Cast your mind back to 2013, the humble beginnings of Google's streaming family. The first Google Chromecast, a HDMI stick bearing some resemblance to a USB pen drive with the model number H2G2-42 (most likely a reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), was a way to get services like YouTube and Netflix on your TV.
A little over five years later and Chromecast has got faster, slicker and easier to use, but sticks to its core mission of letting you beam movies, music and TV to devices around your home with ease.
Read this: The best TV streaming sticks and boxes
It might not seem like Google creates much fanfare around Chromecast these days, yet it remains a popular device ‚Äď three devices now, including the Chromecast Ultra and Audio ‚Äď and 2018 brought another, albeit incremental, refresh. What's more, Google continues to bridge Chromecast with the Google Home platform.
There are aspects of Chromecast that can be a little‚Ä¶ confusing. That's why we've put together this handy guide to Google's streaming tech ‚Äď a missing manual ‚Äď to walk you through what the different Chromecast dongles do, how to use them, and point you in the direction of our other helpful how-tos for getting more out of Chromecast.
Google Chromecast: How it works
The first thing anyone should know about Chromecast is that it isn't a streaming platform in the same way Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV are. Chromecast doesn't even have a proper interface (it's a pared down version of Chrome OS), let alone apps; everything is streamed from one device to the Chromecast, which mirrors it on whatever display it's plugged into.
This, of course, means you need a phone, tablet or computer to mirror from, and it means you need to do so with browser that supports casting. You've most likely seen the Cast icon; a small rectangle with Wi-Fi waves in the bottom left corner means you're good to go.
Google Chromecast: The dongles
There are three Chromecast devices in the current "generation", so it's important to know what does what.
The "regular" Chromecast got a quiet refresh in 2018, but when the biggest change is a new matte case, you can't blame Google for not assembling the press for this one. Ok, it does now also support 1080p streaming at 60fps (the previous model locked 1080p at 30fps) and overall performance is slightly faster, but it's unlikely many owners of the 2015 model will feel the need to upgrade.
Like the others below, the Chromecast is powered by a micro USB (so yes, you'll need a spare plug). Also like the others, you can use Chromecast with Google Assistant, meaning you can ask your Google Home speaker or smartphone to play something on Netflix and it will transmit that to the Chromecast on your TV. What a time to be alive.
Google Chromecast Ultra
The big daddy of the range, the Ultra's big feature is 4K and HDR support. Get a movie up on that baby and you are seriously looking at that movie. This means you will, of course, need a 4K or HDR TV to make use of it, as well as a network that's fast enough to carry the load of those higher definition streams. It does cost more too, natch.
Google Chromecast Audio
Seizing an opportunity to control how people listen to music, too, Google launched the Chromecast Audio in 2015, a version of the regular Chromecast that swaps the HDMI cable for a 3.5mm audio jack. So, instead of casting video, the Chromecast Audio lets you cast music to any speaker it's connected to, essentially turning any "dumb" speaker smart.
How to cast with Google Chromecast
Using Chromecast is incredibly easy once you know how. That's Google's USP, after all. Firstly, you'll need an HDMI port in your TV or whatever vessel you're using to cast to. You also need to connect the USB cable to a power source.
From there, you need to download the Google Home app, which is available on Android and iOS. This is where you'll set everything up. Then‚Ä¶
1. On the top of the home screen, tap Add to add a new device.
2. Tap Set up device, then on the next page hit Set up new devices.
3. Once you've selected the home you're adding your Chromecast to, it will search for your dongle. You should then see the Chromecast appear with the corresponding number on the TV. Tap it to add, then follow the walkthrough procedure.
If you're an iPhone user, the good news is that you can do almost everything that Android users can‚Ä¶ Here's a guide explaining how to use Google Chromecast with an iPhone.
Supported Chromecast apps
Once you're set up, it's simply a case of casting from a supported app. You can also cast from the Chrome browser and the Firefox app for Android. Here are some of the major services that currently support Chromecast:
- YouTube/YouTube TV
- Google Play
- BBC iPlayer
- HBO Go & HBO Now
- Showtime Anytime
- PlayStation Vue
- CBS Sports
- Fox sports Go
As for music, most of the major services support Chromecast: Spotify, Google Plays Music, Tidal, Pandora, SoundCloud, YouTube Music, Deezer, iHeartRadio, 7digital Music and more. You can view more supported video and music services here.
What is Chromecast built-in?
More and more, we're hearing about Chromecast built-in, devices that come with the Chromecast tech ‚Äď you guessed it ‚Äď inside. There's a bunch of TVs from Sony, Sharp, Philips, Toshiba and others that come with Chromecast built-in. The same goes for select speakers that will allow you to cast music without the need for a dongle. Some B&O Play speakers support this, as does the new LG ThinQ and a range of soundbars.
For more information and a list of more supported TVs and speakers, check out our full guide to Chromecast built-in.
Google has also just updated Chromecast to let you add it into speaker groups, meaning you'll be able to create playlists and queue up music on the Chromecast and have it all played across your connected speakers. The feature has started rolling out to Google Home speakers, so keep an eye out.
As mentioned, Google Assistant can be used to stream to your Chromecast devices. In the Home app, you can change the name of your Chromecast, which is recommended if you have more than one. This means you can be more specific with a command like, "Ok Google, show me the weather on the kitchen TV", or, "Ok Google, play Narcos on the living room TV". It also means you can avoid Google Assistant getting confused between similar sounding phrases.
Here are some other commands to try out:
- "Ok Google, turn on the living room TV"
- "Ok Google, set [Chromecast name] volume to 30%"
- "Ok Google, mute Chromecast name]"
- "Ok Google, pause/play [Chromecast name]"
- "Ok Google, skip forward/back three minutes on [Chromecast name]"
While we've covered off the major stuff, there are still plenty of things to learn about Chromcast. Check out our Chromecast tips and tricks for more hacks and secrets for getting more out of your Chromecast device. Happy streaming.