Chromecast 2 review

I can remember that I watched dvd’s on portable dvd player in bed. After that I switched to my notebook when I got a bed table (one of those on wheels that stick out over the bed) and quickly bought a tv and media player. Over time I bought a set top box for digital tv with a hard drive (so I could record) and last year I bought a blu-ray player which could also be used to watch Netflix. Switching between them was a bit of a hassle (although it got easier when I got a HDMI switch) and the blu-ray player was really slow with loading Netflix.

Last week I bought the new Google Chromecast, hoping that it was quicker with Netflix and with the added bonus of being able to play YouTube videos. I had my doubts about practicality; wouldn’t the battery of my tablet or phone go down faster and I wasn’t sure how I would like not having a dedicated remote control. But since the little device was only €39 I thought it was worth the chance.

The first version of the Chromecast looked like a big USB stick, that you inserted in an HDMI port on your tv. From what I’ve read some people had problems with it when the HDMI port was awkwardly place and there wasn’t enough space for the Chromecast. This new version looks like a small hockey puck, it’s connected to the HDMI plug by a short cable. Like the previous version it also comes with a USB cable and a USB adapter for power. If your tv has a (free) USB port you can plug the cable into it, or you can use the adapter.

I got it on Saturday and in the evening I set it up, which only took minutes (looking up my wifi password took longest). And that night I happily switched between watching YouTube videos and Netflix. On Sunday morning I disconnected the blu-ray player, leaving it in case I ever want to watch a dvd or blu-ray.

On Sunday I also checked out various websites to see what the must-have apps are that you can’t do without when you’ve got a Chromecast. Most of them mention an app called Plex. It’s an app that you install on the device you use with your Chromecast, in my case my tablet, and then you install the app either on your computer or your NAS (if it’s powerful enough). You let it index the media files you want to be able to access (videos, music, photographs) and you can stream it from  your computer or NAS to your Chromecast.

This meant I could also unplug my media player. I bought a new USB 3 external hard drive, copied all my media files onto it and now I can play all my films and tv series on my Chromecast. I just have to make sure my computer doesn’t go to sleep. If you want to use a NAS to play your files you have to take into account that you’ll need a more powerful (and more expensive) one. The Chromecast can’t play a lot of video formats, if you play something that isn’t supported Plex will convert it. This isn’t a problem for a computer, but a simple NAS might not be powerful enough (on the Plex website is a list of which NAS are supported and which quality videos those are able to convert).

As an added bonus Plex looks very sleek and it makes it very easy to find the film or episode you want to watch. When loading your media library you have to choose which folders you have save your tv series in and which you use for films. It automatically downloads the film poster and a description. Tv series are automatically get subdivided into seasons. You can also use Plex to play your media on  your tablet and if you get the Plex Pass (subscription or a lifetime pass) you can even download media from your server/computer to your phone or tablet for offline viewing.

I was afraid for quick battery drainage, but that fear was unfounded. You use your phone or tablet to tell the Chromecast what to play and the Chromecast takes over whatever your streaming, it doesn’t go through your phone or tablet. I also don’t mind using my tablet as remote control. It’s easy and it offers a lot more options than a conventional remote control.

There are two downsides to Chromecast. First of all, it doesn’t work if you haven’t got an internet connection. So if you go somewhere, e.g. on vacation, and you haven’t got internet or if it’s very slow you’re out of luck. Also, even if you want to use it on a network which redirects you to a website to log in (like in hotels) your out of luck. Which is why I decided to put all my media files on an external HDD. When I go on vacation and I know the Chromecast won’t work I take my external HDD and my small media player with me. That way I can still watch offline.

Second, the Chromecast only remembers the last wifi network you logged into. Our home is big with several thick walls. I’m one story and two thick wall away from the nearest wifi repeater and I’m lucky to get a weak signal. I do have an ethernet connection and I created my own wifi network with the help of an access point. I did name my network differently than the wifi network downstairs. If I hook my Chromecast up to the tv in the livingroom or in the store I have to enter the wifi password for that network. When I take it upstairs with me I have to enter my own password again. I can understand why Google did this; they want to motivate people to buy more Chromecasts. However, it would have been nice if it was able to store a limited number of networks, 3 or 5, so you can more easily take it with you to friends, family or work.

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