Chromecast is so small it could easily be mistaken for an oversized USB thumb drive with a little more heft to it. That contrasts with Apple TV and the "buddy boxes" that run Google TV. These devices that are filled with more audio and video ports than users know what to do with: component, S/PDIF, Ethernet, multiple HDMI connections, you name it.
Chromecast doesn't have an HDMI port, it just fits right into one.
It's that simple to instantly get media streaming started on any TV with an available HDMI port. The days of figuring out where to put yet-another box are over and so is routing multiple wires through your entertainment setup thanks to the advent of compact media sticks like this.
It also fits right into most TV decor. While Google designed Chromecast to be unobtrusive so that it can reside in the back of your TV or on the side flush with the TV frame, even if it doesn't, it blends in thanks to its matte black color and simple Chrome logo aptly colored chrome. Thankfully, Google didn't opt for the more distracting red, green, yellow, blue colored Chrome icon here.
Powering Chromecast can be a little more complicated depending on the age of your television. That's due to the fact that the opposite side of this HDMI dongle contains a micro USB port that is used to power the device. Modern sets will have no problem here; they typically have USB ports right next to multiple HDMI slots. But there are still millions of LCDs in homes that pre-date the rollout of USB-equipped smart TVs.
This is why Google included a 5-foot micro-USB-to-USB cable in the Chromecast box along with a USB power adapter that plugs into an outlet. The company even added a velcro tie attached to the cable. That's all very convenient, but if you're missing a USB port on your TV and it's more than five feet to the closest power outlet, Chromecast isn't going to be an out of the box solution for instant media streaming.
The same applies to the included HDMI extender, which is also optional. This is used when Chromecast, larger than a typical USB plug, doesn't fit among your other television connects, as it measures 72 mm x 35 mm x 12 mm, and weighs 34 grams.
The HDMI Extender is great in cases where other plugs in adjacent ports get in the way. But this not-so-flexible extender will still be a problem for wall-mounted televisions that only have open HDMI ports in the rear. The extender certainly helps, but most likely requires unmounting the TV first. For some people, there will be a few steps in between "plug" and "play."
Luckily, Chromecast's software setup is not complicated at all. It's a matter of visiting Google's Chromecast "getting started" website on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, downloading and installing some software, and connecting the device to your home WiFi network.
Downloading the official Chromecast app, like the newly launched iOS version, is another way to install the media streaming dongle on a home network. But it's a little more complicated to set up compared to using a standard web browser.
Both the iOS and Android apps require connecting your smartphone or tablet directly to the Chromecast and punching in a four-digit code. This means temporarily disconnecting your always-online device from the internet. It also calls for jumping through several menus: from the Chromecast app, to WiFi setting menu, back to Chromecast, back to WiFi. Android users have it a little easier with quicker access to a WiFi menu overlay that isn't as buried, but that should change for Apple hardware owners too once iOS 7 launches with Command Center.
There's also a Chrome browser extension that mirrors a computer's browser tab to the Chromecast-equipped TV. This computer-only software, above all of the other apps, is the most valuable element of Chromecast right now.