If you aren’t streaming your media off of a game console, there’s a war for a spot on your TV’s HDMI port. There are three main options if you’re not ready to invest in a smart TV right now—Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, and Google Chromecast—and they each have distinct strengths and weaknesses. Here’s everything you need to know about Chromecast, what chromecasting is, how to chromecast, and how it stacks up to the competition.
What is Chromecast?
Google Chromecast is a streaming media player that casts video content from apps on your phone to your TV. Each device is controlled solely via your smartphone, so if you’re looking for a standard remote, you’ll want to look elsewhere. The device “casts” whatever is playing on your smartphone to your TV, whether it’s a Netflix original series or your photo gallery. With support for every major service, including Disney Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO Max, Chromecast is an interesting way to stream on a budget.
How does Chromecast work?
Each Chromecast model requires an internet connection. Once you connect the device to your TV or stereo, you then control your Chromecast via the Google Home app on your smartphone or tablet. There’s just one catch: Unlike Roku or Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku, with Chromecast, you’re not navigating on your TV screen. Instead, users navigate the apps on their phone or tablet. That’s a boon for some users and a curse for others. The upside is you never have to worry about losing your remote between the sofa cushions. But it also means if you have children or house guests who want to watch something on Netflix, they’ll need a smartphone and the app to start viewing.
To send the program of your choice to your TV from your phone, you’ll need to make sure both devices are on the same Wi-Fi network. If both devices are on the same network you should see a little casting icon appear on your phone screen. Select the icon to play your content. It looks like this.
Once you select to play on your device, the Chromecast streams it to your TV over your Wi-Fi. This process takes some getting used to, and can frankly be a little frustrating if you’re used to a more streamlined interface. Especially when you’re trying to pick a movie with a friend, huddling around your phone or computer to browse your options doesn’t feel the same as navigating a menu on your screen. It’s a minor complaint, but one that gets in the way of the Chromecast experience.
How much does Chromecast cost?
Chromecast’s basic model is a great all-purpose video player and media center, capable of streaming a movie in 1080p HD or playing your favorite songs from Spotify. Unless you’ve already upgraded to a 4K Ultra HD television set, the basic Chromecast is all you’ll ever need. The only major drawback is for the same price you can get a Roku with a remote. Still, if your entire life is on your phone and you already use it for streaming, Chromecast is a good deal.
If you’ve made the leap to 4K already, your only option is the $69 Chromecast Ultra. This sleek monster can stream 4K Ultra HD content and supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR, giving your picture deeper contrast and richer color if your set supports it. To handle the massive data needs of 4K, the Chromecast Ultra has Ethernet support, giving you a more consistent data stream than standard Wi-Fi. You’ll need to make sure your streaming services are set up for 4K video, including upgrading your Netflix subscription. Thankfully Chromecast now supports Amazon Prime, giving it even more 4K streaming content. However, if a remote matters, you can get a cheaper 4K streaming experience from the $39.99 Roku Premiere.
Best apps on Chromecast
While technically Chromecast itself doesn’t host any apps, it can be your conduit to all of the services know and love. Here are our five favorite services that support Chromecast.
Once upon a time Chromecast couldn’t play nice with Prime Video. Thankfully those days are over, letting any Prime member watch Amazon’s full library on Chromecast. Check out all the movies, Amazon Prime Video originals, documentaries on Amazon Prime, 4K Ultra HD movies, and what’s new on Amazon waiting for you each month.
Already a Netflix subscriber? Chromecast makes it easy to stream right from the app. Here are our guides to the best movies on Netflix, and the must-see Netflix original series, documentaries, docuseries, and original movies.
Whether you choose Hulu with Limited Commercials, upgrade for Hulu with No Commercials, or sign up for the Disney+/Hulu/Espn+ bundle, there’s an incredible amount of great movies, shows, documentaries, anime, and the must-see originals on Hulu. Hulu Live TV even lets you turn your phone into a streaming cable box.
If you’re using Chromecast there’s a good chance you’re on a budget. Thankfully Crackle is a free service that allows you to watch great Hollywood movies and TV shows in exchange for sitting through some ads. It’s a small time investment in return for free content.
Live TV streaming on Chromecast
If you’re on a budget Sling TVs flexible pricing is hard to beat, with packages starting at $30 per month. Sling TV has truly set itself apart from the pack in the streaming TV wars at a time when everyone seems to be randomly raising their prices. Each packages has slightly different channels so you might have to sacrifice ESPN to get your favorite. Still Sling TV gives you that option, and feature-packed service to boot. We highly recommend it.
Given the recent price hike to $64.99 per month, YouTube TV has become one of the most expensive streaming TV services around. However, if you can afford it, YouTube TV still has plenty of value to offer. Subscribers get 85+ major channels, including ESPN, Comedy Central, and the big three news networks, so you’re sure to never miss a favorite show. Couple that with unlimited cloud-DVR for up to six users and YouTube TV is attractive for large families that love TV.
For $54.99 per month, Hulu Live TV subscribers get 60+ channels, including the big three news networks, Bravo, ESPN, and more. It also includes access to the basic streaming Hulu package, giving Hulu the largest on-demand library of any streaming TV service. Hulu Live TV has a slightly complicated interface, making it a little difficult on a phone. However, if you’ve mastered the Chromecast it shouldn’t be a problem.
How does Chromecast stack up against the competition?
The $29.99 basic Chromecast is among the cheapest streaming options on the market, but it lacks important features like a remote or the ability to work if your phone is dead. For just $10 more, you can get the Amazon Fire Stick and a voice remote. We’re not trying to be mean, but Chromecast is a bad buy right now. For the average user, the lack of a remote is a deal-breaker as is the lack of user interface. Unless you live on your phone, Chromecast simply doesn’t make much sense. Splurge an extra $10 and just get a Fire TV Stick if these are your only options.
Roku’s basic HD model starts at $29.99 with a remote and a user interface that doesn’t require your phone. That’s the exact same amount of money the basic HD Chromecast will set you back. Want 4K? Roku can give it to you for just $39.99 with the Roku Premiere for $30 less than the 4K capable Chromecast. It’s not even a close contest.
Chromecast vs. Apple TV
In what world would your options be between a $149 streaming device and a $29.99-69.99 streaming device? This one. This is one of the rare situations where we would recommend a Chromecast, though with a heavy caveat. No streaming device is worth $149, let alone one that can’t do 4K. We recommend the 4K ready Chromecast if you’re thinking about one or the other. Sure, it isn’t the cheapest Chromecast available, but if you’re thinking about pulling the trigger on a $149 Apple TV, the Chromecast is a steal. You can get more features for less from Roku or Amazon, but Apple TV is simply too expensive to recommend over Chromecast unless you’re hiding secret wealth.
Google is a name practically synonymous with the internet and has its fingers in just about every facet the world wide web is known for, from search engines to document creation and of course, video. Chromecast is a works like Roku and Amazon Fire, and offers access to endless channels and streaming destinations. Plus, you can even seamlessly “Cast” from any screen, be it a laptop, smartphone, or tablet directly to your Chromecast enabled device with the touch of a button.
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