Chromecast: First Impressions

When we got home from vacation last night, my new Chromecast was sitting waiting for me.  I’ve been really psyched to try it out.

The out-of-the-box experience was clear and simple.  My favorite thing about Chromecast is how small it is — it’s barely there; just a tiny little add-on to web-enable your TV.

The installation and setup were smooth, with one major exception: the first time through, my setup failed, citing a mysterious UPnP error, and a vaguely worded message to “check my router settings”.  Being a geeky person, I (a) knew that that meant going to 192.168.1.1 to get to the router config, (b) was able to remember / figure out the username and password for my router and (c) hunted around for the Universal Plug and Play settings until I found what looked like the right one.  My guess is that all of the above would be a deal breaker for 99.5% of consumers.

Once I got through that, I played around a bit with mirroring my computer screen to the TV (just like you can do with Airplay), and playing some web videos on the TV (including this video from the awesome Smarter Every Day series, showing an AK-47 firing underwater at 27,000 frames per second, to illustrate the physics of it — the explanation of the pressure forces about 2 minutes in is stellar).

I’m excited about this — I’m pretty sure this is not **the** answer to bringing the internet to TVs, but it’s a nice step on the road.  A few things come to mind as tough problems:

 * getting past having to switch “inputs” on the TV. This is another super clunky step that I’m sure loses a ton of people (and certainly just makes this content feel “farther away” and just out of reach of my regular routine.  It would be awesome if TVs provided an API to let apps / devices control the input.  I have no idea how that works but I’m almost certain it’s not possible now.

 * being able to queue content I see on the web to my TV for viewing later.  That was my favorite feature of the old Boxee.

 * the config steps (as mentioned above).  Also: in my case, relying on my broadband / TV provider, Verizon, actually allowing me to access and change those settings.  This kind of thing is disruptive to traditional TV and I could easily imagine combo broadband / tv providers clamping down to protect the legacy TV business.

Relatedly: I hung out with a friend last week who is a writer / producer at The Onion, and asked him how many of their video views came from people watching on TVs (vs computers or mobile devices).  He had no idea and it sounds like it’s not something they track, or even think about very much.  I guess it makes sense, given how early this all is, and given the relative clunkiness of the web / tv integrations thus far.  But man, it seems clear to me that this is where we’re headed, and I think & hope it’ll be good for independent content outlets like the Onion and others.

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