Aug 13, 2013 5 min read

Chromecast, the Wonder Device, Ties Together the Little A/V System That Can

marquee-productMy dog is named Little. My living room is little. And my audio-video set-up is little.

But my dog and my A/V setup are awesome.

The awesomeness of the latter is in no small part thanks to a really nice boost from Google Chromecast. For those unfamiliar, it’s a nifty little device that plugs into your TV or monitor and allows you to stream movies and music that you control from your iPad, Chrome browser or Android-powered device.

This is a subjective Chromecast review, based on how I watch and listen to stuff. If you’ve already got a Roku or Boxee, you probably don’t need this — thought it might still be fun for traveling. I also managed to buy one of the $35 devices while Google was offering 3 months of Netflix, which I already subscribe to, so it cost me something like $20 shipped. I bought it from Google, which came with a shipping fee, but you can buy it through Amazon and get free Prime shipping.

My home A/V system is simple. I have a great little Asus 23″ LED widescreen monitor, a $25 T-class amp, a power supply for the amp, and a set of older Mission bookshelf speakers. If I were to set it up today, I’d probably go with this sub $200 Samsung TV (which would probably double OK as a monitor) and these $50 bookshelf speakers.

41n04jEFZEL (1)Previously to watch movies, I’d just hook my laptop up to the monitor via HDMI cable and using a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, I’d send the audio to the amp. For music, I’d attach a little Android something (either my phone or a Nexus 7) to the same 3.5mm cable.

Now the setup is a bit different. I plugged the Chromecast into the HDMI port on the back of the monitor and then ran a USB power cable for the Chromecast to the power strip. (If your monitor/TV has a more advanced HDMI port, it can power Chromecast or if your monitor/TV has powered USB ports, you can run a short cable from the dongle to the USB port to get power. My monitor had neither.)

I left the 3.5mm cable dangling from the amp, and now run a 3.5mm to RCA cable from the audio out on the monitor to the RCA in jacks on the amp. (That way I can send audio either from Chromecast or from any other source that has a 3.5mm headphone plug.)

With Chromecast, I can now select a Netflix film from my phone, and quickly throw it to the Chromecast. Chromecast takes over the job of streaming. You can then use your phone to control the playback and volume, and do whatever you like on the phone otherwise.

You can do the same with YouTube and Google Music, which makes for a nice working environment. The monitor and amp sit on the other side of the room, and I can pause, lower the volume or change tracks right from my phone. The set-up for Chromecast-enabled apps is very nice – your router isn’t streaming music to your phone which then sends it Chromecast. Instead, your phone tells Chromecast to do the streaming and your phone just acts like a remote control.

That works differently for Chrome browser tabs, which you can also throw to Chromecast. This works fine for most things, but it’s still in beta and highly dependent on your WiFi strength (there’s two hops going on).

Amazon videos look awful and the sound is out of sync — but perhaps Amazon will finally come up with an Android app for its video and make it work with Chromecast. While you can make Chrome open a pretty amazing range of video files, so far getting them to play nicely via Chromecast hasn’t happened.

But throwing a Vine or a webpage or a map or a YouTube video from an open Chrome browser tab is pretty simple once you install the extension on your laptop or desktop browser (so long as everything’s on the same WiFi connection). So far this doesn’t extend to Chrome on Android.

The sound for movies is quite good and will get more than plenty loud. The picture quality is great, but in my case, the WiFi doesn’t have to go far — the router is just a few feet from the Chromecast.

Music from Google Play (where you can upload 20GB of music for free) sounds very good as well, but it’d be nice to have Rdio, Spotify and Pandora support.

The two biggest drawbacks of my setup is that the monitor has to be on and that I still have to physically hookup my laptop to stream DVD rips. There’s also a very, very slight hiss from the monitor which you can hear if the volume is very high, but the source is quiet.

Don’t get me wrong – the sound is still impressively clear and there’s almost no way you’d ever notice this during a movie. you don’t get big bass from this system, but you do get incredible clarity and ambience for not much money.

Seriously, connect a T-class amp with a good power supply and bookshelf speakers and put on Bohemian Rhapsody and you’ll see how it handles layers of sound, quiet passages, vocals and a wall of sound.

So for now when I really want to listen to music intently where I might notice that little hum, I connect the music directly to the 3.5mm cable.

But with Chromecast, I find have music on much more often as I can quickly control it from my phone. The only annoying thing there is that Google Play doesn’t recognize long clicks on the volume rockers as next and previous track messages, so you do have to turn on the screen to adjust tracks.

But that’s just nitpicking. Chromecast takes a very solid and astoundingly inexpensive A/V setup and pulls it all together — and the setup of Chromecast is incredibly easy.

So take a $150 monitor/TV, $50 set of speakers, $50 amp/power supply combo, and toss in the $35 Chromecast and $15 worth of cables and for $300 you’ll have a great sounding and looking audio/video system for a small to medium-size room that you can control from your phone or tablet.

That’s just simply incredible. And as more services add Chromecast support, it’s only going to get better.



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