Chromecast: Is it third time's a charm for Google and TV?

26th Jul 2013 | 00:35

Chromecast: Is it third time's a charm for Google and TV?

Google takes a crack at your living room…again

Yesterday Google headlined its breakfast event with a delicious new Nexus 7 tablet packing upgraded hardware that had us salivating, throwing in a new version of Jelly Bean to boot. But the real darling of the day was yet another push by the Mountain View company into our living rooms, this time in the form of a 2-inch dongle.

Google grabbed our collective attention with this HDMI plug-in called Chromecast, a $35 (about £22, AU$38) stick that pulls content that's playing on your smartphone, tablet or laptop from the cloud and streams it to your TV.

While Chromecast is by all measures a hit, with orders flying fast in the U.S., there's something very familiar about Google's play for the boxes in our living rooms. This is, after all, the search engine's third foray into the streaming-to-TV business.

How can we forget the AppleTV known as the Google TV platform and the nowhere-to-be-found Nexus Q?

With Google's tenuous television track record and the currently limited capabilities of Chromecast, it's hard to have faith that Google may once and for all successfully take control of our living rooms with Chromecast.

Or perhaps, maybe not?

Mastering content

While it may seem like a Google TV replacement, a Google TV employee has come out and said that Chromecast won't be the death of Google TV, and Cast support is due at a later date.

This is good for Google TV owners, but it's interesting to think that this little dongle could potentially breathe new life into a platform that's been struggling to take hold for almost three years.

Google TV has struggled from the outset, and even Logitech CEO Guerrino De Luca admitted in 2011 that the Google TV Revue box was a "beta product." Harsh words coming from an early supporter and hardware partner.

One of the biggest disappointments with the original Google TV was the fact that there was simply no content. All of the major networks and even Hulu blocked Google TV from accessing channels. Top that off with the interface problems we experienced both on the screen and with the remote control, and the first Google TV was a hot mess.

Nexus Q

Then there was the Nexus Q, a spherical and quizzical attempt to once again marry a Google device and services with media consumption. The Nexus Q was a decidedly less integral part of the living room and Google managed to patch its interface problems by turning Android devices into remote controls. Once again, however, there was a lack of content that left the Nexus Q hanging with only access to YouTube, Google Play videos and Google Music.

The Nexus Q, for all intents and purposes, is a dead product, though there's rumor it may be resurrected in a v. 2 form.

So, Google's TV track record has been crappy, and content seems to be a major culprit.

Chromecast, for now, only has support from four sources – YouTube, Netflix, Google Movies & TV and Google Play Music. Pandora and other app support is due, but no one knows when.

So how will it succeed where others have failed?

For one, we can't imagine it will be without more content soon. Apps like HBO Go, WatchESPN, Hulu Plus, and other content providers are sure to be intrigued by the volume of viewers this $35 device can grab.

There's also the fact that it's open to multiple platforms – even iOS users can tell Google's Chromecast to stream video to their TV. Instead of being limited to only owners of G TVs and Nexus Qs, Google has opened up Chromecast's user base to a healthy amount of eyeballs.


Everywhere mobile

Chromecast also taps into the way we're watching content at an ever-increasing clip, giving this product a shot at succeeding where the others have failed.

During yesterday's press event Android and Chrome chief Sundar Pichai alluded to a dramatic increase in mobile online video sharing that's caused a massive drop in regular television viewing.

It's not just press conference hype. A report from online video firm Ooyala found that in the beginning of the year, the share of tablet and mobile video grew 19 percent and activity on mobile devices accounted for 10 percent of all online video plays.

Pair our increasing mobile viewing with a simple, familiar interface, and Chromecast looks like the perfect device for the every-day user to pick up, plug in and start using, little learning curve and all.

And everyone else

When it comes to simply streaming content to your TV, Chromecast is unique among competitors in that it doesn't take over your device to stream content to your TV. Unlike Apple Airplay, the Chromecast stick isn't steaming video directly from your mobile device or laptop.

Instead, it's a connected device that acts more like a remote control to tell the onboard, stripped down Chrome OS what to play. So you're free to continue browsing through the web or waste time on Facebook while your video plays.


The same can't be said when just using your mobile devices as a remote control for the Xbox 360 and future Xbox One. The Microsoft SmartGlass app only lets you connect with your Xbox as long as the app is running on forefront of your iPhone or Windows Surface. The use of the app is also extremely limited in just letting you control your Xbox remotely, pulling information on a show you might be watching, or looking up your Halo stats as you play.

It's are a fundamental difference between Chromecast and competitive products, and one that gives the advantage to the former.

Challenges remain

For all the plusses of this cheap little number, there is one glaring handicap from a technical standpoint.

As Pichai told AllThingsDigital in an interview, Chromecast could run out of on-board memory as it just packs 256 kilobytes.

That's probably not good for any gaming beyond a round of Snake, though future iterations could improve on the memory limitation. Of course, we're likely to see a price jump with that, so the future tradeoffs are already starting to form.

For now Google's strategy looks to be focused on producing a cheap, small device that easily connects the traditional television in your house to the on-the-go entertainment devices that we seem to be clutching nearly every waking moment.

It's in that connection to mobile that Chromecast could succeed where other Google TV attempts haven't. The days are still early, but Google may have struck on TV gold with this one.

Google Chromecast Google TV Apple AirPlay Xbox SmartGlass new Nexus 7 Android 4.3
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