Chromecast built-in: Your essential guide to Google Cast, multi-room music and more

A need to know on Google's casting tech for apps, music and movies

Chromecast built-in: Your essential guide
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We've been hearing more and more about Cast-enabled TVs and speakers with Chromecast built-in, so it's only right we break down what that actually means, how you can use it to stream content, and which devices are compatible with the technology.

Similar to Apple's AirPlay and Spotify Connect, what Google refers to as 'Chromecast built-in' (formerly, of course, Google Cast) is another technology that lets you easily control media with apps and, yes, voice in your smart home.

Chromecast built-in: Your essential guide to Google Cast in the home

What is Chromecast built-in?

In a nutshell, it's a technology built by Google that works over Wi-Fi to let you send or 'cast' media from your phone, tablet or computer to compatible speakers and TVs. The most well known Cast-enabled device range, though, is probably still those nifty Chromecast dongles that plug into your TV's HDMI port to upgrade its smarts, and the $69 4K Chromecast Ultra is one of our top streaming sticks.

There used to be an equivalent for audio – the Chromecast Audio – an affordable $35 add-on which plugged into your existing speakers via the aux in to get them connected. It was great, and we're disappointed Google killed it – but you can still pick one up if you dig around online.

The Cast controller can be an iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet, Mac, Windows laptop or Chromebook. Essentially, it turns your phone into your remote control.

The way it works, at its simplest, is this: you go into a supported mobile app to stream content – a list which includes YouTube, Google Play Movies + TV, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Now – or the Chrome browser, find something to watch and hit the Cast button. With music and radio apps like Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music and TuneIn Radio, it works much the same.

There are now over 1,000 Cast-enabled apps for your mobile device - you can see the full list here - but some more choice picks are: Plex, Deezer, Now TV, Chrome, Facebook, ITV Hub, My5, Soundcloud, and YouTube Gaming.

As for voice controls, if you have a Google Assistant device and a Chromecast you can say commands like, "Hey Google, cast Stranger Things" to see the Netflix show on the big screen, and even set up your personal profile via Voice Match. This should work on smart TVs with Chromecast built-in, except for some older models. You can also use voice commands via the Google Assistant app for Android and iOS.

Chromecast built-in: Your essential guide to Google Cast in the home

Chromecast built-in: Devices

Google's Chromecast dongle itself could well be your entry point to this Google smart home tech, but you've got several other options as well.

Take Android TVs, for example – that's the name for sets running on Google's TV platform. Many sets made by Sony, Philips, Sharp and others come with Chromecast built-in (no need for any add-ons, though there is some difference in functionality) as do TVs by Toshiba, Vizio and Skyworth, plus some models announced by LG and Hisense.

As for music, you can cast from music apps (or streaming websites via the Chrome browser) to stream over Wi-Fi to Cast-enabled speakers – you can control the music with more than one device at a time, you don't have to be in the same room (as you would with Bluetooth), and it works with compatible multi-room speakers.

The music streams directly from the cloud to the speaker, which is what happens with video too: your phone or tablet just acts as the controller so you can answer a phone call while the music's playing, and not worry about your battery draining either.

Chromecast functionality also comes built into the Google Nest Hub and the Google Nest Hub Max. These smart displays will appear as Chromecasts on your network, letting you cast audio and video over to the device – not all video apps recognize Nest Hubs as displays (Netflix won't, for example), but many do.

Chromecast built-in: Your essential guide to Google Cast in the home

The best Chromecast built-in smart speakers and displays

New Chromecast-enabled speakers, smart speakers and smart displays are appearing all the time, so it's tricky to come up with an absolutely definitive list of everything currently on the market.

In terms of Google's own kit, you've got the Google Nest and Google Home speakers, but the Google Nest Hub Max is perhaps the pick of the bunch at the moment. You get all the magic of Google Assistant, plus Chromecast capabilities (audio and video), plus touchscreen controls, plus an easy way to get at your compatible smart home devices.

At the premium end of the market, the Naim Audio Mu-so Qb speaker manages to mix both style and substance, and oozes audio quality – though you'll need to save up for a while to be able to afford it. The unit supports AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Bluetooth as well as the Chromecast standard, and will even play songs from a USB stick, if needed.

You don't have to pay huge amounts to get a Chromecast-enabled speaker though. The Marshall Uxbridge Voicesupports both the wireless streaming standard and Google Assistant, so you can find out random trivia facts and get the latest weather forecast, as well as blasting out your music at top volume or streaming your podcasts from your smartphone.

Plenty more gadget makers produce Chromecast-enabled speakers: B&O, Vizio, Sony, LG, Philips, JBL, Harman Kardon, Naim, Toshiba and more besides. Check out the Google list for the most up-to-date list of manufacturers supporting the standard.

Chromecast built-in: Your essential guide to Google Cast in the home

The best Chromecast built-in TVs

If you get a TV running Android TV, then it comes with the Chromecast standard built in, and you don't have to pay for an extra Chromecast dongle or plug it into the back of your set. Of course you also get a host of extra Android TV features too.

Sony has been one of the most committed backers of Android TV, and most of its models over the last few years are running the platform. The Sony XG83, for example, gets you a top-quality 4K picture plus all the benefits of Android TV, including Chromecasting capabilities. From colours to sharpness to sound, it's an excellent television set.

If you want to add Android TV to an existing set, consider the Nvidia Shield TV or the Nvidia Shield TV Pro β€”both plug into a spare HDMI port on the back of your TV and give you all the goodness of Android TV, as well as doubling up as Chromecasts and giving you access to the GeForce Now game streaming service being developed by Nvidia.

Philips is another manufacturer that's on board the Android TV train, and one of our favourite Philips TV sets is the Philips 43PUS: you get 43 inches of 4K goodness, a sharp and vibrant picture, and integrated LED backlights that reflect what's on screen. Voice control for both Google Assistant and Alexa is supported as well.

Plenty of other TV makers offer Android TV sets too, including Vizio, Sharp, Toshiba, Skyworth, Polaroid, Soniq and TCL.

Google Chromecast and multi-room audio

Think multi-room speakers and you might immediately think Sonos or high-end audio brands – but no longer. Both Google and Amazon let you hook up connected speakers to build a voice-controlled system around the house.

If you have a couple of Google Homes, third-party Google Assistant smart speakers or speakers with Chromecast built-in, you can get going with a Google multi-room system. Here's how.

What works with multi-room?

Any Google Home speaker will work with multi-room, as will many of the speakers with Google Assistant built in. Google's lineup of Smart Displays, including the Google Home Hub have it too. All Chromecast Audio speakers or speakers with Chromecast built-in will work together in a multi-room audio setup. Even better, Chromecast dongles can also now be added into speaker groupings.

Note - If you are pairing a Bluetooth speaker to a Google Home, check out our guide to getting that up and running. You can still add the Bluetooth speaker to an Assistant-powered multi-room setup, you just might need to do things like correct the group delay if there is one.

In terms of streaming services, Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Google Play Music all support multi-room audio, but you can't play podcasts, alarms or timers on speakers simultaneously.

The good news is that, in August 2020, Google added a new multi-room control screen for Smart Displays, such as the Nest Hub, to make the process a lot more intuitive.

How to set up multi-room audio with Google Assistant & Chromecast speakers

1. Place your speakers around the house

To get going, you'll want to group together your speakers, or 'audio devices'. We'd recommend spending some time deciding where you want each speaker first – you can also set up a stereo pair if you don't want multi-room.

Maybe the kitchen or bathroom can make do with an affordable or portable model like a Polk Assist or TicHome Mini, while your main audio power will no doubt be concentrated in the living room – a Google Home Max, say, or Panasonic GA10. Or you could go all-in on JBL's Link series which comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and prices.

Also think about where the voice-activated smart speakers will sit for controlling the music if you have a mix of Assistant and Chromecast built-in speakers.

2. Set up audio groups

Assuming you've already set up and placed the individual speakers, go to the Google Home app on your phone/tablet and make sure everything – all the speakers and your mobile device – is connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

Then go to Account - the right hand side icon along the menu at the bottom - and you'll see a plus icon - Set up or add.

In the list of options, you can hit Create speaker group which will then show you speakers on that Wi-Fi network to add to the group and name it. It's a good idea to have a group called 'All speakers' or 'Everything' for obvious reasons.

You need at least two devices for a group and you also need to link the group to your Google account to use voice controls and access your personal preferences – this ain't optional.

You'll also notice that on the Home screen of the Google Home app your speakers (and other devices) will be displayed in rooms e.g. 'Living room' and 'Bathroom' which is a handy way to glance at them.

3. Control your groups with voice

Essentially, these are the same Google Assistant commands as for a single speaker – and obviously you need to speak to a speaker with far-field mics and Assistant built-in; you won't be able to speak to every device with Chromecast built-in.

  • "Hey Google, play Wine Goes In on all speakers"
  • "Hey Google, play Elton John on office speakers"
  • "Hey Google, set volume to 5 downstairs"
  • "Hey Google, play/pause/resume/stop/play next song on Home group"

If you want to mix and match voice and smartphone controls, you can control your music by hitting the Cast button in an app like Spotify and doing things from there. Once you've mastered the basics, you can also do things like set up a routine so that your multi-room speakers start playing music when you get home. You can now even schedule it so that your wake-up music starts playing at a certain time in the morning.

4. Control your groups using a Smart Display

That 2020 update we mentioned means that Google Assistant Smart Displays now have a nice control screen, giving you an overview of your multi-room action.

Much like you'd see in the Sonos S2 app, or on dedicated displays from the likes of Control 4, users will be able to group Google Assistant smart speakers together, add new ones in, choose the music and control the volume for music streaming in whatever rooms they have devices set up in.

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