Google Chromecast road test – initial thoughts

We recently started trialling Google Chromebook laptops at Rokk Media. The verdict from staff is that they are a really viable alternative to Windows or an Apple Macbook Pro for general business use (particularly as we are a company-wide Google Apps user) – but only when dedicated applications outside of the Google universe aren’t needed to be run from the device.

Google have recently rolled out its Google Chromecast device in the UK which adds additional value to Chromebooks by allowing streaming of onscreen content directly to an HDMI enabled monitor or TV. This is perfect for running presentations or simply sharing browser based content for example.

The Chromecast is being promoted showing various content on a TV screen from YouTube, Netflix, BT Sport etc., so a would-be purchaser would be forgiven for thinking that once connected these would be ready to watch out of the box in the same way as, say the Apple TV set-top box, or an internet-ready TV set , but this is not the case. In essence the Chromecast works in harmony with an existing and separate device acting as a bridge between the device, content running on it, and the TV or monitor. It contains no content itself – in fact it doesn’t even come with a remote control.

Google are working with third party content providers to ensure as many of their apps can stream to the Chromecast as possible for putting content on your TV. At the time of writing that includes Netflix, YouTube, BT Sport, BBC iPlayer, Vevo and others (in the UK – other countries do differ, particularly the US). So – and this is the really important point, as well as the Chromecast itself (around £30 direct from Google or Amazon) you will need local wifi and a device capable of running the compatible third party apps. As the Chromecast is from Google you would correctly assume it works best from an Android enabled device including smartphones and tablets, but most of the partner apps are also available on other devices such as iPhone and iPad – and these work perfectly as well also.

As well as mobile devices you can also stream directly from any PC or laptop running the latest version of the Google Chrome browser as long as you are happy to install Google’s platform-specific browser plugin that is. The exception to this is of course with Google Chromebooks where access to the Chromecast is baked in and designed to work seamlessly from the off.

Is it worth getting one? Well, given that every internet enabled television, gaming system and set-top box available today already has most of the content currently available to Chromecast built in, including the headlining Netflix, BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps, if you have any of these devices and that is your only goal there isn’t any real point. However, if you are looking for a way to stream photos and videos from your Android device (not possible currently outside of a Google app on your iOS device other than loading each individual file into the browser window one by one) or to show content from your computer’s Chrome browser window on a TV or monitor, then this is a very affordable solution when compared to an Apple TV for Mac OSX or Windows.

It’s worth also noting that it is possible to stream local content from a Raspberry Pi in the same way – and the device is still a few pounds cheaper (with lots of other potential uses), but it’s still very much an enthusiasts kit and nowhere near as easy to configure and get up and running as the Chromecast.

So, in summary, don’t be confused into thinking that the Google Chromecast is a set-top box, as it isn’t. You will need at the very least a mobile phone or laptop to use it with the end result simply being a way to share content with more than one person, or on a bigger screen than the one you are streaming from. If that sounds like it solves a particular need then it’s a very affordable solution that works extremely well.

Also read the Rokk Media blog post:  ‘Is Google’s Chromecast Better Than Apple TV’

Treat clients like children

I was driving along earlier and my little girl (7) asked a simple enough question: “What does uncle Phil do?”. Now, uncle Phil is a stock-broker. A hard enough concept to explain if you know what it is – but to a little girl who has no concept of finance, or much of an understanding of what money is come to that – how do you tackle that one? Truth is a lot of parents wouldn’t bother but I am a big believer in answering every question my children pose and in fact it’s a fantastic skill to get under your belt for business too.

This is particularly true in the industry that I work within – new media (web development, web marketing, iphone apps, software development etc.) – notorious for it’s fair share of jargon and geeky terms! I have lost count of the clients who have come to Rokk Media with a clear phobia of anything tech, and usually exacerbated by experiences with earlier agencies who have never learned the art of talking in terms the rest of us understand.

Like my little girl’s question, there are very few meetings where a technical term or concept isn’t met with a glazed look and it’s that moment I relish – breaking it down in to chunks of information that the client can grasp. That’s the secret – finding common ground that both parties can relate to.

In the case of my little girl uncle Phil looks after other people’s money – a bit like a bank (yes I know that’s wholly inaccurate and stock-brokers the world over are up in arms, but it was all she needed). With clients it may be the fundamentals of a content management system, what happens to email when the send button is pressed, what is this cloud thing, or even – what’s the internet then?

In all these examples there are simple, everyday concepts that are universally understood and can step in to substitute for the techie stuff. It’s great to see a client’s face light up when they are given an every day example to grasp on to.

Of course this is nothing new – it’s what teachers (good ones) do every day of the week but it’s an essential skill to master in business, particularly if you work in an industry that is cloaked in jargon such as mine, engineering, medicine etc.

So next time a young person (or client) asks you a challenging question – don’t shrug them off with a flippant comment, give it some thought and work hard to come up with an answer that turns the light bulb on. You will get as much out of it as they do – and will be developing a skill that your customers and clients will thank you for as well.