our How to Unblock Spotify article.)
If you want to share those vacation photos with family and friends without squinting at a phone, Chromecast lets you cast them to your TV. For this you will need the Google Photos app or go to photos.google.com on your Google Chrome browser on a laptop. Check out our Best Online Photo Storage guide to learn more about protecting your photos.
Casting your laptop to your TV with Google Chromecast is another great feature. This means your TV can even function as a second monitor. You just need to make sure that Google’s Chrome web browser is installed. You can find specific instructions on different ways to cast from your laptop in the Chromecast Help Center.
If you’re using Chromecast with Google TV, you’ll have access to the new UI on your TV screen. This means you can control the media directly using the supplied remote without having to use your phone, although you still need to use your phone/tablet for setup. Users of the latest model may also be pleased to hear that gaming is another feature it offers (check out our list of the best Chromecast games).
Can you use Chromecast with any TV or mobile device?
Chromecast is compatible with Android phones or tablets running Android 6.0 or later and iPhones or iPads with iOS 12.0 or later.
When it comes to televisions, the general rule is that if yours has a HDMI socket, it should be fine. If you’re using an older TV with composite (red, yellow, green) inputs, you can buy an HDMI-to-analog (RCA) converter to use Google Chromecast.
If you’re looking for specifics, the exact requirements for TVs, according to the Chromecast Support Center, are as follows:
- High-speed Digital Content Protection (HDCP) 1.3 or higher
- HDCP 2.2 to support 4K content
Chromecast Ultra and Chromecast with Google TV can stream up to 4K. The Help Center lists the following requirements for watching in 4K:
- 4K-compatible TV
- Broadband Internet connection (at least 20 Mbps)
For HDR content, you’ll need an HDR-capable TV. In terms of WiFi, Chromecast supports all wireless networks with WiFi 802.11ac (2.4GHz/5GHz).
Chromecast remote and voice control
Chromecast with Google TV comes with a small remote control, and you can also control the Chromecast Ultra with Stadia controller. Examples of voice commands could be “open Amazon Prime Video” or “play (insert favorite series Amazon Prime Video)”.
With the Chromecast with Google TV, you can give voice commands by pressing the Google Assistant button. It also has a voice match function. It works by familiarizing Google Assistant with your voice, so it can customize the interface specifically for you.
Although the classic Google Chromecast does not have the voice control feature, you can use the Google Home app to control the streaming device.
Chromecast with Google TV vs. Roku vs. Apple TV
One difference between Chromecast with Google TV and similar devices is the setup. Chromecast with Google TV is set up using your Android or iOS device. Firesticks and Rokus are set up using a TV remote. With AppleTV, you can use an iOS device or a remote. All devices are designed for painless setup, but some users may prefer the streamlined experience of the Google Home app.
Each device’s interface has its own streaming experience. For example, Firestick has plenty of Amazon Prime Video content, which makes it a good choice for Amazon Prime subscribers. Roku’s interface is renowned for its ease of navigation. Chromecast with Google TV personalizes and organizes all your content, which definitely gives it an edge. Again, this mainly depends on your personal preferences.
If you want to learn more about other streaming devices, our Firestick vs Roku article is a great resource. We also have a complete Firestick vs Chromecast guide.
Chromecast apps: What can I watch on Google Chromecast?
Chromecast is supported by a host of apps. We’ve put together a list of some of the most popular to give you an idea. Check out Google Store to explore all the options, both paid and free.
- HBO Max
- Amazon Prime Video
- Xfinity stream
- Show time
- Google Play Movies
You can also buy movies from the Google Play store, open the Google Play app on your phone, and stream them to your TV. (Our regular readers may have read a bit about Chromecast in our How to Watch Netflix on Chromecast article.)
Please keep in mind that these apps are not included in the price of your Chromecast device. Your subscription is entirely separate, although Google sometimes offers bundles. As of this writing, you can get a Google Chromecast-Netflix plan in some countries. In the deal, you get a Chromecast with Google TV and six months of Netflix for $89.99.
You may have heard that many streaming services like Netflix have regional restrictions in place. If you want to know how to get around this problem and watch what you want, when you want, check out our Best VPN for Netflix article. We also have the Best VPN for Hulu and Best VPN for Amazon Prime Video articles if these apps are more for you.
Final Thoughts: Google Chromecast
If you’re looking for an easy way to stream content but don’t want to invest in a more expensive smart TV, Chromecast might be what you need. I hope this guide has helped you understand what Chromecast is and what you can do with it.
Do you have a Chromecast or are you planning to buy one soon? What model? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.