Saturday, December 14, 2013

Google Chromecast - My Initial Experience

Google's Chromecast is a tiny usb drive kind of gadget which plugs into the HDMI port of your HDTV and can facilitates media casting on to your HDTV. With built-in wi-fi modules, most of the HDTVs in the market today allows browsing and streaming media directly from internet. With chromecast, you stream movies, videos and music from Netflix, Hulu, HBO and other media sites from internet. You can use your Android or iOS devices or even your Windows PC or Laptop to cast and control the streams on to your TV. This blog is not to write about what it is, but to share my first experience with this cute little gadget. Check out more about the device here.

I ordered this device on and it was delivered at my home the very next day. The pack as delivered contained the Chromecast device, HDMI extender cable, USB power cable for charging the device and a power supply. And of-course there was a small, micro-printed product information leaflet, which just contained license information, warnings, warranty and the contents in the pack. For everything else, it referred to Google Chromecast site.

The three step setup instruction as printed on the inside of the flip top of the packing read as: 1. plug it in; 2. switch input; and 3. set it up. That was pretty simple and I was curious how simple this is going to be when actually setting this up.

I just plugged the device on to the HDMI port of the TV and then used the provided USB power cable to power up the device. Just in case your TV does not have the USB ports, then you can use the provided power supply and plug it on to the mains power source. And yes, the device does needs power to work and unlike USB ports, HDMI ports (per its current specification) do not offer power to the connected devices.

Upon connecting the power source, the LED on the device emitted a red light for a few seconds and turned to white. In my case the second step was not necessary as my TV smartly detected a new source on one of the HDMI ports and switched to it to receive video data. For those TVs that don't automatically switch, then you need to use your TV remote to select the relevant HDMI port as the input source.

The moment my TV switched to the HDMI port on which the Chromecast is plugged in, I could see a PC desktop like screen on the TV with a random nice background pictures and prompting me to visit chromcast site for setting up the device.

I however had the chromecast app installed on my HTC One M7 device the day I ordered the device. The App upon launch scans the connected wi-fi network and look for presence of a chromecast device. It did find the device and the device had a default name as chromecast 7151 (I was offered to choose a name of my choice, but I left it to the default for now) and prompted me to setup the device. At this stage the chrome device is not connected to my wi-fi network. Upon detecting the device the App on my HTC device prompted me to setup and at this stage, my TV displayed my wi-fi network name as well.

As I moved on to the next step, my TV displayed a code 'C3W8' and the app also prompted me to verify
whether it is the same code. Upon verification, I was then prompted to enter my wi-fi security passcode. At that stage, the app displayed the mac address of the chrome device, which was needed as in my case as I have enabled mac filtering in my wi-fi router and unless I add up the mac address of the chromecast to the whitelist on my router, it won't be able to connect to the internet. I added the mac address to the whitelist on my router and entered the passcode, but the setup did not succeed and was prompting me to check couple of configurations on my router: 1. to enable Access Point isolation and 2. to enable uPNP or multicast.

I could not figure out the first configuration parameter on my dlink 605L wi-fi router. I could however find the uPNP setting, which I enabled and rebooted the router. But the Chromecast device still could not connect to my wi-fi network. A quick search on Google led me to a useful page listing out the known issues and work around for different routers. It could find my router listed therein with a suggestion to enable another configuration parameter 'wireless enhance mode'. Upon enabling this parameter in the router, Chromecast was able to connect to internet and with that the setup is complete. The device immediately started downloading updates and it took couple of minutes to complete and then it was ready for casting.

The 'discover applications' option in the Android App listed few applications and the quite familiar ones are YouTube, Google Play Movies and Play Music. There were few other apps which are for streaming the photos, videos and music stored on the device. The supported applications display a cast icon to start casting the media on to the TV. Upon casting, in case of internet media, like YouTube, the device sources the media directly from, the internet through wi-fi, but at the same time, you can control it using your device. Here is a screen shot of the first YouTube video I chromecasted using my HTC One Android phone. More apps would start supporting Chromecast in the future.

In case of stored media, the streaming happens through the local wi-fi network and in case of certain high resolution videos, there were pauses in between. This probably depends on the specific app that is used for such casting.

Next I tried to set it up on my Windows PC, but no, my PC is connected through physical LAN and the Chromecast app said that I need wi-fi enabled on the PC. I then turned on to my Windows 8 Laptop. It was a breeze and no hassles in setting this up on my Windows 8 laptop. The Chromecast App is just for setting up the device and since mine is already setup I just needed the extension to be added to the Chrome browser, so that it facilitates casting a specific tab of the chrome browser. The extension adds a little icon on to the addressbar
which on click allows the casting of the browser tab. At this time I could see the YouTube and Netflix windows app with support for chrome cast and lot more windows 8 apps may start supporting chromecast soon. Here is how it looked like when I casted an YouTube video on the Chrome browser tab.

If you were to connect the Chromecast on to a different network, you have to do a Factory Reset, which can be done using the Chromecast App on the device or on the PC and then set it up with the new network.  Another great advantage is that the software gets updates automatically when Google releases updates and more apps are coming up offering support for Chromecast.