I recently bought Google’s latest attempt to integrate into our TV viewing habits – the Chromecast. While the hardware has been around for a while (available to purchase in the States since last July), it has only just been released in the UK.
Priced at £30 it is cheap enough for the average consumer to take a punt, and effectively turns a regular cheap TV into a smart TV of sorts, allowing companion apps and websites, like Netflix, Google Music and the BBC iPlayer, to stream content from a variety of devices to the new device. This works fairly well – Netflix and iPlayer seems flawless in tests, and even the more experimental features, such as “casting” a tab from Chrome to the telly, worked with few issues (there is a short delay, which is acceptable for some purposes, but not for others). I imagine that as the platform matures, performance will improve and the library of compatible (and useful) apps will increase.
However, I’m wondering if Google have missed a trick here. The Chromecast fits into a standard HDMI port, with a seperate micro-USB connection to power it. And that’s it. But what if they had made the device a pass-through, allowing the Chromecast to have another HDMI source plugged into the back of it? Not only would have this freed up a HDMI port (which on a cheaper TV is a godsend) but it allows the Chromecast to perform a couple of extra tricks.
Firstly, the ability to turn on/off the pass through via your phone/tablet/laptop (or perhaps even automatically via HDMI CEC) would be handy, so you wouldn’t need to unplug/plug in your Chromecast when needed – just one command from your device and it would spring into action.
Secondly, imagine being able to overlay information from the Chromecast on top of live TV. This could take various forms:
- Information about the current program (possibly detected using Google Now’s “Listen to my TV” feature)
- Notifications from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter or other sources
- News headlines, as they happen
- Contextual information (e.g. show the weather every 15 minutes between 7:30am and 8:30am)
- Sports results/updates
- Picture in picture for a second feed (security camera, baby monitor)
Finally, within the HDMI protocol there are a number of different communication methods that allow connected devices to interoperate, so you could, potentially, have your TV/set-top box pause or mute when your phone rings, or turn the power to the TV off when you leave the house (i.e. when your phone disconnects from your home wifi network). Not perfect examples (in the last example, what would happen if someone else was watching instead of you!) but it give you a flavour of what is possible.
Roku have just announced their streaming stick and is currently targeting a US audience. It shows off some impressive ideas which the next generation of Chromecast hardware could certainly borrow from, such as a dedicated remote for operation without a phone, tablet or computer, although with a 50% higher price it’s less of an impulse purchase, although Apple TV is an even more costly option (as you’d expect!)