Despite already owning both an Apple TV and a Roku box (not to mention the PS3 and Wii that support many streaming options), I went ahead and picked up a Google Chromecast. At $35 (I found it on sale at Amazon for $30), it wasn’t a huge investment.
My first impression was that it was extremely simple and unobtrusive. It’s small enough that it hides away behind my TV and will even charge through the USB port on my TV (which is good, because I’m running out of surge protector spots). Setup wasn’t very hard at all and I’m pretty sure just about anyone could handle it. I went the laptop setup route, but I believe you could also do it from your phone with the Chromecast app.
Once it is setup it just waits there for you to “cast” content to it. The casting happens via another device, like your phone, tablet or Chrome browser. There’s no remote. Chromecast is simply an HDMI dongle. Google says this is a feature, but I find it a bit of an annoyance. It’s my biggest complaint. The nice thing about an Apple TV or Roku (or any of the dedicated streamers) is that you can just browse and start content with a remote. The other problem is that only a handful of apps support Chromecast at this time. It has plenty of potential, but the current state of things leaves a lot to be desired.
My experience was pretty good with casting. It seemed to handle a variety of media just fine like YouTube videos (from both my iPhone and my iPad) as well as a bit of the Chrome tab-mirroring from my laptop. The only issue with the tab is it seems to lag and any scrolling or interaction can become a bit choppy. If you’re just trying to watch content it works ok. That said, I did see some issues at a friend’s house while we were casting the WMU hockey game via his laptop in another room to the living room TV. It kept cutting out every five to 10 minutes. It may have been a computer or network issue, but it seemed to stream fine just on the computer. The whole thing is still considered a beta and there are sure to be a few hiccups like this.
The tab mirroring is a huge plus and something Roku currently can’t offer. Apple TV can mirror your whole screen or even act as another display via AirPlay. I’ve personally had a little better luck with AirPlay, but it’s also had more time to work out its bugs.
The verdict? Google Chromecast is one of the cheapest and easiest solutions for people wanting to get Internet content on their TVs. I think as time goes on and more support arrives, the dongle will become more and more useful. If you’re looking for something to stream a lot of content, this might not be your best option. You still need a device (phone, tablet, laptop) to get anything started with Chromecast. If that seems like a problem or hassle, I recommend checking out some other options like Roku or Apple TV.