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What a Chromecast is and what it is for

Google is a bit fickle when it comes to hardware products, but there is no doubt that Chromecast has been a huge success since the first version, launched in 2013. It helped to change the way we listen to music or watch movies and series.

When Chromecast launched in July 2013, it caused a sensation that would repeat itself with the debut of Amazon Echo the following year - a piece of technology that initially seemed unnecessary and superfluous, too simple and basic to be of any real use. Why exactly do we need this?

The answer quickly became obvious: Chromecast avoided the bloated and slow interfaces of smart TVs back then to stream content from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop quickly (and affordably) to a larger screen on the same Wi-Fi network. It was incredibly easy to use and, fundamentally, quickly gained support for all major media players on Android and iOS (at launch, the first Chromecast only worked with YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Movies and TV and Google Play Music).

This smart new dongle surpassed the Apple TVs and Rokus of the time in price and simplicity. Since then, it's been getting better and better - adding more formats, supporting more applications, and extending to more devices. We're all used to it now, but at that time, passing a video stream from your phone to your TV (with HDMI) with just a few taps seemed almost magical.

Here's everything you need to know about Chromecast and how it works.

Photo: Google

Is there any monthly fee for using Chromecast?

You don't have to pay any subscription fees to use a Chromecast, although you'll still have to pay for services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to access them

How Chromecast works?

The term Chromecast is often used to refer to both the hardware and the software of the operation, but technically speaking, the Chromecast dongle is making use of a protocol called Google Cast to place audio and video on a large screen (it is sometimes called an “Integrated Chromecast” on packaging and product descriptions).

Perhaps the smartest part of the whole operation is that Google Cast connects to the web directly instead of trying to cast anything from your phone or other connected device. Once you know what you want to play, it pulls you straight from the cloud so you can continue using your phone or tablet for other tasks without interrupting the stream.

It can work locally too, however, and is capable of mirroring the screens of the newest Android phones, as well as the Google Chrome browser tabs (Chromecast devices actually run a reduced version of Chrome). You can try it out by opening the Chrome menu on a laptop (the icon showing three dots) and choosing Cast to search for local Chromecast devices. However, this local streaming is not as smooth and is not particularly suitable for videos.

What you may not have noticed is that many streaming services can be streamed from within a desktop web browser, as well as from a mobile application: Netflix, YouTube and Plex are three services that support streaming in the browser. In this case, you are not casting the Chrome tab, but telling Chromecast where to get the video from, so the playback on the big screen should be much smoother.

Google has launched a comprehensive set of tools to help developers prepare their mobile and web applications for Cast - in many cases, it doesn’t take much extra work to convert a streaming application into a Google Cast ready version, with many of the most common codecs and formats supported natively.

Over time, more and more apps have added support for Google Cast, including presentation tools, photo presenters, and even some basic games. Chromecasts themselves have also evolved, with new options for setting an ambient mode when nothing is playing, allowing guest access (for someone who is not connected to your Wi-Fi network) and controlling the switch between different devices.

Apps are getting smarter to work with Chromecast and Google Cast too - if you’re casting from the YouTube app on your phone, for example, when playing a new video, you’ll be asked if you want to watch it right away or add it you to the queue of videos uploaded to your Chromecast device. Chromecasts have also taken on a new life in terms of games as the primary devices for putting Google Stadia on the big screen.

Using Chromecast now

A new device was recently launched abroad: the Chromecast with Google TV. It supports 4K video at 60 fps with HDR via Dolby Vision and redefines what it is: this is the first Chromecast with remote control and the first to come with support for installing apps on the device itself. You no longer need a separate device for Chromecast, because you can run apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video directly from the brand new Google TV interface.

In a way, it's a shame to see the simplicity of the original Chromecast disappear, but streaming devices have changed a lot in the past seven years, and Google obviously felt that a more advanced Chromecast was needed. It still connects via HDMI and you can still stream audio and video to it from a separate device, if necessary, just like old times.

A new Google Chromecast 3 media streaming device price around ₹3,499 in the Indian market, offering 1080p video at 60fps, but it looks like the Chromecast Ultra has been retired. Chromecast with Google TV is the new premium Chromecast ready for 4K, for better or worse (although the Ultra model still comes with Stadia, until support is added to the newer model next year).

There are many more Chromecast compatible devices out there. Google Nest Hub Max can function as a Chromecast device, just like anything with Android TV, be it a Sony television or an Nvidia Shield TV. Google says Google TV will become the standard interface or top layer for Android TV in the coming years, both on old and new products.

Chromecast features are also appearing in more and more audio products, including speakers from brands like LG, Sony, Bang and Philips, Pioneer and others, as well as the Nest line of smart speakers. For audio streaming purposes, the speakers can be grouped into rooms, and it is also possible to change the room in which the music is playing with a few taps.

As for application support, it would be easier to list applications that do not allow you to broadcast audio and video. The Apple TV app is perhaps the most important thing not to connect to a Chromecast - that's a surprise - but almost all other well-known audio and video streaming apps will work, whether on Android, iOS, or the web.

The Google Home app for Android and iOS is not essential for casting, but you need it to set up your device, and it’s useful for changing options, as well as for casting an Android device’s screen. You can also use the app to set up your standard services for voice commands, so you can also get content on a Chromecast with Google Assistant.

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