Readers like you help support MUO. When you make a purchase using links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read More.
If you're in the market for an affordable and simple way to stream content on your television, you've most likely come across the Google Chromecast. But unlike other media players, the Google Chromecast might seem a little odd since it doesn't operate like a typical TV box.
So, what is a Google Chromecast, what does it do, and is it the right streaming device for you?
What Is a Chromecast?
Chromecast is a line of streaming dongles by Google. They can be plugged into any television or monitor through a standard HDMI port. Once configured, you can stream audio and video wirelessly to a bigger screen from your phone, computer, or even a Google Home device.
Google Chromecast connects over Wi-Fi and is usually controlled by another device like a smartphone, instead of a dedicated remote. However, the more premium Chromecast with Google TV does come with a remote to offer a more complete TV experience.
Whichever Chromecast you opt for, there's no steep learning curve. You boot it up, pair it with the network, and you're up and running in a few minutes–remote or no remote.
A Chromecast basically acts as a bridge between your TV and your phone or tablet. It draws power from a micro-USB input, the adapter for which Google bundles in the box.
How Does a Chromecast Work?
A Chromecast is built on top of Google's own proprietary protocol called Cast. It's designed to let devices, such as your smartphone, easily mirror their content onto a screen or a smart speaker. Announced back in 2013, Google Cast has since been integrated into nearly every major app and platform.
Whenever there's a Cast-enabled receiver like Chromecast on the same Wi-Fi network as your phone or computer, the compatible app will show a Cast icon. You can tap that icon and beam the content you're watching directly to the Chromecast.
Since the Chromecast itself is also paired with the internet connection, your phone shares the URL of the content. Because of that, the process is almost instant, and you won't face any delays.
The Chromecast with Google TV offers a more traditional TV experience. Rather than solely Casting content from another device, you can also play content directly on the device. Though, this is more thanks to the operating system and remote, rather than any hardware changes.
Which Platforms and Apps Support Chromecast?
Google Cast is technically platform-agnostic since it's based on Wi-Fi. Therefore, if the developer decides to add compatibility, the underlying platform won't be an issue.
For instance, you'll find the Cast button on YouTube irrespective of whether you're browsing the website on your computer through Google Chrome or the app on your smartphone. Even owning an Apple device won't set you back!
Besides Google's own YouTube, many platforms have Cast compatibility, including Netflix, Spotify, Facebook, and more.
There are a couple of services that don't offer Cast support. Prime Video is one example, but that's only because Amazon itself has a Chromecast competitor called Fire TV.
However, since you can mirror your entire screen, there is a workaround available for streaming Prime Video content through a Chromecast. Hence, even if there's a service that doesn't support Chromecast, you can employ the screen mirroring workaround.
What Can a Chromecast Do?
Chromecast lets you stream both audio and video to your television from a phone or computer up to 4K resolution. In addition, you can mirror just about anything else, like pictures from Google Photos.
Plus, if you're using an Android device or Google Chrome, you can mirror your screen to demonstrate a presentation or show something else on a bigger screen. Or, you can run an automated slideshow of your pictures on a Chromecast-connected screen. You can also cast local media files to Chrome through apps.
What's more, you can even play a handful of Chromecast games with a phone or tablet. That feature can come in handy when you want to engage in a multiplayer round with friends at a party and also display it for others to watch.
Apart from manual control, you can also use your voice to control your Chromecast, thanks to Google Assistant.
So, you can simply say "Play Stranger Things on Netflix on Living Room TV" to your phone or a Google Home device, and the stream will be pulled up on the television without you lifting a finger.
The Chromecast with Google TV offers all this same functionality, with one added difference: it has its own operating system.
This means that you can access apps directly on the device for content rather than relying on casting it. It works more like a smart TV than a receiver. For example, there's a Netflix app you can open directly on the device.
Who Is a Chromecast For?
A Chromecast has several enticing features, but it's not for everyone. It's the perfect device if you don't already have a smart TV, but nowadays, most people have one, beating the main purpose of a Chromecast.
Modern TVs come preinstalled with most of the same streaming apps you'd get with a Chromecast. However, you could even hook it up to your computer monitor or external display and turn it into a smart TV.
That said, Google has made some cuts to bring the price down. For starters, the entry-level Chromecast doesn't come with a remote or a TV interface. If you're someone who prefers to browse all the available platforms in one place before deciding what to watch, you'll have to opt for a Chromecast with Google TV.
Even on the Chromecast with Google TV, you still won't be able to access live TV as you would with a smart TV or traditional TV box. Furthermore, you'll usually be controlling it with your phone, which is fine in most scenarios. But there are times when you'd like to quickly hit pause or switch channels. In those cases, you'll again need the more expensive model.
There's also no common search you can utilize like you would on a Fire TV Stick or Roku. You'll have to go into individual apps and look up content separately. While the Google Home app tries to solve this issue, it's not perfect yet.
Which Chromecast Should I Buy?
Now it's time to decide which Chromecast model is suitable for you. You've got two options: the entry-level Google Chromecast for $29.99 and the higher-end 4K HDR-ready Chromecast with Google TV for $49.99.
If you're looking at the second-hand market, you could also consider the Chromecast Ultra, which allows you to stream in 4K and HDR, but Google stopped selling this model shortly after the release of Chromecast with Google TV.
Note that the regular Chromecast is smaller and can only stream 1080p content. For just $20 more, the Chromecast with Google TV comes with a remote and operating system. So, why not go the extra mile unless you're on a tight budget?
However, it's worth pointing out that some high-end TV models from Sony, TCL, and HiSense that came out in 2021 and later feature Google TV built-in. So, you may want to check that before wasting money on a Chromecast—remember that this is a device to turn any TV or monitor into a smart TV.
Cast Easily With a Chromecast
We hope you have a clearer understanding of what a Google Chromecast is and what it can do. It's a powerful little device, and you'll likely be delighted with it, provided you don't already own a smart TV. Now, all you need to do is pick the right device—depending on your TV and your budget—to cast your favorite content on the big screen.