Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …

ImageI don’t even have a television and I placed a pre-order for a Chromecast device 20 minutes into the live preview event on July 24th. The combination of price and announced feature set alone made it worth the money. Even if I used it just during vacations and while visiting friends’ houses.

The technical specifications of the device have been covered pretty well by the iFixit folks, so I will skip that and focus on existing features and my wish list.

The HDMI dongle comes with an extender to connect to the TV, a micro-USB cable and a power adapter. Once you plug it in and turn the TV on to the right HDMI input, it asks you to visit from your laptop and configure the device. On your laptop, upon visiting that site, you are asked to install the Chromecast app, which then starts the configuration process. It looks like the dongle sets up a low-power ad-hoc network that the laptop connects to which allows it to setup the wireless network SSID and password on the Chromecast device. Once that is done, the app suggests that you share from Chrome or YouTube or Netflix.

The beauty of the device and the user model is in its simplicity. If you use those two natively supported apps, the dongle directly pulls the video from the cloud and delivers to the TV or HDMI-monitor. No need to mirror through your laptop. Controlling the video by using your laptop or Android device as a remote was pretty cool too (tried with my Galaxy S4). The iOS app does not seem to be out yet, so that could not be tested. As advertised multiple users could queue up videos to watch and control volume and play/pause/location from their devices.  You could also switch away from the application and do other things without disturbing the session in any way.

I wish I could say the same about the chrome-tab sharing. Possibly given the constraints of schedule, it looks like the mirroring is done by encoding the tab and streaming it to the device, and then to the TV. Hence hardware-drawn overlays are left out and show up as empty windows. It would have been awesome if the app could register itself as a secondary graphics adapter and have the display driver generate a secondary display render for it that could have included all the hardware accelerated overlays as well. Sharing videos through this mechanism did result in noticeable delays and not as great a rendered quality. Screen-sharing of documents through Google Drive had pretty poor latency as well and the quality was not as good as using RDP for screen-sharing with Microsoft Lync for example. One reason could be that the laptop I used did not do native 1080p resolution and the scaling of the image could have resulted in visual artifacts. Photo sharing on the other hand from my Google Photos account was pretty awesome and responded pretty well too.

Something else that confused me was the micro-USB power adapter. I thought I heard the PMs mention that all you need to do with the Chromecast was to plug it into the TV and be done. I don’t know enough about the HDMI specs to know if the device can draw enough power through it but I assumed it could. The fact that I had to connect the additional power adapter was a bit of a bummer. Need to test more to see if I can get away without it in any circumstances.

Now here’s a list of cool mods/additions that I would love to see to the device:

1. Support for Google Hangouts and video collaboration

This would require that the device take a camera and audio input, or have the ability to split input audio/video from the app running on a laptop or mobile device, and Hangouts audio/video from the cloud sent via the dongle to the TV. This would also mean some good quality acoustic echo cancellation support in this loop.

2. Wider array of video consumption applications supported on the device

It looks like this is happening slowly, but surely. Rumors are abuzz about HBO, Vimeo, RedBox etc. developing apps for it. Seems like an awesome way to sidestep a full-fledged set-top-boxish product like Google/AppleTV and focus on the bare essentials of what such a device needs.

3. Games, games games 

A mobile device + Chromecast + browser-based game would make a killer combo. As long as the rendering can be done directly from the cloud and not mirrored from the device. Unless it is a high-end device with one of those fancy SnapDragon or Tegra chips. The possibilities for encroaching on Wii/Kinect/PSx territory are pretty cool!

4. Fiber + Chromecast + Android devices

This combination would make for an amazing TV network into a home – plethora of channels to choose from, remote control that is familiar to the user, multiple screens at home can be on different channels .. fits the user experience needs more or less?

5. Ad-hoc network on-the-go for business meetings

Setup a cable-free content-sharing option when traveling to share presentations, spreadsheets, documents, videos etc. Forget about DVI/VGA cables, Mac dongles and associated nightmares.

6. Hangouts-On-Air and YouTube live on TV!

One concept that has not gotten its share of kudos is Hangouts-on-air. If you want to relax on your couch and watch that lecture on your TV instead of your laptop or desktop, here’s the chance! In general for one-way edutainment consumption – be it lectures, Khan academy videos, webinars etc. – this seems like a good idea.

6. Turbocharge your training sessions

Only one training coordinator to run multiple training sessions at work? The ability to stream remotely within the same network to a Chromecast device opens up the possibility of streaming to multiple remote devices within the network. If there was a way to setup an ad-hoc multicast session within the corporate network that the Chromecast devices can discover and subscribe to so that only one stream is pulled down that would be pretty awesome too!

These are some applications that come to mind at first glance. The price point and convenience factor are unbeatable. Also, expect unreleased feature announcements like Bluetooth support as rumored on some of the sites.

Want to give it a test ride while you wait for your own device? Let me know!

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