Saturday, March 29, 2014

Google Chromecast - Several Weeks In

The first thing to say is that I'm an Apple TV owner. I've had it since version 1, have a tonne of iTunes content in the cloud, and am generally speaking very happy with it. I thought I'd give the Google alternative a go because before I was an "Apple guy" I was a "Google guy" and despite all the apple stuff I've got I'd happy go back to Google in a flash if they could make products that were as good (for me, I recognise that this is very subjective!) as the Apple Alternatives.

The unboxing experience is pretty good. Basically in the box is the device, a power block and a USB lead. In my case the power supply was American, but to be honest I've got plenty of powered USB ports around the TV so this wasn't a problem.

I plugged in and had the whole thing setup connecting to my wireless network in about 5 minutes. I was able to start streaming one of the Doctor Who episodes I'd purchased via the Play Movies app on my iPhone pretty immediately. Using my iPhone as a remote control seemed to work very well, and (unlike Apple's AirPlay) as rather than streaming from my iPhone to the Chromecast it makes it's own connection to the

One thing I'm hoping not to do is compare the Chromecast to the AppleTV they're very different pieces of technology. In essence all the Chromecast is is an online video player, that's enough for a lot of people but the AppleTV does more.

So I've been using it for a few weeks and here's my main comments;

  • I miss having a remote. I've got young children who should go to sleep around 8, but tend to come down into the lounge around 8:30 - just in time to catch things in Walking Dead I'd prefer them not to see. The problem is that my WiFi connection on my phone has shutdown so when I pick it up to hit "pause" it has to connect to WiFi and then find the Chromecast and then work out it's playing a video so the "pause" button is enabled and then, after I've pressed it, pause the live video. This doesn't always work - in fact it rarely works. In fact I've learnt that the only way to ensure it connects properly is to shutdown the app and re-open it - hardly ideal
  • Google Play is cheaper than iTunes. Mostly. Frankly it's good to have an alternative, but the one thing I did find frustrating is pricing not defaulting to High Definition (HD). It's very frustrating that when I see something at £9.99 I have to click on it to see the HD price. Even more frustrating is if it's showing £3.49 which turns out to be the rental price! There just doesn't seem to be any consistency, some items don't appear to have a price until you click on them. I find this frustrating. £1.99 for a classic album though - can't beat that!
  • Virgin Media is my ISP, I have fibre broadband, the HD content is crisp and clear. However there's just the small part of me that can't get used to not knowing what HD I'm watching. Is it 1080p or 720p? I have no way of knowing. None. When I buy an iTunes download I can see it's 1080p. I saved £2 buying on Google Play but have I still got 1080p? Who knows*
  • YouTube private video's don't play. This is quite odd. I can play Netflix so why not YouTube private videos? Clearly there is some kind of authentication handover for Netflix so why haven't Google done the same with YouTube?
  • The "Beta" Chrome plugin for screen/ tab sharing doesn't work. Doesn't work at all. I've tried multiple chromecasts and multiple networks - no joy. Fix it
  • I've had a few errors both on the iPhone and actually on the Chromecast itself. Sometimes I've had to shutdown the app and restart it, sometimes I've had to unplug the power from the Chromecast to get it working again. Consumer devices don't do this. Not the good ones anyway
  • £30 is an absolute bargin
*- Yes. I know. The obvious point is that if I can't tell the difference what's the point in complaining? Fair point.

And here's what I'd like to see in Version 2;
  • IR receiver. I'd like to use a remote. My existing remote works for the AppleTV and works well, I'd like to use it for Chromecast but there wouldn't be any point unless ...
  • Apps on Chromecast. iPlayer, Netflix, Play, etc. I'd like these as Apps so (when combined with a remote) I don't have to play around with my iPhone/iPad to get things to play 
  • I'd like to be able to prevent other people interrupting my movie by just choosing to play from their device to Chromecast (usually accidentally). This is more of an issue when I'm using the Chromecast at work where it's on the public wireless, along with the Apple TV's, than it is at home but I'd still like this recognised by Google as being a real problem
Carrying on the "improvements to play" theme;
  • 1080p HD as the *default* for downloads and for pricing. If it's not in 1080p then differentiate it somehow
  • Bundles. There are some really good bundles on iTunes, both movies and TV shows. Lets get some on play!
  • Fix the interface. It's terrible. Terrible. Not just on one device but on all devices. Play Music on my iPhone is a mess - the person who decided that what I really wanted to do when I open it is see my music presented to me in a random order with randomly generated playlists inserted into it. I mean in what way was this a good idea?
  • Seriously with the interface. Fix it.
In summary though it's a pretty good device. It has a few niggles but it's only version 1 and it's pretty cheap so it's quite easy to forgive it's imperfections. If you're an Android user should you get one? Definitely. You'd be absolutely mad not too. If you're an iPhone user then it's not quite as clear cut, but I'd still recommend it.
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