Is there a place in the classroom for Google’s latest streaming mini-marvel? We take Google’s Chromecast for a spin.
I’m immediately going to spoil this review by giving you the conclusion: Is there a place for Chromecast in your classroom? No. But that doesn’t mean the underlying technology doesn’t have huge potential for the future, and it also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one (or several) in your home!
We look at why, as a teacher, you should be interested in Google’s Chromecast streaming device.
What is Chromecast?
Chromecast is a small, key shaped dongle that connects to the HDMI port of your TV or projector. Using your smartphone, tablet, or laptop as a remote control you “send” content from supported apps to the Chromecast to be displayed on your TV.
Chromecast doesn’t mirror the display of your device, you simply tell the Chromecast which content you would like to view and the device streams the media directly from the Internet.
There’s no user interface, you don’t control it directly, instead your apps become the remote. Open your Chromecast supported app (currently only Youtube, Netflix, and Google Play Movies and TV, Hulu, and Google Play Music are available), select the media you want to view, and choose to send it to your TV.
Chromecast doesn’t offer screen mirroring as such — you can’t send a mirror of your entire display as you can with Apple TV or Miracast — but what you can do is send a Chrome browser tab. This gives you a live view of whatever you’re looking at on your Chrome browser. Google has also stated that it intends to allow for local content streaming in the near future. Currently only Chrome for Mac, Windows, and Chrome OS support this feature.
The Chromecast hardware is fairly non-descript — it’s a small black box with an HDMI connector. There’s no design here to speak of, but for a $35 dongle that’s going to be hidden behind your TV, there doesn’t need to be. Having said that, the built quality is solid and will take quite a bit of plugging and unplugging.
Setting Up Chromecast
As you would expect from a Google device, setting up the Chromecast is very simple. Just plug it into your TV, and visit the link displayed on screen. Install the Chromecast app that the link opens and the device is detected automatically. Pop your WiFi settings into the app and the Chromecast connects to your network and you’re ready to go.
Is This Just Google’s Apple TV?
A few people have mentioned that Chromecast is just a poor man’s Apple TV, and while the two device may have some overlapping features, Chromecast’s defining feature is more to do with how it works rather than what it does. Chromecast doesn’t require a specific device to interact with it, any app on any platform can potentially push content. So, whether you have an Android tablet, an iPhone or iPad, Windows or Mac, you can send content to the Chromecast.
Google has already released an SDK which allows developers to build Chromecast support into their apps. Once the company hits the “go” button expect to see many apps across iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and the web to begin displaying Chromecast buttons. Chromecast is the first step to an open multi-platform content sharing system.
As a device for your home Chromecast works simply and smoothly. I’ve tested a number of Miracast devices, which have overlapping but not identical feature sets with Chromecast, and nothing has come close to working this well. But it’s not fair to compare Chromecast with those other devices for one main reason — Chromecast costs just $35 (approx. £20).
Chromecast in the Classroom
Chromecast is unashamedly a consumer device — it’s meant to be used in the home — but it gives us a glimpse of what in the future could be a very powerful teaching tool. Chromecast doesn’t care what operating system you’re running, or whether your hardware’s manufacturer supports it, and this opens up an exciting future.
Imagine being able to visit any teaching space and know that no matter what device you’ve chosen, or which app you’re using, you’ll be able to share your teaching resources without restrictions.
The openess of the platform also bodes well for futher innovation in this area. While the current device is limited to a device sending content to a single receiver, future updates could allow sending content to multiple devices, or tablet to tablet streaming, or more innovative device to device sharing.
Not an Enterprise Device
Chromecast is a device that’s designed to make sharing content easy, and because of this there is no security preventing others sending their own videos, images, or websites to the Chromecast. It’s for this reason that Chromecast just doesn’t work on a large network. Anyone with access to the network — whether it be a wired or wireless connection — can take control of the Chromecast and display their own content anonymously. It wouldn’t take much to implement a password feature, but at the moment this doesn’t seem to be on Google’s roadmap.
The real potential here is when Google allows others to create their own Chromecast receiver software. Chromecast may be able to fulfil many of the promises that Miracast has so far failed to achieve, and Apple TV can never meet due to its closed nature. Where Miracast has devolved into a fragmented mess, the hope is that Google’s guiding hand can direct Chromecast into a multiplatform content sharing system suitable for use in schools.
For now Chromecast revolutionises how you watch digital media in the home, but in the future the same could be true of the classroom. Chromecast allows you to take the content from your mobile device and easily share that with a single button press and it does it reliably and simply.
Don't buy Chromecast for your classroom, but do buy it for your home, and make sure you support the platform. At $35 (approx. £20) Chromecast is an impulse buy and is potentially one of the most deceptively game changing technologies to be made available in the last year.
Chromecast can be purchased from Amazon.com. It's not currently available outside of the US, but Amazon.com does ship internationally at very reasonable prices.