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First Look: Google's $35 streamer inches on, not past Roku

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First Look: Google's $35 streamer inches on, not past Roku

3:34 /

Google's $35 Chromecast stick is a cheap and easy way to add streaming video and music to your TV, but it still isn't as fully featured as similarly priced Roku boxes.

Hey. I'm Matthew Moskovciak from CNET and today, we're gonna take a look at the Google Chromecast. This is Google's $35 streaming stick that made a big splash when it was announced back in July, and recently it's gotten a few updates in the last couple of months. Now there's not much to the hardware. It's a gray stick with a solid feel and it's designed to plug right into a spare HDMI input on the back of your TV. It's a sleek look but that spoil just a little bit by the fact that it also needs power. So, you'll have to connect the included micro USB cable either to a USB port on the back of your TV or to the included power adapter. Setup is surprisingly easy using either an Android or iOS device, which leads you through this simple step by step process. Once you're ready to go using the Chromecast is as easy as opening up a supported app on a phone or tablet. You hit the cast button and it beams a content straight to your TV. You can pause and fast forward right from your mobile device and even adjust the volume. You can even have multiple devices controlling the Chromecast at once, which is pretty fun if you have a group of friends and your training YouTube videos on your TV. Now, you may have noticed two crucial details of how the Chromecast works. The first is that apps need to support a device and right now, the list is a little short. There's Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, HBO Go, Hulu Plus and Google Music, plus Android users can also access Google Movies and TV. It's better than what the Chromecast offered at launch but it's still not much compared to Roku or Apple TV. Chromecast also doesn't support photos, music or videos stored on your tablet or smartphone and it could be a little frustrating that you can't do something simple like beam you photos right to your TV screen. The other important detail with the Chromecast is that unlike Roku or Apple TV, you need to use a tablet or smartphone to control it. There's no remote control. There's also not a traditional user interface at all. So, if you're in a household where not everyone has her own mobile device, it's not a great choice. There was one other way to get content to the Chromecast and that's using screen mirroring. Fire up the Chrome browser on a PC, Mac or Chromebook, install the Chromecast extension and you can mirror any tab in Chrome on your TV, including any streaming video that you can find on the web. It sounds great but in practice, I found it doesn't work that well with poor image quality and a lot of dropouts and glitches. A lot of it depends on your home networking and laptop performance, but don't expect a flawless experience from the screen mirroring feature. So, where does that leave Chromecast? Even with the recent updates, I still don't think it's quite as good of a value as Roku's boxes, which can be had for just $50. For example, the Roku LT supports a lot more services including Amazon Instant, MLB.tv, Rdio, PBS, Watch ESPN and Disney Channel. Plus, it also has a traditional on-screen interface and it lets you listen to music and view your photos stored on your phone. For most people, it's a better box that's worth the $15 extra. But if you're fine with Chromecast limitations, it's hard to deny that $35 is a tempting price, especially if you purchase movies and TV shows in the Android ecosystem and either way to watch them on your TV. Chromecast has made some solid improvements over the last few months but it needs to go a little further to become a truly great streaming device. I'm Matthew Moskovciak and this is the Google Chromecast.

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