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20 Chromecast tips and tricks

The seemingly simple Chromecast has a few tricks up its sleeve.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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

Below you will find 20 tips and tricks to help you get a better understanding of the Chromecast platform.

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Use your photos as wallpapers

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

If you want to use your own photos, download the Google Home app to your Android or iOS device, tap your Chromecast from the list of your devices on the Home tab and tap the gear icon to open settings. In Device settings, tap Ambient Mode and select Google Photos and then select a slideshow to display.

You also have the option to tweak the speed at which new photos show, from 5 seconds to 10 minutes, and you choose to display other information on the screen including the current weather and time.

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. Scroll down the feed and you'll see items for Chromecast - Sports, Chromecast - News and Chromecast Audio - Music. You can swipe through these to install any Chromecast-compatible app that you want to add.

Mirror Android devices

The 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 use, 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 a roomful of people or browsing the web on a larger screen 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 on a TV via Chromecast, open Chrome and click the Cast button to the right of the URL bar and select your device to begin mirroring.

Stream local content

Since mirroring your desktop 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 via Chromecast.

Power it using your TV...maybe

If you have a TV made in the last 10 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 instead of needing to run its power cord to an outlet. In most cases, this USB port will be sufficient for powering your Chromecast.

Turn on your TV

You can use a 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, the Chromecast will power it on before starting to stream.

The confusing part about 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 feature, then powering your Chromecast by plugging it into the TV (as mentioned above) is probably not the choice 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 streaming 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.

Enable 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, going to the settings for your Chromecast device, tapping Guest mode and toggling it on. Any nearby devices should connect to the Chromecast without being on the same network.

The way this works is Chromecast sends a four-digit PIN to nearby devices by using an audio tone that you can't hear. If guests' phones don't 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 Chromecast (or Chromecasts) using your voice. Just say, "OK, Google, pause the [Chromecast name]" or "Hey Google, mute the [Chromecast name]."

Queue your casts

When casting from the YouTube app, you can use your phone to queue up videos while you watch. Find a video, tap it and you'll see Play and Queue buttons. You can also tap the triple-dot button next to a video and then tap Add to Queue. You can view your queue by tapping the Now Playing bar at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, you can't reorder the videos in your queue; you can only remove videos or add them to your Watch Later list.

Cast on the go

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

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 via Chromecast, while on vacation.

Cast Facebook videos

It's easy to cast a Facebook Live video to your TV. Or any Facebook video, for that matter. When viewing a Facebook Live broadcast, just click or tap the Cast button at the top of your screen.

Cast music

If you've got a rockin' set of speakers connected to your TV, then you can put them to good use by casting to them from music services including Google Play, Pandora and Spotify. (Or, cut your TV out of the equation with a Chromecast Audio dongle.) From Spotify, tap Devices Available at the bottom of the Now Playing screen and choose your Chromecast device. From Google Play and Pandora, just tap the Cast button 

Cast 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.

Cast games

You can also play some mobile games with your Chromecast. To find games that support Chromecast, open the Google Home app and look for games under the Find apps tab or open the mobile 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, Netflix and others 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, YouTube, HBO Now and other sources. Netflix and HBO do require you to link your accounts 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]."

View the weather forecast using Google Home

Google has a useful Chromecast function for Google Home owners. Want to see the weather forecast instead of just hearing it? Just say, "OK, Google, show me the weather on my TV." The volume will temporarily lower and the current conditions with a five-day forecast will appear on top of anything actively playing.

View security cameras on the TV

Have a Nest security ($399 at Walmart) camera? You can stream the live feed from the camera via your Chromecast using Google Home. Make sure to add a new device in the Google Home app by going to Home control > Devices and tapping the plus sign at the bottom. Then you can say things like:

  • "OK, Google, what's on [camera name]?"
  • "OK, Google, show [camera name]."
  • "OK, Google, play [camera name] on [Chromecast]."
  • "OK, Google, show [camera name] on [Chromecast]."
  • "OK, Google, [camera name] on [Chromecast]."

Factory reset or reboot

After setting up your Chromecast initially, you typically don't need to mess with the settings or the hardware again. If something goes awry, however, you might need to do a factory data reset (FDR) of 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. If it's a first-generation Chromecast, release the button when the indicator light switches from solid to flashing. The second- or third-generation Chromecast's LED indicator will begin flashing orange; release the button when the LED turns solid white.
  • In the Google Home app, select your device, tap the gear icon to open Device settings and then scroll down to the bottom and tap Remove device, which removes it from the Home app and factory resets it. 

Before you do a factory reset, you might try the less-drastic approach of rebooting your Chromecast if it's acting up. From the Device settings screen in the Home app, tap the triple-dot button in the top right and then tap Reboot.

Originally published on Sept. 3, 2016.
Update, Dec. 17, 2018: Added new Chromecast features and tips.