The second-generation Chromecast
|Type||Digital media player|
|Release date||1st gen:
July 24, 2013
2nd gen/Chromecast Audio:
September 29, 2015
|Introductory price||US$35 / £30|
|Units sold||30 million|
|Display||1080p (video models)|
Chromecast is a line of digital media players developed by Google. Designed as small dongles, the devices play audio/video content on a high-definition television or home audio system by directly streaming it via Wi-Fi from the Internet or a local network. Users select the media to play using mobile apps and web apps that support the Google Cast technology. Alternatively, content can be mirrored from the Google Chrome web browser running on a personal computer, as well as from the screen of some Android devices.
The first-generation Chromecast, a video streaming device, was announced on July 24, 2013, and made available for purchase on the same day in the United States for US$35. The Google Cast SDK was released on February 3, 2014, allowing third parties to modify their software to work with Chromecast. According to Google, over 20,000 Google Cast–ready apps are available, as of May 2015.
Chromecast was favorably received by critics, who praised its simplicity and potential for future app support. Over 30 million units have sold globally since launch, and it was the best-selling streaming device in the United States in 2014, according to NPD Group. From Chromecast’s launch to May 2015, it handled more than 1.5 billion stream requests. The second-generation Chromecast and an audio-only model called Chromecast Audio were released in September 2015.
- 1 Features and operation
- 2 Hardware
- 3 Software
- 4 Model comparison
- 5 Release and promotion
- 6 Reception
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Features and operation
Chromecast devices are dongles that are powered by connecting the device’s micro-USB port to an external power supply or a USB port. Video-capable Chromecasts plug into the HDMI port of a high-definition television or monitor, while the audio-only model outputs sound through its integrated 3.5 millimeter audio jack/mini-TOSLINK socket. By default, Chromecasts connect to the Internet through a Wi-Fi connection to the user’s local network; a standalone Ethernet adapter/USB power supply, introduced in July 2015 for US$15, allows a wired connection.
Chromecast offers two methods to stream content: the first employs mobile apps and web apps that support the Google Cast technology; the second allows mirroring of content from the web browser Google Chrome running on a personal computer, as well as content displayed on some Android devices. In both cases, playback is initiated through the “cast” button on the controlling device. If a television’s HDMI ports support the Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) feature, pressing the cast button will also result in the video-capable Chromecast automatically turning on the TV and switching the television’s active audio/video input using the CEC command “One Touch Playback”.
- The primary method of playing media on the device is through Google Cast–enabled mobile apps and web apps, which control program selection, playback, and volume. The Chromecast itself streams the media from the web within a local version of the Chrome browser, thus freeing the controlling device up for other tasks, such as answering a call or using another application, without disrupting playback. Mobile apps enabled for Chromecast are available for both Android 4.1+ and iOS 7.0+; web apps enabled for Chromecast are available on computers running Google Chrome (on Microsoft Windows 7+, Mac OS 10.7+, and Chrome OS for Chromebooks running Chrome 28+) through the installation of the “Cast extension” in the browser. Streamed content can be Internet-based, as provided by specific apps, or reside on the controlling device’s local storage. Apps that provide access to the latter include Castbox, AllCast, Avia, Plex, and Google Photos.
- Content can also be mirrored from a tab of the Chrome browser (with the Cast extension) on a personal computer or from the screen of some Android devices with operating system version 4.4 or above. In the case of “tab casting”, the quality of the image depends on the processing power of the device, and minimum system requirements apply to video streaming. Content that uses plug-ins, such as Silverlight and QuickTime, does not fully work, as the stream may lack sound or image. Similarly, screen images mirrored from Android devices are typically degraded, reflecting the fact that video displayed on the smaller screens of tablets and smartphones is usually downscaled.
When no content is streamed, video-capable Chromecasts display a user-personalizable content feed called “Backdrop” that can include featured and personal photos, artwork, weather, satellite images, weather forecasts, and news.
Users’ controlling devices previously needed to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as a video-capable Chromecast to cast content, until the addition of a “guest mode” feature on December 10, 2014. When enabled, the feature allows controlling devices to discover a nearby Chromecast player by detecting ultrasonic sounds emitted by the television or speaker system to which the player is connected; alternatively, the controlling device can be paired with the Chromecast device using a four-digit PIN code.
A December 2015 update to Chromecast Audio introduced support for high-resolution audio (24-bit/96 kHz) and multi-room playback; users can simultaneously play audio across multiple Chromecast Audio devices by grouping them together using the Chromecast mobile app. The feature makes Chromecast Audio a low-cost alternative to Sonos‘ multiple-room music systems.
The original Chromecast measures 2.83 inches (72 mm) in length and has an HDMI plug built into the body. It contains the Marvell Armada 1500-mini 88DE3005 system on a chip running an ARM Cortex-A9 processor. The SoC includes codecs for hardware decoding of the VP8 and H.264 video compression formats. Radio communication is handled by AzureWave NH–387 Wi-Fi which implements 802.11 b/g/n (2.4 GHz). The device has 512 MB of Micron DDR3L RAM and 2 GB of flash storage. The model number H2G2-42 is likely a reference to the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy abbreviation “H2G2″—in the novel, the number 42 is the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” The bundled power adapter bears the model number MST3K-US, likely a reference to Mystery Science Theater 3000.
The second-generation Chromecast has a disc-shaped body with a small length of HDMI cable attached (as opposed to the HDMI plug built into the original model). The cable is flexible and can magnetically attach to the device body for more positioning options behind a television. The second-generation model uses a Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3006 SoC, which has dual ARM Cortex-A7 processors running at 1.2 GHz. The unit contains an Avastar 88W8887, which has improved Wi-Fi performance and offers support for 802.11 ac and 5 GHz bands, while containing three adaptive antennae for better connections to home routers. The device contains 512 MB of Samsung DDR3L RAM and 256 MB of flash storage.
The model number NC2-6A5 may be a reference to the Enterprise—NC2 can be read as NCC and 6A5 converted from hexadecimal is 1701. NCC-1701 is the registry code for the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) that serves as the central starship in Star Trek.
The Chromecast Audio appears similar to the second-generation Chromecast with its disc-shaped body but instead of a HDMI cable it has a yellow 3.5mm audio cable to connect to a speaker or stereo, since it is an audio-only device. It shares the technical specifications of the Chromecast 2. Initially each Chromecast Audio had to be separately controlled, but the December 2015 update allows multiple Chromecast Audios to be controlled all at one time, allowing for multi-room support. The model number is RUX-J42, which may be a reference to Jimi Hendrix, since RUX could stand for Hendrix’s debut album Are You Experienced and J42 is the code for the posthumous compilation album Midnight Lightning.
Google Cast SDK and compatible apps
At the time of Chromecast’s launch, four compatible apps were available: YouTube and Netflix were supported as Android, iOS, and Chrome web apps; Google Play Music and Google Play Movies & TV were also supported, but originally only as Android apps.
Additional Chromecast-enabled apps would require access to the Google Cast software development kit (SDK). The SDK was first released as a preview version on July 24, 2013. Google advised interested developers to use the SDK to create and test Chromecast-enabled apps, but not distribute them. While that admonition remained in force, Chromecast-enabled applications for Hulu Plus and Pandora Radio were released in October 2013, and HBO GO in November. Google invited developers to a two-day hackathon on December 7 at Googleplex, its Mountain View headquarters, offering the opportunity to test drive the SDK’s “upcoming release”. The session attracted 40 developers from 30 companies and was followed by 10 additional apps, including Plex, Avia, and Realplayer Cloud.
Google opened the SDK to all developers on February 3, 2014. In its introductory documentation and video presentation, Google said the SDK worked with both Chromecast devices and other unnamed “cast receiver devices”. Chromecast product manager Rish Chandra said that Google used the intervening time to improve the SDK’s reliability and accommodate those developers who sought a quick and easy way to cast a photo to a television without a lot of coding. Google also made the SDK a part of the Google Play Services framework, thereby giving users access to new apps without having to update Android itself. Over time, many more applications have been updated to support Chromecast. At Google I/O 2014, the company announced that 6,000 registered developers were working on 10,000 Google Cast–ready apps; by the following year’s conference, the number of compatible apps had doubled. Google’s official list of compatible apps and platforms is available on the Chromecast website. Google has published case studies documenting Chromecast integration by Comedy Central, Just Dance Now, Haystack TV and Fitnet.
The development framework has two components: a sender app and a receiver app, both of which make use of APIs provided by the SDK.
- The sender app is based on a vendor’s existing Android or iOS mobile app, or desktop Web app, and provides users with content discovery and media controls, including the ability to select to which device content is streamed. Under the hood, sender apps can detect receiver devices on the same local network, establish a secure channel, and exchange messages.
- The receiver app is a web app executing in a Chrome browser-like environment resident on the cast receiver device. Receiver apps of varying complexities can be developed depending on the variety of content formats the app can play. For example, a simple receiver app might just play HTML5 content, whereas custom receiver apps, which require more programming effort, can take a variety of streaming protocols, including MPEG-DASH, HTTP Live Streaming, and the Microsoft Smooth Streaming Protocol.
At International CES 2015, Google announced an expansion to Google Cast called “Google Cast for audio”, which allows apps that support the Google Cast SDK to play audio through compatible Wi-Fi–connected speakers, soundbars, and receivers. Manufacturers supporting Google Cast as a built-in function in their speakers include LG and Sony.
In September 2015, Google announced “Fast Play” and accompanying developer tools, which are aimed at reducing the delays between loading content. In a typical scenario, if a user viewed the first three episodes of a television series, the fourth episode might load in the background.
Device discovery protocols
Chromecast uses the mDNS (multicast Domain Name System) protocol to search for available devices on a Wi-Fi network. Chromecast previously used the DIAL (DIscovery And Launch) protocol, co-developed by Netflix and YouTube.
At the introductory press conference, Hugo Barra, then Google’s vice president of Android product management, said that the first-generation Chromecast ran “a simplified version of Chrome OS.” Subsequently, a team of hackers reported that the device is “more Android than ChromeOS” and appears to be adapted from software embedded in Google TV. As with Chrome OS devices, Chromecast operating system updates are downloaded automatically without notification.
Chromecast supports the image formats BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, and WEBP, with a display size limitation of 720p (1280 × 720 pixels). Supported audio codecs are HE-AAC, LC-AAC, MP3, Vorbis, and WAV (LPCM); AC-3 (Dolby Digital) and E-AC-3 (EC-3, Dolby Digital Plus) are available for audio passthrough. The supported video codecs are H.264 High Profile Level 4.1 (decoding up to 720/60 or 1080/30) and VP8.
Google Cast app
The Chromecast mobile app (later renamed Google Cast) was released to coincide with the release of the original video model, and is available for both Android and iOS mobile devices. It facilitates initial setup of the Chromecast hardware, allows settings configuration for the device, and provides information about the “Backdrop” images shown on the television. On October 19, 2013, the Google Cast mobile app was released outside of the US for the first time. In September 2015, Google introduced additional features to the app, including aggregation of content available from Google Cast–ready mobile apps installed on the user’s device, as well as a link to view other available Google Cast–ready apps; the latter had previously been available only through Google’s online Play Store. The app also offers a search function that identifies which streaming services offer a specified film or TV show.
|Previous generation||Current generation|
|Model||Chromecast (1st generation)||Chromecast (2nd generation)||Chromecast Audio|
|Release date||July 24, 2013||September 29, 2015||September 29, 2015|
|Sales discontinued||September 29, 2015||—||—|
|System on a chip||Marvell Armada 1500 Mini 88DE3005-A1||Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3006||Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3006|
|Memory||512 MB RAM DDR3L||512 MB RAM DDR3L||256 MB RAM DDR3L|
|Storage||2 GB||256 MB||256 MB|
|Audio DAC||N/A||N/A||AKM AK4430 192kHz 24-Bit DAC |
|Dimensions||72 mm × 35 mm × 12 mm (2.83 in × 1.38 in × 0.47 in)||51.9 mm × 51.9 mm × 13.49 mm (2.04 in × 2.04 in × 0.53 in)||51.9 mm × 51.9 mm × 13.49 mm (2.04 in × 2.04 in × 0.53 in)|
|Weight||34 g (1.2 oz)||39.1 g (1.38 oz)||30.7 g (1.08 oz)|
Release and promotion
Google made the first-generation Chromecast available for purchase online in the US on July 24, 2013. To entice consumers, Google initially included a promotion for three months of access to Netflix at no cost with the purchase of a Chromecast. The device quickly sold out on Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, and the Google Play Store, and within 24 hours, the Netflix promotion was ended because of high demand. On March 18, 2014, Google released the Chromecast to 11 new markets, including the UK, Germany, Canada, and more.
In July 2014, to commemorate the first anniversary of the device’s launch, Google announced it would offer their music streaming service, Google Play Music All Access, at no cost for 90 days to Chromecast owners who had not previously used All Access; the service normally costs US$9.99 per month. On December 10, 2014, Chromecast was launched in India through e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal in partnership with Bharti Airtel. That same month, Google offered a promotion whereby anyone purchasing a Chromecast from a participating retailer before December 21 would receive a US$20 credit for the Google Play Store. Google offered a US$6 credit to the Store for all Chromecast owners beginning on February 6, 2015.
Google announced the second-generation Chromecast and an audio-only model called Chromecast Audio on September 29, 2015. Each model was made available for purchase the same day for US$35. Days later, Amazon.com announced that it would stop selling Chromecast and Apple TV devices in its online store, presumably because they compete with Amazon’s own Fire TV and Fire TV Stick.
First generation model
Nilay Patel of The Verge gave the Chromecast an 8.5/10 score in his review, saying, “The Chromecast is basically an impulse purchase that just happens to be the simplest, cheapest, and best solution for getting a browser window on your TV.” Speaking of the adapter’s potential, he said, “it seems like the Chromecast might actually deliver on all that potential, but Google still has a lot of work to do.” In particular, Patel pointed to Apple‘s AirPlay protocol as an example of an established competitor with many more features. TechCrunch‘s review of the device said, “Even with a bug or two rearing its head, the Chromecast is easily worth its $35 pricetag.” Gizmodo gave the device a positive review, highlighting the ease of setup and sharing video. In comparing the device to competitors, the review said, “Chromecast isn’t Google’s version of Apple TV, and it’s not trying to be… But Chromecast also costs a third of what those devices do, and has plenty of potential given that its SDK is just a few days old.”
Michael Gorman of Engadget gave the Chromecast an 84/100 score, writing, “it’s a platform that’s likely to improve dramatically as more apps start to support the technology.” In his comparing the Chromecast to competing devices, Gorman illustrated that it initially had support from fewer multimedia services, but because of its low price and ease of use, he concluded “we can wholeheartedly recommend the Chromecast for anyone who’s been looking for an easy, unobtrusive way to put some brains into their dumb TV.” Will Greenwald of PC Magazine rated it 4/5, saying, “The Google Chromecast is the least expensive way to access online services on your HDTV”, although he noted that “The lack of local playback and limited Chrome integration holds it back in some respects.” David Pogue of The New York Times praised the device for its $35 retail price, saying, “It’s already a fine price for what this gadget does, and it will seem better and better the more video apps are made to work with it.” Pogue noted the limitations of the device’s screen mirroring feature and said using only mobile devices as a remote control was not “especially graceful”, but he called Chromecast the “smallest, cheapest, simplest way yet to add Internet to your TV”.
Sales and impact
In July 2014, Google announced that in the device’s first year on sale, “millions” of units had sold and over 400 million casts had been made. The number of casts surpassed one billion by January 2015, and 1.5 billion by May 2015. The company confirmed that Chromecast was the best-selling media streaming device in the United States in 2014, according to NPD Group. In February 2015, Google Korea announced that about 10 million Chromecasts had been sold globally in 2014. At Google I/O in May 2015, the company announced 17 million units had sold since launch, a figure that reached 20 million by September 2015, 25 million by May 2016, and 30 million by July 2016. According to Strategy Analytics, Chromecast captured more than 35% of the digital streamer market internationally in 2015.
Digital Trends named Chromecast the “Best Product of 2013”. In March 2014, Engadget named Chromecast an Editor’s Choice winner for “Home Theater Product of the Year” as part of the website’s annual awards; for the following year’s awards, Engadget named the device the winner of “Best in Home Entertainment”.
In July 2015, Google signed a deal with the Television Academy to provide Chromecasts to Emmy Award voters to allow them to view screeners of nominated media. The multi-year agreement will reduce the volume of DVD screeners distributed each year.
- Comparison of digital media players
- Android TV
- Google TV
- Miracast, a competing technology for displaying a phone or laptop screen on an HD display
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