Starting outI'll be honest, I wanted to try the Chromecast out primarily to see how it would work as an entertainment piece at home, but I am curious to see if it has other potential applications for presentation in business and education. I already have a 1st gen AppleTV that has been jailbroken so it can run XBMC, and a Raspberry Pi that can run XBMC but this little dongle for $39 piqued my curiosity. Can it replace all of that and provide a highly accessible streaming point for any media source? If it can, and is as portable as it appears, it could be a device that sits in the classroom and any place where collaborative presentation can happen.
Setting upTo start, I can see that Google has taken a page from Apple's book and created attractive, fun-to-open packaging. The box is much heavier than expected, but I now see the weight is primarily the box; the device and adapter are as light as I expected.
The instructions were simple; there are three of them detailed on the inner box lid:
- Plug into TV & power.
- Switch TV input.
- Set it up at chromecast.com/setup.
And, it really was that simple. I plugged the dongle into the side HDMI port on my TV, plugged the power into the wall (turns out I could actually just plug the USB end of the power into the available USB port on my TV; I'll do that later), switched the TV to HDMI4, and I'm looking at a Chromecast setup screen:
The website link takes you to a download link to get the app you need to set it up. You can also download this app on any Android and iOS device. The only thing this app is needed for is to set it up and configure it later.
I used the app on my Nexus 7 Android tablet. The app found the new Chromecast device right away, and I had to enter the code it displayed on the TV to verify the connection. The only other things I had to do were change the name of the device if I wanted to (I did), and give it my WiFi password. After that, everything was automatic. A couple of automatic updates and a reboot later and it was up and running. I don't think it could be much easier.
Time to play:I had the advantage of a room full of people when I first started it up. We had several devices and systems, Android and iOS. Each of us looked at our Youtube apps, and there was a new icon. This icon was similar to the Airplay icon on iOS devices, and selecting it allowed us to choose the new Chromeplayer device as output. Again, this was available on an Android phone and tablet, as well as an iOS phone and tablet, without doing anything to those devices first. The one exception was an iPhone in the group that had not been regularly updated. But, a quick App Store update to the Youtube app, and it too could use Chromecast.
Sticking with Youtube, we each were able to target a video play to the Chromecast. It is interesting to note that the way this works with Chromecast is not what I originally thought. When you play, you are not streaming the content from your device to the Chromecast. Instead, you are telling the Chromecast Youtube app to play the content you requested. In that sense, each of us is using a remote control. It also means that any device can request the play and then carry on doing anything else (I didn't check if I could power down, but I suspect not).
Testing other apps, all of the devices could similarly use Netflix, Vevo and Songza. The Android devices could also use Google Play Music and Google Play Movie. I believe the Google Play apps may allow streaming from the device but I have not verified that. The native music player on the iOS devices could not select the Chromeplayer however.
While playing with the Youtube app, we all discovered that the app on our device would show us what was playing on the Chromecast device, regardless of whether we were the ones who played it or not. We then realized that there was an "add to queue" option instead of "play". This allowed each of us to add a video to the playlist and not stop the one that was already playing. The queue was similarly visible to all of us. We quickly set the ground rules that no video (music only) could be aborted or removed from the queue without two thirds vote. And we each began to plan the music.
The queueing feature seemed to be Youtube specific, and did not exist on the Vevo app. I think this feature would be one that would be copied by many other Chromecast apps. It would be really interesting if it could become a standard part of the Chromecast itself, allowing all types of play requests to be queued.
ObservationsWe were all pretty excited about being able to queue up videos on the Youtube app, but we also would have liked to be able to send anything we had - music, videos and photos. It would also be good to have a "mirroring" option like with Airplay. These might exist, or might be in development. I still need to do a lot more looking and playing.
The fact that the basic functions were simply "there" for everyone without having to do anything was huge. Since the device is so portable, this makes it something that can be carried with you to other locations and easily used. All you need is an HDMI device, WiFi and power.
Looking aheadThe entertainment value of the device was very obvious. But to be true to my subject, could this be used for any kind of learning environment?
I think, this could be huge if it can just fill in the gaps. It has the ability to be a collaborative presentation tool replacing projectors, cameras, laptops, etc. Every person has a controller, a recorder, a camera and a media library. And they can all present to the common screen.
Why this can be huge, and some other things that are needed...
- Be completely cross platform. Out of the box, its pretty close. If it could allow direct streaming from all platforms as well, this would be a slam dunk. Cross platform would also make this a far better option than Airplay on Apple TV.
- The price point is amazing. $39 in Canada. This falls into just about everyone's budget. The more people who buy this and play with it, the more clever people will come up with great applications.
- It needs to be able to mirror the device screen. Airplay on iPhones and iPads can do this. Consider the power of using your device as a live camera in a walk around the room way. Consider the power of demonstrating your work.
- The collaborative queueing feature in Youtube gives a hint as to how this could be used in an active, exciting way. Imagine collaborative groups getting their items into the play queue, and then have feedback/voting actions on the queue. Queueing and queue control at the device level would be very interesting.
The best part of this is that any of these outstanding needs could be filled by the community of app creators. I think I need to go learn app development.
I'll post again about this when I see or learn more.