In a perfect world, every new application would be cross-platform compatible no matter which device you own. More pointedly, Apple wouldn't have a walled garden in which its Mac and iOS platforms were exclusive carriers of AirPlay technology.
Now, Google has created its own official media streaming platform for Android users, and in a very Google-like fashion, the company decided to invite its chief rivals to the party. Android, iOS, Macs and Windows PCs are equals in the eyes of Google with Chromecast - at least from a marketing perspective.
If anyone in your family owns an Android, Google handily wins the Chromecast vs Apple TV debate as the result of its openness and broader device support. It also has smoother video performance and the ability to wander away from the extended app or tab that's being streamed to a TV. The fear of hitting the home screen button out of habit is moot when casting to Chromecast, as it won't end playback on the larger TV.
The key difference is that Chromecast pulls the extended content from the internet itself after the mobile device or browser initiates casting. Some apps beamed to Apple TV comes from the host device or computer, and it remains a slave to that AirPlay connection. It's almost like Apple is saying, "Congratulations, you just bought an iPad Air that costs more than a monthly car payment. You're streaming this video from your device's camera roll? Well, now your device is bricked for the duration."
Tablets and smartphones are expensive, so Google found a way to give you the freedom to continue using your hardware while streaming to a larger TV. That valuable feature is compounded by the fact that Chromecast is cheaper in the first place, costing just $35 (about £23, AU$39).
It's by far the most affordable media adapter on the market and new apps like HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Pandora and AllCast give Chromecast a fighting chance against its media streaming rivals.
We didn't like
The only smartphone and tablet owners sure to be disappointed with Chromecast are Windows Phone users, as Windows Phone 8 and Windows RT devices aren't supported at all. It's an iOS and Android-only affair for the time being.
Just as irritating, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and every other browser that is a Chrome rival is in the same boat. The Chrome-exclusive tab extension means that computer-based mirroring is limited to Google's browser, and that it's not a system-wide solution for displaying programs outside of the web.
Chromecast now has more than six apps, but 23 still pales in comparison to the hundreds being offered by Apple TV and Roku 3. The app list needs to include Amazon Instant Video and Spotify before it has all of the major apps covered, and so far neither has been announced as in development. Chromecast also needs to come to the UK and Australia, who are waiting to spend a few quid and Australian dollars on this affordable device.
Even then, that's not enough to make Chromecast a success in households. Plenty of homes already have a streaming device that supports multiple apps with these same exact applications, whether it's in the form of a cheap set-top box or app-filled game video game systems like PS4, Xbox One and plenty of last-generation consoles, Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360.
What could is likely to make Chromecast even better in the years ahead is its budding openness of that platform so that as many developers as possible can make apps. That's what has been the fault of both Google TV and its Nexus Q project. That's what made Android a smashing hit over the past five years. Openness to developers, not exclusive deals have made both Apple's App Store and Google Play take off to the tune of close to one million apps each.
Chromecast stands at 23 vs Android's 700,000. It has a long way to do, but it's well on its way after only launching with five mobile apps last year.
Chromecast is an inexpensive, easy-to-use way of accessing a dozen worthy apps, most of which have content readily available on rival streaming services. Netflix and YouTube are ubiquitous, and while Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV finally break free from their web browser and mobile device confines, they don't offer anything revolutionary behind what we have seen and heard from Spotify and Amazon Instant Video.
Really, these name-brand apps and the ones that content providers are promising are important, but only serve to round out what makes Chromecast really unique: the ability to broadcast an app on Android or iOS, or a Chrome browser tab to a large TV. It can be done while still being able to use that device or computer without interruption. In this regard, Chromecast runs circles around Apple TV and its AirPlay technology. Everything else is just filler until more Android developers port their apps over to Chromecast. Apple TV could be a game-changer if Apple were to open up its TV platform to the developer masses, but for now that title and all of the potential is behind Google's "not ready for prime time" streaming media player.
Originally reviewed August 7 2013