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Rant: Why I love what the Chromecast stands for

chromecast-and-box

I’ve had my hands on this Chromecast for almost a week now and I love it. Years ago I hacked my first Xbox after seeing [Kevin Rose] do it on The Screensavers (I did the hardware mod but that’s inconsequential). Why did I do this? So that I could run Xbox Media Center, the predecessor of XBMC. Since then I’ve dreamed of a device which can be hung on the back of the TV with Velcro and run XBMC. We basically got there with the Raspberry Pi, but the Chromecast is the form-factor that I had always envisioned. This lets me watch Netflix, while the RPi runs XBMC. The two are match made in heaven for under a hundred bucks.

That’s why I love the Chromecast device itself, but the bigger picture is that I love what it stands for. Keep reading to see what i mean.

A community of developers

No, it’s not open hardware, or even open software; both things that I value. But Google has invited the community to help guide the device’s future by providing an API and getting some semblance of documentation out for developers right from the start. This is in stark contrast to Apple’s living room business model that has the Apple TV locked out from any third-party app development whatsoever. Granted, Google is imposing an embargo on the release of community developed projects, but as I understand it that’s a product of the SDK not being finalized yet and they don’t want early projects to be broken by necessary changes.

Breaking down garden walls

In addition to this invitation to developers I like it that the weight of the mighty G may force the hand of hardware and software developers. I hate to keep ragging on Apple, but another huge drawback of their system is that only Apple devices will talk to other Apple devices. Google (read: YouTube) and Netflix included the ability to control Chromecast in their iOS apps. Now that Hulu has made the announcement that Hulu Plus support is coming I’m happy to hear that they’ll push out universal support as well. This is coming close on the heels of Google rolling out Hangouts which takes the concept of Facetime — an Apple-device-only experience — and makes it available to all smart phones and computers Hopefully these pushes will result in future hardware and the apps that control them playing nicely with all kinds of devices.

The gist of it

So really it’s the implied direction for the media industry that makes me embrace the Chromecast concept. It’s closed where it needs to be (Netflix is a binary app that protects their assets). It’s open where it can be, giving devs the tools they need to develop what will surely be the new features found in Chromecast V2. And it helps to further justify that expensive smart phone — no matter the brand — you paid for, which does the brunt of the work by controlling the device.

So where’s the hack? This was a rant so there is no hack. But just to make you anxious for Google to drop the developer embargo here’s a screenshot of an Android device ready to cast from several different media sources.

Comments

  1. Stryker says:

    I still find it as (aside from what it is) a gimmicky move to have people install Chrome.

  2. Gary says:

    Google….. They sure are something else.

    • austin says:

      the jury is still out on what exactly that is..

    • 112358 says:

      So far I can’t find anything definitively bad about Google like other companies. Their motto of “do no evil” is excellent but actions speak louder than words and so far they’ve kept to it. I wouldn’t call myself a “fanboy” but compared to their competition I’d say that Google is doing well for themselves and us.

      I think I get what austin is saying thou, why do all these “niceties” for us, what I gather is, if you like us you’ll support us and that’s exactly what they do. You don’t have to try and get every possible penny from us, just make a product everyone wants. You can’t appease everyone, especially the hacker community but if you give them the means to change it(in this case a free sdk to develop) then it’s good enough.

      We shall see if Google keeps supporting progress…

      • markey1979 says:

        personally I think that its a great idea. I will honestly think about getting one, but only being able to get Hulu as Plus customer is a serious drawback.

        I used to have a Plus account with Hulu, but I gave up on it when I realized I still had to watch commercials. Then I realized the error of my ways. My tv “box” would only show Hulu plus. I could not have this….

        I just bought a wireless keyboard and hooked up a computer. Now I can watch Hulu without Plus, or problems. It was a little hard to justify running another computer 24/7, so I made it double as my NAS.

        Sorry to get off subject and back to Google. I really like Google. I have a Galaxy Nexus (2012 android reference ). I also just bought a Samsung ARM ChromeBook. I must say that Google puts their name on some really nice stuff.

        Keep up the great work Google……

        NOW HOW ABOUT ADDING AUDIO TO “SLIDES”, SO I DO NOT HAVE TO ADD A VIDEO?

        • Whatnot says:

          First of all I think we can all name a list of things google did and does wrong and is shifty.

          Secondly their motto was not ‘do no evil’ but instead ‘don’t be evil’, which means ‘do not go out of your way to be nasty’, or in other words it does not say they won’t be nasty, merely that being nasty is not a deliberate line to follow.
          And I think they decided to officially abandoned that motto a while ago too, but you’d have to ‘google’ that.

          And yes, even most of the news organizations quote that motto wrong.

        • Chromecast allows you to stream whatever tab is open or alternatively your desktop. You are able to stream hulu from the website to your tv. the same with other sites.

      • twdarkflame says:

        “I wouldn’t call myself a “fanboy” but compared to their competition I’d say that Google is doing well for themselves and us.”

        Thats the best way to put it.
        Google are far from perfect, but (normally) when they do something wrong, you can see the same wrongness in their competitors ten fold.

        Last thing I think I remember google doing that was too dodgy for my taste was downranking sites with too many takedown notices. That would be fine in itself….only youtube didnt seem affected.

  3. rob says:

    Koush has fully integrated chromecast with anything using MediaPlayer in cyanogenmod. The chromecast is amazing little stick for only $35!

  4. imajeenyus says:

    Mike – totally off-topic question, how exactly do you pronounce your surname?

    ;-)

  5. tz2026 says:

    Think of a Chromecast with a USB port or similar for a set-top camera/mic for “hang-outs”. Or google glass sending or receiving.

    I don’t find Stalman’s position on “open” coherent. A masked rom in a socket doesn’t violate freedom, but a soldered in flash that has some abstruse firmware microcode that there is no way to develop does?

    Chromecast at least is semi-open, but I look at it as a peripheral Maybe someone will come up with a HDMI input to Chromecast so you can have wireless to TV from any source.

    Originally things were analog (NTSC/PAL), then they went digital, but simple, flat digital streams. Then a bit of compression. Now there is yet another layer. I’m typing this at a laptop at a sports bar. What if I could link and have my screen be the closest Flatscreen?

    Samsung already has “tablet-to-tv” but it only works between their products.

    Glass is not independent, neither is Chromecast, but Google is creating an ecosystem of hardware. DRM (or worse patents) might hold back some things, but they are going in the right direction.

    Going back, Originally I would have to use a colorburst crystal with oscillator to decode the chroma. Then came a digital stream, RGB or YCrCb, so I just have to pick out the right bits. The next level is to just have it as an object in a stream-database.

    Apple-TVs won’t be everywhere. Chromecasts might be (think hotel business center).

    Another person was speculating that you would just take your Phablet and have places where you would just (wirelessly) connect a mouse, keyboard, and main display wherever you happen to be. (I can do that via bluetooth for input with my tablet – and since it is a Toshiba Thrive with real USB and HDMI, via hardwire I can do that too).

  6. Gdogg says:

    I’m with you, Mike. A very cool device. If Google wants support from Hulu, Netflix, etc. they need to support DRM and allow running any type of obfuscate binary. At the same time, by offering an SDK they allow the developers to do a lot with it. It’s a simple enough piece of hardware I don’t explicitly see the need for it to be open source. We can already flash our own firmware, anyway.

  7. rasz says:

    Chromecast is an assault on cheap chinese Android TV sticks. Goal is to know what you are watching at all times by google.

    Closed hardware, closed software and spying, whats not to love, right?

    • polossatik says:

      +1

    • Rafael Carrascosa says:

      +1 Android TV sticks are far more hacker-friendly than Chromecast and they have been around for more than a while. I think *those* were game-changers.

    • Mike Szczys says:

      I’ve had my eye on these and I think the hardware design in them is suspect. I’ve wanted one that would run XBMC and stream Netflix through Android for a long time. But they’re pretty expensive and have questionably reliable performance.

      I kind of like the fact that the smartphone or computer take over the user interface as well. Makes control a snap. The only thing I find myself wanting is a way to shut off the TV from the smartphone. Maybe V2 will have it… or maybe someone can use the SDK to add that?

      • BLKMGK says:

        Pivos XIOS? The Android support is fairly immature for XBMC but the Linux flashes work great. I think with Android it will do Netflix but I switched to Linux pretty quickly…

      • 112358 says:

        I bought 3 MKIII808’s and I had to unsolder the wifi connections on them too make them work(I did solder new ones), the qualitiy is sub-par(not saying its because its Chinese) but that’s trivial for us but not the masses. I don’t think you can replace the android stick with this, it’s for consumers and hackers where the android stick is for the more “IT savvy”

        I own both devices and I like both devices, but if someone wanted a recommendation then I would look at their background:
        Someone not able to do basic IT functions then the chromecast(because you get outside tech support)
        If proficient with these devices then an Android stick because they’ll get more out of it.

        • BLKMGK says:

          I’ ve now owned, and given to others, 2x Pivos XIOS. So far both are pretty happy and are setup to stream from my Plex server while running XBMC. They handle attached media fine. i cannot speak to the WiFi however as I never ever use it on anything that’s a front-end to a TV and expected to stream from a server. You simply do much better with a wired connection and it’s what I insist on. I’ve heard that the Wifi can be fleky but it’s mostly been about antenna placement on the XIOS. i agree that it takes a little tech savvy to run one with XBMC but it’s only getting better and I like the capabilities a great deal. This stick sounds like it will be more locked down – bleah!

      • wildtang3nt says:

        Some higher-end phones such as the HTC One have IR blasters built-in. Problem solved.

    • twdarkflame says:

      “Goal is to know what you are watching at all times by google.”

      You need a citation for that claim.
      Is there software in Chromcast sending messages back to Google?
      Have you spotted it in your firewall activity?

      Or are you just, like sadly many others, of the belief that chrome itself sends back your data to google? (when really it just sends install info, or info when your logged in for sycning….but then, you’d send that same info regardless of browser you use if you log in to a google account…)

  8. RM says:

    I can’t wait for these to become available in Canada. I expect at $35 the hacing community will be all over these things. I see with a quick Google search, (irony) that someone has already managed to get a shell login working on their chromecast.

  9. Nomen Nescio says:

    I think it’s very good that NSA knows what people are watching on TV.
    War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Google is our friend.

    • 112358 says:

      Until this is proven then I would agree but Google has requested that they share what they are forced to do so(The government will not allow them too). If Google did share information that they were not forced to do by the government then I would agree. The downside of being a business is you have to agree to the law.

    • Franklin Templeton says:

      Let them watch reruns of Wings and Son of the Beach. Maybe they will learn something.
      I have never had any FBI agent storm my house for watching zoo pron or anything else, so why would it change now?

  10. hagure says:

    I can’t wait for this to be released!

  11. Jstylen says:

    I do plan to buy a chromecast and I’m sure I will love it. But I do not understand the massive hype behind it. Its cool, yes. But its not exactly a new idea. There are other things out there able to do this. The tiny dongle idea isn’t even new. Just take a look at ebay, there are tons of little android dongles you can plug into your TV. I feel like a lot of the hype just comes from it being a google device. But whatever, I’ll still be buying one.

  12. MicroGuy says:

    So now Google can also track your viewing habits.

  13. Eirinn says:

    Does it mirror the gadget’s screen or only select applications? Sorry if i’m being a bit daft.

    • Nova says:

      on PC it mirrors what’s on your screen and can cast flash based videos just fine, there’s also an experimental ‘entire display mode’ on the phone there are apps that support it like youtube and netflix.

      I don’t -think- the mobile chrome browser supports it yet or screen sharing of the phone, someone correct me if i’m wrong there.

  14. Atwas911 says:

    Chromecast.. Now with “NSA Inside®” technology.. Bringing you the ability to be watched while you watch everything online.

  15. Chris C. says:

    What’s with all the paranoia about Google tracking what you watch? What’s the worst thing that will happen, the NSA will laugh at you for watching My Little Pony? Won’t most online content providers store and possibly share these statistics, regardless of the device used to access them? Even with closed firmware, won’t packet analysis or other methods be able to detect if the Chromecast is actually phoning home with stats? Is there any evidence of this actually occurring? And if so, can’t it be prevented simply by operating behind a firewall with appropriately set rules? Or is this just a case of sour grapes from people who complain about anything closed source, and are in denial of the fact that at least some closed source code is absolutely necessary in this day and age of end-to-end content protection, to get a respectable number of content providers on board?

  16. Gk says:

    WTF? What a terribly biased rant.

    Apple TV has a great API. Hundreds of apps and games already use it for specific dual screen functionality, not to mention it mirrors any app natively without any hack.

    On the other, as it currently stands ChromeCast is a very limited functionality device and is locked down by the need to have apps approved _in writing_ by Google.

    Anything more is wishful thinking. I could just easily say that I think Apple will let native apps in for the next version, to make use of all the nicer hardware on the Apple TV (like Bluetooth, good GPU, etc)

  17. wisdomseeker says:

    Chromecast also doesnt seem to support USB host mode (or am i wrong?) wherein the android sticks… At least the MKXXX’s do…

    Anyone…

  18. maddiver says:

    Chromecast – meh. I bought one two weeks ago with high hopes it would offer something (anything) better than either my apple TV or roku. Nope. Nada. Regardless whether controlling with an Android tab or via Chrome on a computer (pc or mac), it still leaves much (a bunch really) to be desired. The only reason it hasn’t gone back to the store it came from is hopefully more apps (like for iOS) will come out someday. Seems like a nice toy that just needs a little time to grow up first.

  19. keystoneclimber says:

    Well, it would be a great idea except for one major design flaw. The thing streams HD video over WIFI. Seriously?

  20. Rob says:

    Does no one else realize that this is just a giant monetization platform for targeted ads? If you’re using one, you’re being monitored by the almighty G at all times (you’re likely already using them on your computer, and now the TV portion of your day is theirs too). They way they integrate Chromecast into your local network (in order for it to function as it does) gives them incredible monitoring capabilities (no matter if they’re not yet exploiting them… they’re inside the castle now), and every time you “push” something across the device to your TV, you’re giving them the knowledge of what you’re watching.

    Getting Google into the browser was smart. Getting Google into millions upon millions of cell phones was brilliant. Getting Google into millions upon millions of TVs is genius. But somehow I doubt, given the scope of available access that they now possess, that “do no evil” will retain any actual significance within a few years (assuming it has any at this point… and that’s being generous). The final frontier (beyond Google Glass, which might be slightly ahead of its time… ie, perma-prototype until a radically different looking version 2 shows up several years down the line) is getting Google into your major household appliances… and that’s not far off.

    Given what we’ve seen about the government’s ability to have near transparent access to the backend of Google and the other major web service providers based on various revelations of late, this is any security-conscious person’s nightmare, and a dystopian sci-fi wet dream… Bradbury and Orwell would have fascinating perspectives, I’m certain.

    I’m not a luddite, alarmist cave-dweller, but I do recognize that Chromecast is a much larger leap forward than most are giving it credit for. We would be wise to evaluate not just what it offers in functionality to the end-user but also what functionality it provides to the entity that created it…

  21. I’m happy with Chromecast so far and it’ll only get better. I think once the SDK is out, maybe someone (officially or non-officially) will make the unit be able to cast from other browsers, so I can quietly go back to Firefox. Kind of sucks that you can’t cast local media, but I drop it onto Chrome and cast. People report lag, but none for me. I have a middle of the line video card, 8 Core processor at 4Ghz, and 24GB memory.

    Kind of sucks you can’t cast from Chrome on your phone/tablet. I use this a lot to show some of my older relatives funny stuff I find on the net, or browse eBay/Etsy, or show them menus for a local restaurant to order dinner.

    The only drawback for me is while I love mine, it’s not worth the nearly $300 I paid for it. There was only one Best Buy in the entire state of NJ that had it. I drove just over an hour from my house to somewhere I’ve never been, and on the way back I took a wrong turn a right instead of a left and BOOM.. hit a deer.

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