Saturday, December 28, 2013

Chromecast Review

My Sony DVD player was not handling Netflix very well -- lots of pauses. After some testing to verify it really was the DVD player I went out and got a Chromecast. This is a dongle that plugs into the HDMI port on the TV and is controlled by a smartphone or laptop. It will serve Netflix content to the TV (or Amazon or other sources too).

It's a very cool idea: it connects to the wifi and hence to Netflix or Amazon or whatever content provider and displays it on the TV. It is controlled via an app on a smartphone, or a plugin to the Google Chrome browser. It is a very cool idea, but the implementation falls short.

To do this right, the dongle needs to contact Netflix directly. Having the smartphone/computer get the content from Netflix (via wifi) and then sending it via wifi to the dongle is a very inefficient use of wifi. The Chromecast mostly does this right. When controlling it via a smartphone/app, the dongle contacts Netflix directly for the content. But when "casting" from a browser - even for Netflix - the inefficient route is used. In time honored tradition, this is billed as a feature rather than a bug: you are "casting" the browser content.

The dongle is pretty limited in capabilities, but it handles Netflix which is 95% of our watching. So no complaints there.

It can be controlled via Android app or iPhone app. And here's where it really falls apart. On our first watching the iPhone app either crashed or gave up, leaving us with a playing show that couldn't be paused. A little research showed it was pretty easy to crash the iPhone app.

When starting a show via the iPhone app, the device is the owned by that app on that iPhone. When my wife started playback via her iPhone, I was unable to control it via my Android phone. The humorous point of view is that this solves the war over who gets the remote. But in reality, you want to be able to control the device with what is at hand, especially in the case of a buggy app, dead battery or phone call being answered.

In summary:

  • This is very cool: using phones/tablets/laptops as remote controls for the TV is the future.
  • Buggy apps are frustrating (iPhone app crashing).
  • A remote is a remote - you cannot have one remote "taking control" and locking out others.
It's not worth it yet, maybe next year.