Chromecast - a TV game changer?

Google Chromecast, an HDMI attachment

The internet and TV is the marriage that has continually been put on hold.

Back in 2012 I speculated that the long-awaited digital union would finally be consummated in British living-rooms that year - and yet viewers remained largely unmoved. Literally - the latest Ofcom figures showed that most of them still sit back on the couch, switch on the TV and watch what is on one of the main channels, rather than plunging into the delights of the on-demand world.

But now there are signs of movement. On-demand services are gaining traction, and a population that is buying an awful lot of smartphones and tablets is learning that there are all sorts of ways to catch up with their favourite programmes. This week, a BSkyB executive released some interesting figures about the premiere of the American drama series True Detective. It attracted just over 200,000 live viewers, but throw in those who recorded it with Sky+, downloaded it, or caught other screenings and you get a total audience of 1.8 million.

And today comes what could be another key moment in the slow transformation of our viewing habits, the UK launch of Google's Chromecast. This is a piece of kit which plugs into the HDMI port of your television and then allows you to stream video from any device - a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop - to the big screen.

A number of TV on-demand services including Netflix and the BBC iPlayer have tweaked their mobile apps to allow you to "cast" their content onto the screen, or you can simply open a Chrome browser on your computer, go to a video site and stream that to your television.

Someone is holding a phone and appearing to control a TV with Netflix on it

Chromecast, which has been on sale in the United States since last year, isn't radically different from products like Apple TV or Roku, except for one thing - the price. At £30, it is cheap enough to reach a market beyond the enthusiasts who have so far been the audience for smart TV devices. Indeed, one major retail chain is betting that as many as three million of the devices will be sold in the UK this year.

Of course, Google has been here before. Its Google TV platform appeared to offer a software route to web TV, but with little in the way of compelling programmes few people were prepared to step on board.

So will this hardware approach be more successful? This week I discussed the future of TV - and Google's role in it - with a man who has his own ambitions to transform the industry. Erik Huggers was the BBC Future Media boss, in charge of the iPlayer and the corporation's online operation and digital strategy. He left to join the chip-maker Intel, where he conceived a hugely ambitious plan to start a broadband television service in a US market dominated by big cable operators.

Too ambitious, in the view of Intel's new CEO, who has sold the entire operation - and with it Mr Huggers - to the mobile giant Verizon.

Erik Huggers says Google's Chromecast is an interesting product at an attractive price point, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, he doesn't see it as a game-changer: "It doesn't tackle the pay-TV question," he says. "As a consumer I want a solution that helps me get rid of a dozen remote controls. I want a single service that delivers an all-in-one experience - live TV, catch up TV, subscription TV - all nicely organised. The organisation that achieves that is going to have an incredible winner on their hands."

Naturally, he believes that his operation at Verizon stands a good chance of doing that. But Google, Microsoft, and perhaps Apple - not to mention TV giants like BSkyB and America's Comcast - all have ambitions to be the one that delivers that perfect marriage between the web and the TV viewer.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    My experience with Chromecast has been awesome these last few months, It's definitely been a game changer for me. It has completely changed how I consume media. I use it to do this :

    * Play all my music collection to anywhere in the house.
    * Play all the movies I download, using Plex or the bubbleupnp application.
    * Listen to podcasts on it.

    And all this is controlled with your smart phone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    "This is a piece of kit which plugs into the HDMI port of your television and then allows you to stream video from any device - a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop - to the big screen. " a HDMI cable? At a push, HDMI to USB cable. The thing is, Chromecast STILL can't transmit without LoS or over distances 20ft plus, making it practically indifferent from a cable.

    Annulment incoming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    What a neat and well written article. Except it overlooks the elephant in the room - speeds of data.

    Unless ISP's offer speeds uniformly above 30Mb sec-1, this so-called "revolution" in viewing is not going to take off anytime soon, well, not in the UK anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I have had the american version for a while now and I have found it fantastic to use. Thankfully having Android it means I can still us flash player and have been watching most of the catch up services for some time this way. I control it all from my nexus 10 and can jump back to my tablet if the mrs wants to watch something else seamlessly. My advice is rush out and get one while they have stock!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @dr_shade....iplayer is compatible from this morning as it says in the article. I agree it's a brilliant device - I've been using one since December and have to agree it works brilliantly and more and more apps and even games are now available and this selection will continue to increase since Google opened up the SDK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    There is a solution already out there and if you have an old computer lying around it's free, it's called XBMC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    27.Global Yawning
    Another nail in the BBC Licence Tax coffin with a bit of luck.
    An then you can watch mind-numbing programs and nauseous ads till the cows come home!
    Unlicensed nirvana - for some.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I've been using two for a few months now - one for my TV (mainly Netflix and YouTube) and another for my hi-fi (used with Play music).

    Easy to use, works brilliantly (with the exception of tab casting which I found to be unusable), cheap and will only improve with more apps coming online regularly.

    Hoping BBC will get their iplayer app updated quickly to be compatible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I have an ongoing conversation with a fellow tech enthusiast about the death of traditional TV. Within the next 5 years we will see the slow decline in people having to sit down and watch a TV show or movie at a set time, they will be watching what they want on demand. Typical TV has been dead to me for a long while, catch up and Netflix have provided the perfect solution for busy lifestyles!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    So Chromecast requires

    A chromecast device
    A tv
    and another "device"

    Surely it's simpler to do something like.... I dunno... put a net connection in the tv??? Oh wait... did someone already do this??? Noooooo!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Another nail in the BBC Licence Tax coffin with a bit of luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Or is the TV dead? Everyone has there own screen with their personal choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I've used Chromecast. The experience was rubbish and I sent it back to Amazon for a refund.

    I had problems pairing (it simply didn't pair on some networks) and when I finally got it to pair, the experience was shoddy with choppy video.

    Not recommended at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    £30 is cheap because the real goal is the same as any other goal for Google - data

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    For a lot of us the obstacle to 'online TV' is our broadband connection!
    I can only get 5Mb on my 20CN exchange. So in a family of 4 only one person/device can realistically stream from the internet. As FTTC becomes more common this will obviously improve. BUT many are taking this product with low monthly bandwidth allowances so may get an unwelcome surprise when the bill arrives...

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    We too have a freeview box that both records & streams iplayer, ITV player well as allowing us to get pay per view for movies movies, it all seems to work well with a internet download speed of just 4mb per sec!, but is connected to the internet using a power line system which gives a solid connection, i think Chromecast could struggle being Wifi only which where most issues arise..

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    It must kill Rory having to talk up a non-Apple device. Poor guy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    7. Chris
    "I think before anything like this happens the ISP's (mainly BT) need to buck their ideas up"

    I agree. We have a YouView box which is great for recording/pausing live content (and skipping the adverts) or watching catch-up in the morning but on demand services don't work in the evening when everyone else in the area is online.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Until broadband is good enough across the whole country to deliver broadcast quality streams, and service providers remove data usage caps, this will never take off as a TV replacement. Oh, and with it being from Google, look forward to your data being harvested and sold on.

    Plus stuff is repeated so frequently it's usually easy to catch if you miss something first time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I already stream MP3/MPEG/etc. from a local server/internet/satellite to various devices around the house. Watch/listen to content from PVR/LoveFilm/YouTube/TV stations etc etc.

    2 issues:
    1) Entering text on a remote via decimal keypad is so clunky.
    2) A myriad of different UIs to navigate through.

    All this tech and I actually watch less program content! Real life seems more compelling..


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