I mentioned last year that I had managed to get somebody to bring me a Google Chromecast back from the US and I was pretty impressed with it.
Yesterday was the official UK launch and to go with it the BBC announced that the Android and iOS iPlayer applications would both be supporting the device. This is great news and really adds to the capability of the device.
Up until now I’ve mainly been using mine to watch a films and TV series I’ve bought from Google Play and to play my music through the TV + sounds system in my living room. But with iPlayer support I can see it getting a lot more use, as I tended to watch iPlayer content on my Nexus 7 which is ok, but a little bit small.
The iPlayer app just adds the little cast icon to the title bar of the app and if you connect to a Chromecast it sends the device rather than firing up the video app on the phone. The BBC seam to have done a decent first pass with a nice lock screen integration showing the program art. I gave it a test drive catching up on the last 2 episodes of Salamander that I had missed, the quality was great and playback was near instant (but that may be as much to do with my fibre broadband as anything else).
I’m even seriously considering buying my folks one so they can use iPlayer as the only time they’ve used it so far is when I’ve been back up home and plugged one of the laptops into the TV for them. Dad has an Android phone already and there was some talk of them getting a tablet for my niece to use when she visits.
The only problem I see with it is the price, at £30 it’s 3 times the cheapest price you can get a NOW TV Box for.
The only thing left if for me to finally get round to updating my MythTV setup so I can make use of the HLS support in the new version and write a Android app to display recorded shows via the Chromecast.
Having unpacked the stick I plugged it into my TV and plugged the usb cable in to power it. At first nothing happened and the little notification light on the device stayed red. but replugging the power cable it jumped into life. The instructions directing me to http://www.google.com/chromecast/setup, I had to do this in the Chrome browser and on my Windows laptop as there is no setup app for Linux at the moment (There is a config app for Android, but this is only available for US users at the moment)
When I got to the point where I had to configure which WiFi network the chromecast should connect to there was a problem as my router’s SSID was not showing in the list. It took a couple of minutes for me to remember that I had set my router to use channel 13 as it’s normally lightly used. The reason it is lightly used is because in the US you can only use channels up to 11. A quick change of channel later and the network showed up in the list.
The next part is the only bit that is not as slick as it should be. The Chromecast was fully configured but when I tried to use one of the apps (I’ll talk about those in a moment) it would not show a Chromecast available to send data to. The problem was that my router had done it’s usual trick of walling each of the separate WiFi device from each other, this feature can be called a few things but the most common seams to be apisolation. In a place with shared WiFi like a coffee shop or hotel this is good as it stops people snooping on or attacking your machine, in the home environment this may not be suitable and in this case very much unwanted. I had run into this problem before as one of my MythTV frontends is on WiFi and I had changed the settings to allow WiFi cross talking but the router seams to forget the setting pretty quickly, my usual trick was to reboot my router if I needed to log into it from my laptop to fix things. This was going to become a real issue with the Chromecast. After bit of digging I found a forum post about how to tweak the settings via the telnet interface so quickly ran up an expect script to do it when needed.
This gets called by the script I’ve got bound to a button on my remote driving LIRC that changes the input on my TV from RGB used for MythTV to the HDMI socket used by the Chromecast which ensures my network is always setup properly. I really shouldn’t have to do this but O2 Wifibox III I have is not the best.
Once I’d got all that out of the way time to start actually using this thing for what’s made for. Out of the box there is support for the Chromecast baked into the latest version of the Android YouTube app, Google Play Music, Google Play Movies and Netflix app. I don’t have a Netflix account at the moment so I tried out the other 3.
When the YouTube app finds a Chromecast on the local network it adds the little cast icon to the Action bar. When you tap on this it displays a pop-up to all you to select the Chromecast (if you have more than one on the network) and then rather than play the video on the devices screen they are played on the TV. Play/Pause and volume control are available on the device. One other really nice feature is that the Chromecast maintains a queue of videos to play so you can add to the queue from your phone while it’s playing the current video, in fact if you can do this from multiple devices at the same time. This means you can take it in turns with your mates to see who can find best cat video.
Google Play Movies
Much like YouTube Google Play movies lets you play content on the Chromecast. I had rented a copy of Mud the week before getting hold of my Chromecast so I watched this on the TV rather than on my Nexus 7. The only odd part was that I had downloaded a copy to the device and it would not let me watch it via the Chromecast without deleting the local copy.
Google Play Music
The music app works as expected, showing the cover art on the screen while it plays the tracks. Because it streams tracks directly from the cloud if you are working through a playlist and hit a track that you have added directly to the storage on the phone then it will refuse to play even if you have pushed a copy of the file to Google Music’s cloud storage.
Away from applications on your Android device there is a plugin for the Chrome browser which allows you to share the content of any tab on the large screen. I need to have a look at using this for giving HTML5 based presentations.
There is a API for interacting with the Chromecast and and I’m going to have a look at writing an app to push MythTV recordings so I can replace one of my MythTV frontends. First impressions of the API make me think this shouldn’t be too hard if I can set up the right transcoding.
Over all I’m pretty impressed with the Chromecast and I’m still debating if I should ask my folks to bring me another one back as they are out in the US at the moment.