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The Chromecast vs. Smart TV

Last week Google announced a new Smart TV product, the Chromecast. Immediately this generated a great deal of interest among the tech-enthusiast community. Having received one and set it up, preliminary conclusions are that it is not a Smart TV device, and is far less capable than an Apple TV or Roku or any of the major Smart TV platforms; however, it is a very simple and effective device for streaming content from a smartphone, tablet or even a PC. This usage scenario (limited functionality, functional streaming, low-price, easy to use) is probably just fine with most consumers, and may have a significant impact on the future of connected TV.

Setup

The setup of the device was very easy, but some owners of older TVs may have trouble. The device relies on external power from a USB connection, although there is some speculation that HDMI 1.4 or MHL enabled ports could supply direct power. Also, the Chromecast is able to use CEC functionality to turn the TV on if it is sent a signal, but ONLY if it is power by a wall adapter. On-board USB ports on the TV are switched off if the set is powered down.

Connecting over WiFi and downloading setup software was very straightforward with clear instructions and minimal steps. Chromecast was somehow able to determine the network password … which was a bit unnerving.

Usage

The functionality of Chromecast is essentially identical to Apple’s Airplay technology. There are no native applications on the Chromecast, as there are on other Smart TV STBs and TVs. It is only used to stream content as directed from another device. This is also why the package is so small (the size of a large USB memory stick) and cheap at just $35.

For mobile devices, the YouTube, Netflix and Google Play apps have an icon that when pressed, direct the Chromecast to start streaming the same content stream. Support from other apps is forthcoming, such as Pandora and Vimeo. The device is not streaming peer-to-peer (P2P), but rather accessing the same stream over the Internet. The advantage of this is that you can switch applications on the mobile device and not disrupt the stream. It also does not consume smartphone or tablet resources to stream the content, but rather leverages the mobile device to search, select and control the content.

While the mobile device operation is very similar to Apple TV, the ability to send content from a PC via the Chrome Tab Casting feature is unique to the Chromecast and extremely useful, only requiring an extension to the browser, which allows emulation of any tab on the screen, in fairly high resolution, and in full screen mode on the TV.

Some websites do not have apps for streaming on other Smart TV platforms, so there is no option to stream this content aside from directly on the PC, or via a PC connected directly to the TV. Even some applications like Hulu do not offer the full selection of content on their apps. With Chromecast, almost ALL web content is viewable via tab casting, and since the PC is vastly easier and more familiar for consumers to use to find content, the familiar experience eliminates confusion found on most Smart TV platforms.

One limitation is that ‘tab casting’ from the Chrome browser to the Chromecast sends the full signal through the home WiFi network. As a result, there can be performance limitations (buffering, resolution, lag, jutter) from network or PC performance.

Implications for Smart TV

For $35, there is no equal in terms of function, form and value for streaming web content to the TV. This could be the future of Smart TV: the intelligence to find and play content resides on mobile devices (or PCs) and the TV is just a playback screen streaming content from the Internet.

Our research indicates that the percentage of TVs which are connected will increase to 23% in North America, though this is well below the global average of 36% and behind expectations. The low adoption rate of connected TV in the US relates to the proliferation of other devices that can duplicate the function of Smart TVs for little or no money. Gaming console owners already stream from web apps. Roku and Apple TV are relatively cheap at $60-$100. The Chromecast, at $35, significantly devalues connected TV functions (and may be followed up with an Android game console).

For smart TV makers, this is a big challenge. To date, their solution has been to increase the functionality, complexity and componentry of the Smart TV to compete with other devices in the home. However, this increases the cost while consumers see decreasing value in Smart TV hardware (and set makers struggle with Smart TV obsolescence). The Chromecast will widen this gap further, and appears to be a hit among tech enthusiasts.

  • Akin

    Dear Paul,knowing that smart tv share in developed countries is above 70%, chromecast could be considered as a supplementary to basic or old Tvs rather than replacement of Smart Tvs having already screen sharing functions such as miracast or widi..

  • Paul

    Smart TV share is definitely not above 70% in developed countries. In the US, it accounts for about 23% of shipments (much less than that in household penetration), and even in places like Japan and Western Europe it’s only reached 50-55% of shipments.

    While there is a chance that technologies like WiDi or Miracast could allow for similar capability, their function is separate from Smart TV functions as currently deployed and only strengthens the argument that a Smart TV doesn’t need all the complicated intelligence, just a simple robust connection directly to the Internet or to another device that controls the content.

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  • Anonymous

    Paul, Chromecast does not guess your WiFi password. The App that you download modifies your PC’s WiFi settings to search for the Chromecast device’s SSID. It then asks if this is the SSID you wish to connect to. After that your PC is no longer connected to your router’s WiFi. This allows you to enter the settings appropriate for your network, including its password. When you are done you need to set your PC’s WiFi back to the regular network. It should be noted that the Windows App cannot be installed on XP. It requires Windows 7 or above.

  • Akin
  • Anonymous

    Last December there was a study released that cited use of the”Smart” functions in Smart TVs was under 2% in the US. I think that Chromecast has a chance to bring more to the table, and actually get people to use their TVs in new ways. Of course, as an optional item it’s targeting a substantially different audience….those who already have an idea about what it does and are willing to order/install it.

  • Charles in Austin

    TV manufacturers are constantly grappling for what’s next and borrowing from the past success of PCs when they integrate Smart TV functions. Most are poorly integrated and require too much effort for the casual user Remember, watching TV is a passive activity (did I just create an oxymoron?) and people want to be able to quickly surf to find something to watch. Most Smart TVs require way too much effort to find something online to watch. Hence, it gets way to little use. The challenge here is to improve the interface (something Intel and others are working to do),

    Chromecast is something different. It links the other activity that is already happening in living rooms across the world. That is, surfing the web on a tablet or notebook while the TV blares away. Last Thanksgiving everyone under 30 and a few of us old folks all had a device on their lap while the football game was on the TV. We were constantly showing each other our screen or recommended a website to each other. Chromecast makes that a better experience by putting my screen on the TV with a punch of the input button on the remote. Since Chromecast is so cheap and works on all kinds of notebooks and tablets (it is Intel, AMD, ARM agnostic) it will be an easy buy this fall. I’m already planning to give them out for Christmas… make that before the Thanksgiving football games. Ultimately, I can see Chromecast being built into Smart TVs and a Chromecast button on the remote. That just might encourage me to buy a new TV more than 4K.

  • Rahul Kataria

    wow nice smart tv having good quality.According to me it is a best product.

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    [...] be connected to their existing TV, such as the Apple TV and Roku media players, and more recently Google’s Chromecast. Indeed, the existing Apple TV box may be an impediment to Apple’s success with a smart TV [...]

  • Ks9925

    I’m not very techno-savvy, so I need help from all you gurus. My son has asked for a tv smart for his birthday. Is it worth the cost or should I get a tv and chromecast? Seems like a more reasonable option if it performs the same functions. And yes, he has a smartphone and a tablet.

  • Anonymous

    I just got a Chromcast kit and now I have to get a HDMI driven TV set. (Still using a late 90′s 32 CRT HAHA!) So I am looking at cost vs size vs gizmos big screen TV. Since I can now use Chromecast, I am not interested the Smart TV features, because the new Android operating system (KitKat 4.4.1) is going to allow the mirroring of the Android screen (tablet or phone) to the TV via Chromecast. See this article for an understanding on ZDNet…Hope this helps Ks9925
    http://www.zdnet.com/android-4-4-1-update-hints-at-android-chromecast-screen-mirroring-very-soon-7000024073/

  • Gramma Kaye

    Treated myself to Chromecast for Christmas. Got it on sale at Amazon. Easy peasy to setup and to use. I am a great-grandmother with no tech experience, and I absolutely love this gadget!

  • A1N0K3A

    I don’t think Smart TVs will be made obsolete. If you’re buying a new TV and a Smart TV costs the same as a similar Plasma, why not purchase it? Even though Chromecast can make it easier to use internet streaming, wouldn’t it be even more convenient to not have to use it? It makes sense to connect Chromecast to existing TVs. But for those that are in the market for a new TV, it makes sense to use the TV directly rather than setting up Chromecast and still having to use a secondary device.