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18 Chromecast tips and tricks

After it's set up, the Chromecast is an extremely simple device to use with seemingly very few features. However, there are some tricks up its sleeve you may not be aware of.

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Google's Chromecast is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to wirelessly throw content from your phone, tablet or computer onto your television. While it may not seem feature-packed on the surface, there are a lot of things Chromecast can do that aren't immediately apparent.

Below you will find 16 tips and tricks to help you get a better understanding of Chromecast.

Use your photos as wallpapers

When you're not using your Chromecast, it turns your television into a giant digital photo frame, displaying hand selected photographs of beautiful scenery.

If you want to use your own photos, download the Google Home application to your Android or iOS device, open the Devices tab, hit the action overflow button for your Chromecast and select Backdrop settings. There you can enable Google Photos, Facebook and Flickr. If you no longer want to see the photos Google has selected, you can disable Featured photos, Earth and space and Art.

You also have the ability to tweak the speed at which new photos show -- Slow (0.5x), Normal (1.0x) or Fast (2.0x) -- and you can toggle weather.

Get headlines instead of wallpapers

Within this same Backdrops settings screen, you can also opt to get news headlines. For this, there are two options: Curated News, which is hand picked by Google, and your own news via Play Newsstand. To control which feeds appear in your personal news feed, you will need to open the Play Newsstand application and edit which sites you want to follow there. Changes made within the app will automatically appear on Chromecast.

Browse Chromecast-compatible apps

You know the standard apps that support Chromecast -- YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, etc. But what else can you stream to your TV? To find out, all you have to do is open the Google Home app on your phone and select the Discover tab. Tap to collapse the Google Home section and browse the Chromecast & TVs section.

All the apps that support Chromecast can be found here, as well as in the Google Play Store itself under the Google Cast category.

Mirror Android devices

Chromecast's highlight feature is streaming video from YouTube, Netflix and any other application that supports it. However, if you're an Android user, you can mirror your device display to any TV. Just pull down the notification shade and tap Cast. Select which Chromecast you want to mirror to, and your entire screen will be streamed to the television.

Sadly, this doesn't work well for streaming local videos, as the frame rate is typically pretty low and audio gets out of sync very easily. What it does work well for is showing your locally stored photos to multiple people in the room at once or browsing the web on a larger screen and using the phone as a controller.

Mirror your desktop

If you want to do the same with your desktop, you only need Chrome installed. Casting features are now baked into Chrome itself, so you no longer need the Chromecast extension.

To mirror your entire computer desktop to Chromecast, open Chrome and click the action overflow button in the top right corner. Click Cast and click the downward arrow next to Cast to. Select Cast desktop, choose the Chromecast you want to mirror to and, finally, click Cast to begin mirroring.

Keep in mind, this will not play the audio from your computer through the TV. Audio will still come out of your computer's speakers.

Stream local content

Since mirroring your desktop doesn't support audio and generally has a pretty terrible frame rate, you will need to use a different method to stream local videos and content to your Chromecast from a desktop.

On a Mac, just drag a video file into a Chrome tab or press Command + O and locate a video. From within Chrome on Windows, go to File > Open or press Ctrl + O and locate a video file to open it in Chrome. From there, enable the Cast feature as usual. This does tend to drop frames from time to time and audio can sometimes get out of sync with the video, but shy of using a third-party solution that costs money or uploading everything to a private YouTube channel, this is the easiest way to stream your local videos or pictures to Chromecast.

Stream owned content

The other option for streaming videos or movies that you own to Chromecast is using a service like Plex. Basically, you sign up for a free account, add your media to that account using the Plex Media Server app and download the Plex apps.

Once everything is set up, you can stream the digital movies you own to Chromecast using a computer for free or via the mobile apps, which will require an in-app purchase of $5 (£4 or AU$8) or a monthly subscription of $5 (£4 or AU$8).

Power it using your TV... maybe

If you have a TV made in the last eight years or so, it likely has a USB port around back. Since the Chromecast is powered via USB, you can simply plug this cable into the open USB port on your television. In most cases, this USB port will be sufficient for powering your Chromecast.

Turn on your TV

You can use Chromecast to power on your television, so long as it has support for HDMI-CEC. Just enable this in your television's settings menu. Then, if you use your phone or computer to cast something and your television is off, Chromecast will power it on before starting to stream.

The confusing part with this is that each manufacturer calls HDMI-CEC something different. You can find all the different names for it and more about how to get it running here.

If you want to use this, the above tip is probably not the best route for you. With most TVs, power to the USB port is cut when the television is off. To use HDMI-CEC, you will most likely need to power the Chromecast independently of the TV.

Get an Ethernet adapter

If you're not having much luck with Chromecast over Wi-Fi, you can opt to use Ethernet. Google offers an Ethernet adapter for the Chromecast for $15 (roughly £10 or AU$20), which comes standard with the Chromecast Ultra.

This adapter replaces the original power supply of an AC adapter with an Ethernet port. Plug the micro-USB end into the Chromecast and connect an Ethernet cable to the power supply and an empty port on a nearby router. Your Chromecast will then be hardwired into the network.

Guest mode

If you have friends or family over and they want to cast something to your television, you can make it very easy for them. Just enable Guest Mode by opening the Google Home app, switching to the Devices tab and hitting the action overflow button on the Chromecast you want to use. In that menu, tap Guest Mode. Any nearby devices should connect to the Chromecast without being on the same network.

The way this works is Chromecast emits the four-digit PIN to nearby devices by using an audio tone that you can't hear. If the guest's phone does not detect the audio tone, they can simply enter the PIN manually.

Play/Pause control with a TV remote or Google Home

The worst part about streaming a video or movie to your television from your phone is having to unlock your phone just to pause the video. However, if your television remote has play and pause controls, you can simply use those to control the Chromecast without having to reach for your phone.

As an added benefit, if you have a Google Home speaker, you can use it to control your Chromecasts using your voice. Just say, "OK Google, pause the [Chromecast name]" or "Hey Google, mute the [Chromecast name]."

Factory reset or reboot

After the initial setup of Chromecast, you typically don't need to mess with the settings or the hardware. If something goes awry, however, you might need to factory data reset (FDR) the device. This can be done in one of two ways:

  • Press the button along the edge of the Chromecast and hold it for approximately 25 seconds. Release when indicator light on the first-generation Chromecast switches from solid to flashing. The second-generation Chromecast's LED indicator will begin flashing orange. Release the button when the LED turns solid white.
  • In the Google Home app, go to Devices, hit the action overflow button and select Settings. Tap the next action overflow button and select Factory reset.

Within the app, in the same location as the FDR option, you can also reboot the Chromecast if it's acting up. You might want to try this before an FDR to see if it fixes any issues you're having.

Cast on the go

If you're leaving on vacation and don't want to be stuck to the underwhelming hotel cable selection, you can take your Chromecast with you. Just take a travel router or your laptop with you and an Ethernet cable, as well.

Once in the hotel room, plug your router or computer into the Ethernet jack in the room, set up a wireless network and connect your Chromecast. Then you can watch YouTube, Netflix or anything else you typically watch with your Chromecast while on vacation.

Presentations

You've always been able to use Chrome to stream your Google Slides presentations to Chromecast from a computer. But now the Google Slides app has Chromecast support, as well. This means if you create a presentation with Slides, you can quickly and easily use your phone to present a slideshow or presentation.

Games

You can also play mobile games with your Chromecast, as long as they support the feature. To find games that support Chromecast, open the Google Home app and look for games under the Find apps tab or open the Google Play Store, go to Apps & games > Categories > Google Cast > Games and tap More.

Once you install and open a game compatible with Chromecast, look for and tap the Cast logo to stream it to your TV. You can then use an Android or iOS device as the controller. For multiplayer games, you can use multiple phones as gamepads.

Cast videos from YouTube and Netflix using your voice

If you're the proud owner of a Google Home speaker, you can use it to throw content to the Chromecasts scattered around your house. You can cast music from supported streaming services, photos from your Google Photos account and videos from Netflix or YouTube. Netflix does require you to link your account first, however.

Make sure you've renamed your Chromecasts to something easy to say and remember, then say, "OK Google, play 'Parks and Rec' on [Chromecast name]" or "Hi Google, play 'The Tallest Man on Earth' on [Chromecast name]."

Opt in to the Chromecast Preview Program

If you want to get new software and features for your Chromecast before they're widely available, you'll want to sign up for the Preview Program. To opt in, open the Google Home app and go to Devices > Settings > Preview program and click JOIN PROGRAM.

This is not a beta program. Instead, official updates are pushed to those who opt in before Google performs a full push of its firmware updates.