Google’s Chromecast to shake up internet TV

A surge in popularity for internet TV has led tech giants to unveil new products

A Google  Chromecast internet television dongle is displayed in the HDMI port of a television

A Google Chromecast internet television dongle is displayed in the HDMI port of a television

 

When it comes to watching TV, consumers are, to some extent, calling the shots these days. From on-demand and catch-up services available from your TV provider to streaming movies and TV series online, the days of being slaves to the TV schedule are numbered.

IP TV services are experiencing a surge in popularity. Netflix, for example, has more than 37 million members worldwide, streaming more than one billion hours of video content every month. In the US, services such as Hulu and Google Play also offer video to subscribers, while in Ireland, the terrestrial broadcasters have for some time been offering their own video on demand services through catch up players.

“I think internet TV will become a lot more popular and you’ll see a lot of the regular terrestrial broadcasters move on to internet TV,” said Netflix spokesman Joris Evers.

It’s against this backdrop that Google has unveiled its latest product Chromecast. The plug in device is primarily designed to stream video and music directly to your TV, and it’s a reasonably cheap way to do it.

When the tech giant first unveiled the device, the reaction was mixed. Its functions, at present, are limited in comparison to other devices currently on the market. Stand it up against rival Apple TV or even Roku’s newest devices, and at first glance, it looks a bit lacking.

But when the product went on sale online last week with the Google Play store and a number of US-based retailers, it quickly sold out, proving that some people are willing to take a gamble on the device. Perhaps a good deal of that was its price tag – at $35, it’s definitely on the cheaper side of the streaming devices.

The beauty of something like the Chromecast is that it instantly turns your older flatscreen TV into a smart TV, for a fraction of the price, and all through the TV’s HDMI port. You control it via your smartphone or tablet, so there are no new remote controls to lose or interfaces to learn.

It’s also flexible. At present, you can access video from Netflix, YouTube and Google Play store, where available, but there are already plans – in the US at least – to bring Hulu to Chromecast.

There are a few drawbacks. Chromecast only works with internet-based services, so if you have a library of digital movies or music on your computer, that’s where they will stay unless you come up with another solution.

And since your HDMI port, unlike USB ports, doesn’t provide power, you’ll have to plug the Chromecast into either the included USB wall power adapter or an available USB port on your TV.

The biggest drawback for Irish customers is that there are no plans to release the Chromecast in Ireland.

It’s definitely shaking up the market though. Apple dropped the price of its refurbished Apple TV device to $75 following its launch, although there is still no sign of the much rumoured “iTV” that was reportedly in the planning at Apple.


TV streaming: What you need to update your devices
TVs
If you bought a new TV in the past couple of years, it may have built-in wifi. The major TV manufacturers have done deals with online providers to bring apps for Netflix and other streaming services to their TVs so you can access TV players from RTÉ and TV3, or services such as Netflix and YouTube. If your TV doesn’t have built-in wifi, TV manufacturers offer official wireless adapters to bring wifi connectivity to the device, or simply plug your TV into your modem via an Ethernet cable.

Consoles
If you have a games console from the current crop – a Playstation 3, and Xbox 360, a Nintendo Wii or Wii U – at home, team it with an internet connection and you can turn it into source for your streaming TV. For Microsoft’s Xbox 360, you’ll need a subscription to the company’s Xbox Live Gold service, which costs about €5 per month and gives you access to online gaming. PlayStation 3 and Nintendo make video services accessible without additional subscriptions.

Multimedia boxes
You can also buy one of the additional boxes that hook up to your TV and broadband internet connection. Apple offers the versatile Apple TV, a miniature box that not only streams content from online sources such as Netflix, but also will access your home video library from connected computers. Philips has a Netflix box, the MP2000, into which you can also plug a USB stick to access additional media. Some bluray players also offer access to online services.

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