Handheld Devices

Google Chromecast: A $35, cross-platform answer to Apple TV and AirPlay

The new Nexus 7 tablet wasn't the only product Google showed off at its Wednesday press event. The company also announced the Chromecast, a $35 dongle for beaming web videos to your television.

Chromecast connects to televisions through HDMI, and essentially turns phones, tablets, and laptops into remote controls. For instance, while using the YouTube app on an iPhone, users can press a "Cast" button in the app, and the video will then play on the television through Chromecast.

When the user sends a video, Chromecast automatically turns on the television if necessary and switches to the appropriate input.

In a way, it's similar to Apple's AirPlay for Apple TV, but there are a couple of key differences.

First, Chromecast doesn't directly receive streaming video from the user's phone, tablet, or laptop. It merely receives instructions on what to stream from the Web. The dongle runs a stripped-down version of the Chrome OS, and does all of the video and music streaming on its own. Users are still free to do other things on their phone while video is playing through Chromecast, and sending a video won't put a strain on battery life.

The other big distinction from AirPlay is that Chromecast works with Android phones and tablets as well as Apple's iPhone and iPad, whereas AirPlay only works with other Apple products. Users will also be able to cast any browser tab from Windows PCs and Macs, but this feature will be in beta at first.

What services work with Chromecast?

For now, Chromecast will work with YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Music, and Google Play video. Support for Pandora is on the way, and Google says other developers will be able to add Chromecast support to their apps as well. It's unclear how much developer interest there will be, but at least app makers won't have to create entirely separate apps to work with Chromecast.

In a way, Chromecast is similar to the Nexus Q, the botched media streaming device that Google tried to launch for $300 last year. Both devices were designed to pull in web video and music, using phones and tablets as remote controls. But Chromecast is much cheaper, and its features are more fleshed out. It certainly seems more likely to succeed, and if TV makers were to ever embed Chromecast directly, it could be the death knell for Google TV.

Chromecast is available now through the Google Play store, and it will also be sold through Amazon and Best Buy. It includes three months of Netflix for a limited time, and the dongle is scheduled to ship by August 2.

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