Google Chromecast gadget puts your pictures on TV without the cables and fuss


posted Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 4:25 PM EDT

Tired of hunting down cables or fumbling with flash cards every time you want to show off your photos on the biggest picture frame in the house -- your TV? Newer models come with built-in Wi-Fi, but even then getting your pictures on screen can be a lot more awkward than it should be. A new gadget from search giant Google promises to make the process a whole lot easier -- and at a bargain basement price, to boot.

Google Chromecast is a small, USB-powered Wi-Fi dongle for your TV, which simply plugs into the HDMI port. If your TV doesn't provide power over HDMI, then it comes either from an included USB power adapter, or from the TV itself if it has a free USB port. Once plugged in, the device will work with Wi-Fi-capable Windows or Mac OS computers running the Chrome browser (be they laptop or desktop), smartphones or tablets running Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or higher, and Google's own Chromebook Pixel laptop. Support for iOS 6 devices including iPhones, iPads, and iPods is promised as well.

Google's main focus with Chromecast seems to be viewing streaming video on your TV, but that rather sells it short -- Chromecast can do a lot more besides.

All of these devices connect to the Chromecast dongle via Wi-Fi, and allow a variety of content to be shown on the TV with a minimum of fuss. In a press conference announcing the device, Google strongly emphasised the ability to view videos from the likes of YouTube, Netflix, and the company's own Google Play Movies & TV service, as well as to listen to music from Google Music and Pandora. While not terribly exciting from a photography perspective, the design seemed well-considered, allowing playback to be controlled from multiple remote devices working together with the same or multiple TVs -- including the ability to queue content, pause, seek through content, and even adjust volume remotely.

As photographers, though, the really exciting part for us was the ability to share Chrome browser tabs with your TV, and the fact that Google has prepared an SDK allowing third-parties to invent new uses for Chromecast. Straight out of the box, you can use your TV to view single photos or slideshows from your desktop or notebook web browser. In time, and obviously assuming that Chromecast becomes widely adopted, we'd expect to see software developers providing the ability to share content with your TV from their apps. Imagine the ability to connect to the TV from Photoshop Touch on your tablet, or perhaps from your full-blown Lightroom or Aperture installs on a laptop or desktop, and you start to see the possibilities.

The process of connecting your Wi-Fi device with Chromecast and controlling your TV remotely looks very streamlined and well thought-out.

And given the extremely affordable pricetag of just US$35, we'd say that Google stands a very good chance of getting Chromecast into a significant proportion of US households. (The company has pledged that  the device will be coming to other markets as well, but for the time being, it is launching only inside the USA.) In fact, when you consider that currently, the Chromecast comes bundled with three months of Netflix Watch Instantly free of charge, the pricetag of the device itself is effectively even lower.

(Update: Right after publishing this article, we heard from Google, who tell us that the Netflix offer is no longer available "due to overwhelming demand for Chromecast devices since launch". That's a shame, because for anybody already paying for Netflix, the offer effectively took the outlay down to a stunning US$11.)

Chromecast looks well-suited to putting the family photo collection on the biggest screen in the house, or perhaps letting a client preview their photos in detail with a minimum of fuss.

Early reports suggest that if your Wi-Fi connection isn't strong, Chromecast may struggle to provide a usable feed. That's really to be expected, though -- it's a Wi-Fi device at its heart, and it would be unreasonable to expect solid performance with a bad connection. For those of us for whom stable Wi-Fi is a reality, Chromecast looks to be a great way to get content on your TV, including your photo collection.

Google Chromecast is available for preorder immediately from Google Play, Amazon, and Best Buy, but it's currently sold out at all three. Google Play is currently promising stock in 3-4 weeks, and we'd guess that the company will face quite a challenge keeping the device in stock at this price. Want to get one as soon as possible? Get your preorder in, and reserve your place in line now!