When Google first unleashed its Chromecast HDMI stick on the world, there was little doubt it was destined to succeed.
Not just because it could turn pretty much any dumb old TV into a Smart TV, but because it was so leanly priced. At $50 (or cheaper if you shopped around), it was almost impossible to pass up.
Even now, not quite three years since the first Chromecast was announced, the device is an impressive example of smart, affordable technology. And yet, for some reason, Google wasn’t happy with it, and has released a second gen device that somehow manages to improve on the original.
The most obvious change is an aesthetic one. While the original device was shaped like a USB stick that plugged into your TV’s HDMI port, the second-gen device is a small puck, which comes in a trio of colours — black, red and yellow.
The HDMI port is on a short cable, which makes plugging the device into a crowded array of HDMI ports significantly easier. There’s even a small magnet in the device so the cable can attach for easier transportation — and trust us when we say that,
if you do any form of travel, you’ll want to take a Chromecast with you.
The puck design isn’t just for the sake of it either — Google has upgraded the internals, with the Chromecast 2 now boasting a trio of 802.11ac-compatible antennas that intelligently switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies to ensure the best quality connection.
By comparison, the original only managed to connect via 2.4GHz on wireless N via a single wireless antenna.
The end result is a snappier performer. Where previously it might take a bit of time for the buffer to queue up your YouTube stream, the new Chromecast’s responsiveness is extraordinarily quick.
Like the previous generation, there’s no remote — you use your smart device to tell the Chromecast what to play, and it will connect to the cloud and start your entertainment, freeing up your device for other activities.
Setup is relatively painless — simply download the free Chromecast app for iOS or Android, select your Chromecast and enter your wireless login details.
A new ‘Guest Mode’ option enables friends to cast to your device even if they aren’t on the wireless network, and you’ll have to choose if you want that active at this point as well.
Opening your app
Now, the opening tab of the app’s home screen is dedicated to revealing content you can cast to your device from the apps you have installed on your phone.
You’ll be able to quickly view the trending videos on YouTube, check out the promoted content on Stan and Netflix, or start beaming your favourite songs from Spotify, all within a couple of screen taps within the app.
To be clear, it will open up the relevant app and you can hit the Chromecast button from there, but as a content discovery mechanism, it’s a huge improvement.
But what makes the Chromecast such an essential part of your entertainment is the wide selection of supported applications. Naturally, Google’s own apps like YouTube and Play Movies are Chromecast-enabled, but also on the cards are all of Australia’s streaming services: Netflix, Stan and Presto, while Pandora and Spotify keep music lovers happy.
Game developers are also getting on board with Chromecast support, turning your device into a controller for some big screen gaming. It’s still in its infancy, but with the likes of Angry Birds and Just Dance offering Chromecast support, the potential for gaming is quite broad.
The Chromecast app also has a dedicated tab for finding new Cast-enabled apps, so you’ll be able to get the most out of the device.
Ultimately, the Chromecast 2 is every bit as essential a purchase as the original was. It may be $10 more expensive at $59, but those extra bucks bring a pretty significant performance boost with them.
If you already own a Chromecast, the cost to performance improvement ratio may not be great enough to justify the expense, but if you’re new to the Chromecast arena, this is an essential buy.