What is Chromecast?
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This post will bring you up to speed on the second generation Chromecast and the all new Chromecast Audio. What are they ? What difference do they bring to the pitch? The difference between AirPlay and Google cast and how my experience is after a couple of months use.
What is Chromecast?
I am going to be bold and assume that most of you have heard about Google Chromecast. For those of you who haven't you may have not seen my first post on them here (Norwegian content). Chromecast is probably the cheapest device available on the market to give your flatscreen some smartness and more functionality other than your "semi smart TV" or old Bluray player. The cast device is a small WiFi enabled HDMI plug capable of displaying all kinds of content on your TV. Shortly after the release of the Chromecast back in 2013 the content and supported devices was not too good, as with any new device. The popularity of the device though, ensured a rapid growth and soon enough Chromecast was available in almost every service, either in your chrome browser, android or iOS app. For the 2015 update of the system Google also announced Chromecast Audio, they have conquered the HDMI for cheap and now the jack is up for a fight against Sonos and other multi-room music systems.
New vs Old
The biggest change to the new and old HDMI type is as you see the design. The new Chromecast is now round and has the HDMI portion attached on a small fixed cable. The first gen had the HDMI as a part og the unit and came with a short HDMI extension cable. The new updated design should make the unit more adaptable in placement. The HDMI cable has a magnet at the end which snaps on to the body making it more friendly in the bag "on the go".
The other noticeable change is WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi (2.4GHz/5GHz). This makes it fast, very fast. The old chromecast was not exactly slow but if you compare the two side by side you will understand the difference. The startup is quicker, discovery of the cast unit is much quicker and any stream casted to it is so much quicker. The change was actually so improved that I decided to change out all my old first gen chromecasts. Livingroom, Bedroom & my travel bag.
The first gen ones are backups should the new ones have any connectivity problems or similar. Since they all support HDMI Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) so the receiver or TV switches automatically to the correct input based on which Chromecast is streaming.
The Chromecast audio is what the HDMI version did for a device to stream video but for audio. It will tie in to a lot of the popular music services or podcast apps. Chromecast audio lets you group casts together and playing the same content in every room or divided at your needs, much like Sonos. My house is equipped with built in speakers in many rooms, all controlled through Sonos Multiroom system (read more here). Comparing Chromecast up against Sonos is wrong for many reasons, both from a sound quality perspective, hardware and it's functionality. For a lot of people though the price tag is going to be a major issue. If the function is simmilar and it works people will choose the cheaper version, at least when the price differs as much as it does, this depends on whether you already own the speakers or not . So why did I buy the Chromecast audio?
My living room and kitchen is an open solution so it is basically the same room. The living room has a receiver with several sources other than a Sonos zone, the kitchen is the Sonos zone for this area. During a party or at times where I want to play loud I would like to connect these two together, but not for the price a Sonos connect costs. So I have a Chromecast audio as a input on the kitchen connect and a Chromecast audio on the receiver in the living room. This is what i define as multiroom, Inception style. It will allow me to play music in all my zones with chromecast as an input to the Sonos Speakers.
Another benefit of a multiroom system in a multiroom system is to increase the functionality. Ok, so the Sonos app is good and it is frequently updated with new functions but it has still got a long way to go to replace any of the supported services apps. Like many i am a Spotify user, I also listen to quite a lot of podcasts and every now and then i like to listen to radio. I am able to reach all those through the Sonos app, but not as elegantly as through the native app. Sometime however I will use the Sonos App other times I will use the dedicated one, it just gives me the option and an extra ayer of functionality. The only downside of this solution is volume control. To control the volume for this solution you have at least 2 volumes, or maybe even more. One for the Sonos, One for the Chromecast and maybe another for the TV or receiver witch the Chromecast is plugged in to. I have usually set my receiver volume sort of mid range to the Sonos zone volumes cranked it up a bit and then turned the volume down on the chromecasting device, effectively using Chromecast as the main volume control.
Airplay VS Google Cast
The biggest difference between the two is that Airplay is Device-Device control, meaning that it will stream the content from your phone or computer to the airplay receiver. Google Cast uses the device at hand as a remote, when you decide to cast something it is not actually streaming from the device it is streaming directly from the source as long as you have an internet connection. This means that you can start a stream on you phone, walk in to the bathroom, trow your phone in the toilet, flush it down and the stream will continue to play. If you did that with your iPhone the stream would stop as soon as water penetrated the device or the wifi signal was lost down the drain depending on which comes first. The obvious difference between the two is not the capability of keeping the video or music playing if you decide to be stupid, but it shows the level of functionality one from the other. A Google cast solution lets you use your remote and play/pause the stream, it lets you pick up your iPad and start another stream it also lets your gest get the option to cast something on your screen even if they are not on the same network. Google cast is also available on multiple platforms, iOS, Windows,android etc. Airplay however being an Apple product does not play well with others, if you are surrounded by Apple products you will do OK, but i would still get a Google cast enabled device if i was you. Scenario: You are on your mac and you want to stream a youtube video to your TV while surfing on other stuff on the mac. Airplay will effectively mirror or extend you display so it is possible, Google cast however lets you stream only the video from the source leaving the browser as a remote.
There is not much to say, first gen worked fine, the second even better. Functionality for the buck is close to 100% so i would not hassle getting one, or even more. I use my Chromecasts every day and best of all it works on both Chrome Browser, Android and iOS (and several third party apps/plugins). My Apple TV and Chromecast are used evenly throughout the day. If Apple TV supports it and there is an app for it I tend to use the Apple TV, if I am ploughing through Youtube, creating longer playlist or just the random stumble of a movie/song on the internet which I want to share or view big then the Chromecast is used.
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