Google announced Chromecast today at the Breakfast With Sundar press event in San Francisco. It's a simple, affordable device that is about the same size as a thumb drive. Chromecast plugs in to the HDMI port on your TV and connects to your devices using Wi-Fi 802.11n. It works with Android, iOS, and ChromeOS devices, and there's an extension for the Chrome web browser.
Chromecast will let you stream video, photos, and just about anything you can view in your web browser, right on your HDTV. You control what content is pushed to your TV using your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. It works with just about any Android device that is running Android 2.3 or higher. There's a small "Cast" button made available when Chromecast is installed on your TV and detects a compatible device and app. Clicking the "Cast" buttons pushes your content to your television. It works with the Netflix and YouTube apps, and more apps will be added as developers get on board.
Chromecast competes directly with Apple's AirPlay, which streams your content directly from your mobile device to an Apple TV. The difference with Chromecast is that it pulls your content from the cloud. This allows the person initiating a Chromecast to leave the house if they want. Someone else can take over and take control of the viewing experience. It also allows you to do other things on your device after starting a Cast. Get a text message in the middle of your Netflix show? No problem. The show goes on, you can check your text and then bring up the Netflix controls again without missing a beat.
Google wisely did not build a whole new platform with expensive hardware. They made it simple for developers with the Google Cast SDK. Developers can simply add Chromecast functionality to their app and have it work. No need to rewrite an app from the ground up.
The Chromecast dongle is only $35. Wait...what? The least expensive Google TV box available is the Vizio Co-Star, priced at $99. The Apple TV is also $99. Google just replaced those devices with something that provides a similar service, but with a better experience, for about a third of the cost. You don't have to worry about a complex remote or connecting an extra unit to your cable or home Ethernet connection. Chromecast is built around apps, so the apps that support the service are your remote, essentially. If you know how to use YouTube or Netflix, you already know how to use Chromecast.
Still a Long Way To Go
Chromecast will need more services to get on board if it hopes to stick. Google TV is a floundering platform not only because it's clunky and difficult to use, but also because services like Amazon Prime and Hulu are not available on all Google TV devices. Amazon Prime has about 10 million members, and those that use Amazon Instant Video are going to want access to their content too. The same thing goes for Hulu Plus customers, or any other service except Netflix.
Amazon and Google are competitors, and just like we don't expect Apple to make iTunes content available to Casting, we can't necessarily expect Amazon to play ball right away. Like I mentioned before, Amazon still has not released a Google TV-specific Amazon Instant Video app. The hope here is that because Chromecast is cross-platform and not tied to any one company or brand, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet can use it to Cast YouTube and Netflix. Amazon is currently selling the Chromecast dongle. That's a good first sign.
The End of Google TV?
Chromecast has the ability to Cast your Chrome web tabs onto any TV that has a HDMI port. You just open a tab and press the "Cast" button. You only see the tab that you are Casting, not the whole desktop. One of the biggest problems with popular Google TV devices like Roku are that they do not have web browsing capabilities. The devices that do, like the Vizio Co-Star and Hisense Pulse, offer a sub-par browsing experience that is slow and lacks Chrome extensions. Surfing the web and then projecting your content, be it an article or video, on to your TV is an added feature that current Google TV boxes just don't handle well, if they do it at all.
Google has done something amazing with Chromecast. The end game with Chromecast and Google TV, just like with Apple TV or any other home entertainment console, is control of your living room content. Content is king, and whoever controls it can make money. By giving people a simple option, pricing it so low that it's basically an impulse buy, and letting people use their devices they are already comfortable with as their remote control, Google has really built something that competes for control of your living room.