The Chromecast is Great and Terrible

The Google Chromecast is an interesting beast. It isn't quite a Roku and it isn't quite an Apple TV. Instead, it is something more. And something less.

The Chromecast is a nifty little device. It is roughly the size of a key fob for a rental car and fits snugly into an HDMI port (and if your TV supports USB power then you don't have to worry about using the power adapter). The unboxing experience is elegant. The setup experience, however, was not.

Hypothetically, you should just be able to plug in the Chromecast, switch the TV input, and configure the device using your laptop/tablet/phone. Unfortunately, that didn't work quite so well for me. I was ready to start configuring my Chromecast, but the Chromecast was unable to see my Wi-Fi network.

Silly me, I thought to myself, I forgot to add the Chromecast to the router's access list. No problem, I'll just add the MAC address to the list and retry the setup.

Nope, that didn't work. 

Okay, I thought, maybe I'll look up some common problems with my router and the Chromecast. Nothing unusual listed.  Might as well reboot the router in case it was stuck in some finicky state.

Okay, I'll try the setup again. Maybe I just got unlucky and there was some sort of interference. 

Nope, that didn't work. 

This time, the Chromecast gave me an error message that suggested that perhaps I had Access Point Isolation turned on for my router. A quick check of the router's settings verified that this was not the case.

At this point, I was red with fury. Why wouldn't this stupid thing work?!?! 

Then, I had a moment of clarity: what if the Chromecast wasn't able to handle connecting to a Wi-Fi network that did not broadcast its name? With my last ounce of patience, I configured my router to broadcast its SSID.

Bingo. Major Tom to Ground Control; I'm feeling much better now, thank you. 

Well then. Let's get started streaming. The Chromecast doesn't really do screen sharing the way that Apple's AirPlay lets users share content from their iPhone or iPad. It also doesn't have the 'plop down on the couch with a remote' simplicity that the Roku offers.  No, the Chromecast offers less in order to offer more.

The Chromecast has a companion app available for the Chrome browser.  With it, users can display any content on their TV that they can display in a Chrome browser tab. For my trials, I used YouTube and Hulu to see how the Chromecast would perform. Those sites are the main reason I decided to get the Chromecast, in order to fill the TV viewing gap that I was missing with having just the Roku.

In general, the streaming worked okay. There was a noticeable lag between the time I tapped on the video controls in my browser tab and when those controls made the same changes on the TV. The video quality was just about what I would expect with this kind of solution...okay, not great.

What do I think of the Chromecast? It fits my needs just fine. It is not as seamless an experience as the Roku or Apple TV, but it is far more flexible than those devices. It only costs $35. Can't beat that price. 

I should also mention that I encountered some problems with interference when using a microwave oven at the same time I was streaming video. Get your popcorn ready, indeed. Just do it before you sit down to watch something, apparently.