I reviewed the Vizio Co-Star Google TV back in May, the TL;DR summary: I loved it. I also tried to order the new Google Chromecast the minute that Google made the announcement official, but what appeared at first to be a successful order of two new Google sticks turned into an out-of-stock backorder. I finally got my chance to buy the Chromecast last Thursday, and here's how the new Google hottie compares to the Google TV.
What's a Chromecast?
The Chromecast is a tiny little streaming stick, not at all unlike the previously released Roku Streaming Stick: it streams audio and video content from the Internet. But unlike other options, Chromecast is a dumb client, meaning the brains of its operation are controlled by your phone, tablet or laptop computer. Unlike Google TV with its overlay layer of apps, features and options, the Chromecast has no UI of its own.
Chromecast is a plug it in and forget method to make your dumb TV smart, and your Smart TV smarter. Using the YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Movies & TV or Google Play Music apps you push Internet content to the Chromecast from whatever device you happen to have in your hand. The big selling point? You aren't streaming the content that Chromecast plays from your device, the content is streamed from the net directly to the Chromecast.
The big differences between Google TV and Chromecast
The differences are obvious, but here are some of the highlights of what the Chromecast isn't. With Google TV, you can install apps from the Google Play Store. With Chromecast, there are no apps to install. You interact with the Google TV using a remote, either the physical one that ships with your device or the Google TV remote app for your phone or tablet. With Chromecast, your phone apps are your remote control.
With Google TV, you can pull up the handy Prime app to discover what's on TV or Netflix. With Chromecast, you can't. With Google TV, you get Chrome for web browsing or to stream content directly to your TV from sites that don't block it. With Chromecast you get none of that.
Chromecast is a controlled environment where the only content available is the content approved by the owners or distributors who go through the process of adding official Chromecast support to their apps or websites.
Chromecast isn't Android
The Chromecast owning portion of the Internet collectively lost its mind over the weekend when the 12980 Chromecast update broke Koush's AllCast app, the app that allowed you to stream nearly any audio or video from your Android device to Chromecast. Google's timely disabling of unsupported methods of streaming to Chromecast can only mean one thing: Chromecast isn't "open".
Yes, I know. Google and Android are "open". Chrome OS is more "open" than some other OS options. Everything that Google does is supposed to be "open". Chromecast should be "open".
Here's the thing: open doesn't sell to the corporations that own content or its distribution. Google TV was an attempt to sidestep the block that the cable and satellite companies put on Google gaining a foothold in the livingroom. Google wanted to bring content discovery and enhanced features to the DVR, and in the process gain valuable information about users to better target advertising. The big pay TV operators wanted no part of Google having insights into their customers habits that they didn't have access to themselves.
Chromecast is Google's new attempt to play by the rules. Instead of going all wild-wild-west, black flag style unauthorized streaming of content, Google wants to play by the rules and have access to the premium content that has eluded them all this time.
If you anticipate being able to customize the Chromecast or to modify the firmware, it doesn't appear that Google is going to allow that to happen. Google doesn't talk about rooting Android devices in their product reveals, but they are awful fond of the word "open". If you watch the Chromecast reveal party, open never comes up in the context of the end user being able to do what they want with the Chromecast.
Shut up already and tell me, should I buy one?
I bought my first Android phone, not because of what it was, but because of the promise of what it could become. That bet paid off big-time for me. The same for my first Android tablet and Chromebook. They weren't much to speak of when I bought in, but they've become more than I had hoped they could be.
Google TV? Yeah, that one was a lost bet. I bought the Logitech Revue for what I had hoped it could be. Same for the Vizio Co-Star, it appeared that Google TV could be ready to break-out, and I wanted to be there to see it. I'm still waiting.
I didn't buy the Chromecast for what I wanted it to become, I bought the Chromecast for what it currently is: the best YouTube, Netflix and Google Play Music experience on my TV. Do I want more from it? Yes, I absolutely do. There are rumors that Hulu+, HBO Go, Redbox Instant and other premium content options are coming, but don't let those rumors influence your decision.
Buy now for what the Chromecast is, or wait to see if the Chromecast becomes more of what you want it to be. At $35 (plus 3 months of free Netflix if you get it at Best Buy) the Chromecast is a modest expense compared to other streaming options. It doesn't (yet) offer premium content from any of the pay-TV networks, but it does offer content from the two most popular video streaming sites.