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Google Chromecast: What Is It and How Does It Work?
  • The Google Chromecast is a streaming media player, which means it lets you watch videos, listen to music, play games, and use other types of apps from the Internet on your TV.
  • There are two models available: The basic Chromecast and the Chromecast with Google TV, which supports 4K and HDR video and comes with a separate remote (vs. the basic model, which is controlled entirely via mobile app or Chrome browser).
  • To set up either of the players, simply plug it into an HDMI port on your TV and use the Google Home app on your mobile device to connect it to the Internet.

What is the Chromecast?

The Google Chromecast is a streaming media player, which means it takes content from the Internet and displays it on your TV.

List Price: Chromecast ($29.99), Chromecast with Google TV ($49.99)

The Google TV version supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR video, includes a separate remote and on-screen interface for browsing apps and content, and can control smart home devices. It comes in white, blue, or pink, none of which you will see after you plug it into the back of your TV.

The basic version of the Chromecast supports standard 1080p HD and you control it via the Google Home app on your Android phone or tablet or through the Chrome browser. It comes in white or black.

Compare the two models on the Google website. >>

The original (and current basic) Chromecast works differently than other popular streaming media players like the Amazon Fire TV, the Roku, and the Apple TV. Those devices all have on-screen interfaces that display the channels/apps that can be played through them and come with remotes to navigate through the interface. With the basic Chromecast, you find the content you want to watch/listen to/play on your Android or iOS mobile device or in your Chrome browser and then “cast” it to your TV through the player. (You’re not actually sending the full signal to the Chromecast from your device; you’re just sending the URL and it picks it up directly from the Internet.)

Well, that might have worked in the early days of streaming when it was mainly young people who were already watching content on their phones so were fine just tapping a button to watch it on a bigger screen. My guess is that with the boom in streaming over the last few years, Google realized that there was a huge market that really wanted that separate remote and TV-based interface that the other companies all provide, so in 2020 they introduced the Google with Google TV. This upgraded model also comes with a remote and on-screen interface as well as some higher-end tech specs. You can also use the Google TV model to control smart home devices, another booming category.

What can you do with a Chromecast?

Watch Streaming Videos
Not surprisingly, the Chromecast can stream videos you buy from the Google Play store as well as their own YouTube app. But there are many other top content providers that work with it as well, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO MAX, Peacock, Sling TV, ESPN, Disney, PBS, History, NBA, and many more. It does not have apps for any of Apple’s services: Apple TV+, Apple Music, iTunes.

IMPORTANT: Buying a Chromecast does not give you access to the content you can watch on it, just like buying a TV does not give you access to cable TV shows. You need to have accounts with each streaming service that provides the content (some free, some paid) and/or subscribe to a cable/satellite package that gives you permission to access shows from specific networks through the Chromecast.

Listen to Streaming Audio
The Chromecast lets you play music from several popular services as well, including their own Google Music, Pandora, Spotify, and iHeart Radio.

Find Chromecast-compatible apps on Google website. >>

Mirror Your PC and Android Device Screens on Your TV
Using the Chrome browser on your Windows desktop or the Google Home app on your mobile device, you can mirror its entire screen to your TV. So, for example, it would let you watch a video that’s only available online or read your email or display a presentation on your screen.

NOTE:The difference between casting and mirroring is that with casting you can do other things on your computer without interrupting whatever content is being sent to your TV. So if I’m watching Jessica Jones in a Chrome browser tab and I cast it to the Chromecast, I can switch to my email and the video will continue playing. With mirroring, you’re basically just replicating whatever is displayed on your computer screen on your TV. So if you move from one program to another, the same thing will happen on your TV. In the Jessica Jones example, when I switch to my email client, that’s what will now show up on my TV.

Learn more about screen mirroring in this T4L post. >>

My Two Cents

To be honest I rarely used my original Chromecast, mainly because I’m just not someone who has a mobile device in my hand at all times; I’m one of those people who much prefer using a remote when watching something on TV. I haven’t yet had a chance to try out the Chromecast with Google TV so can’t comment on how well it works.

For people who do use their phones or tablets for everything and are constantly using one app or another, the basic Chromecast is a very convenient option at a very good price. A few years back I recorded an episode of The Luddite Lounge podcast with Ryan Downey from The Streaming Advisor. He gave an example that a Chromecast makes a great dorm room player, i.e. you’re sitting there studying and are in the mood to listen to some music so you open up your Pandora app and send it to your Chromecast. In other words, it would make a GREAT gift for your college-aged kids or grandkids. 🙂

Also, the Chrome browser extension can be very convenient for someone like me who’s constantly got my laptop open because you can easily watch videos or listen to music through your TV speakers without needing to deal with another piece of hardware.

Getting started with the Google Chromecast

Again, I haven’t got a Chromecast with Google TV yet, so here’s a link to instructions for setting it up on the Google website.

Set up your Chromecast with Google TV and Voice Remote

The process for setting up and using the basic Chromecast is different than with the other players because it doesn’t have its own on-screen interface.

  1. Connect the Chromecast to your TV and plug it in. Switch the input on your TV for the port you’re using.
  2. Connect the Chromecast to the Internet. You can either do this through the Google Cast app on your Android or iOS phone or tablet or by downloading a special utility to your computer.
  3. Open apps for a content provider on your mobile device. Supported apps will have a casting icon that you click to send the info to the Chromecast.

Congratulations. You’re now ready to enjoy your Google Chromecast!

You may also be interested in:

Streaming Media Player Comparison Chart

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • Different topic Liz (hope that's okay). I recently wanted to watch our local college Women's hockey team play in the Division III Championship. I could mirror the "front page of the NCAA site" to my tv. but, as soon as I clicked the "watch live" button it knocked out the mirror link. I had this happen once before with a sports event and it may have been another NCAA site. Is there any work around. I did watch the game on my computer, but had planned on the big screen. (They won by the way. This was a fourth repeat National Championship. They tied with 27 seconds in regulation and won in overtime. Definitely great to watch...big screen or small screen.

    • Hi Rick.

      I moved your comment to the post about the Chromecast so others will be more likely to see it.

      When you click Watch Now for an NCAA game, it does open a new window without a cast icon or the menu icon that a normal Chrome browser window has. However, if you right-click in the window -- NOT on the actual video -- you'll bring up another menu that has the Cast option. I just tried this with one of the live basketball games and it worked for me so hopefully it will work for you.

      - Elizabeth

  • once i cast to my TV, will i still be able to use my Bluetooth headphones on my device to listen to the cast or will the audio be sent to the TV also?

    • Hi Richard.

      I've just tried this out and I don't think there's any way to do this directly with the Chromecast. As soon as I cast the stream, the audio switches from my headphones to the TV.

      I'm going to look into whether there are apps or accessories that make this possible. If I find anything, I'll report back here.

      - Elizabeth

      • I was reading that there is something called local cast, that keeps the volume at your casting device. I don't know if it is only something you can get from the play store though.

        • I've installed it on my Android phone but haven't quite figured out how to make it work yet. When I do, I'll report back.

          - Elizabeth

  • I need some technical input. I just got the Chromecast and need to know if it uses any data from my home internet /wifi or just from my phone. My phone has unlimited data, while my home internet is limited. Please advise. Thanks in advance.

  • Just wondering how the games work. If you buy the full version can anyone using their Android play the full version or does the one phone have to be used to play the full version that paid for it.

    • Hi Norm.

      That's a good question but unfortunately not one I can test out myself. I don't play games myself and I only have one Android phone.

      I would expect that others could play the game if they have the app and are logged in under the same account, but maybe someone who has done this can jump in with their experience.

      - Elizabeth

  • I have set up using my wife's iPhone hot spot and my phone. We don't have any other wifi internet in our home only our phones. Can I use only my phone to use cast or will I require some other wifi connection?

    • Hi Nick.

      Yes, you should be able to use your phone's hotspot to connect a Chromecast. However, it can use up a lot of data quickly and even if you have an unlimited data plan, make sure that includes when you use the phone as a hotspot. A lot of times, it doesn't apply to that situation.

      How Many Gigs of Data Do You Need to Watch Streaming Movies and TV Shows?

      Also note that cell service is often not as strong, fast, or reliable as Wi-Fi, so you may have issues with buffering and picture quality.

      I hope that helps.

      - Elizabeth

        • Hi Lety.

          When you set up the Chromecast, there's a step where you have to connect to a wireless network. At that point, you need to make sure your mobile phone is on and the hotspot is activated. It should then show up in the list of networks to connect to.

          If you haven't already watched the setup video on this page, I suggest you do. You'll see at what point you need to connect the Chromecast to the Internet (although the video doesn't show using a hotspot specifically).

          - Elizabeth

  • Hi Liz,
    I have a simple question: How do you use/add apps in Chromecast if you DO NOT have Apple or Android mobile devices?
    I recently purchased Chromecast and all I can do with it is "cast" to the TV.
    All I have is a mac computer and of course a "smart TV."

    Gracias, Roger

    • Hi Roger.

      If you don't have a mobile device, then the only thing you can do with a Chromecast is cast from your Chrome browser. It's designed to work primarily with mobile apps.

      You might want to look at the Amazon Fire TV Stick or the Roku Streaming Stick for devices similarly priced that have their own interfaces.

      - Elizabeth

  • Hi Liz,

    Thank you for very comprehensive coverage of the Chromecast device. However one issue that has not come out clearly is the ability to play local content from the phone and cast it to Chromecast. I am looking to use the device to cast my own media to the Tv/Car monitor with hdmi through a wireless hard disk (LaCie Fuel). Considering that Lacie has its own wifi, do I still require the internet to do the streaming. I understand that I may have to initially use the internet and the Lacie media app to start streaming to Chromecast but once a connection is established between the two devices wifi, would the video continue streaming say when I switch off the phone wifi hotspot? Further what is your take about casting apps like AllCast ( )

    Please advise as I am outside USA and the streaming apps are not available in my location.

    Rgds, Edward.

    • Hi Edward.

      Sorry for the delay in replying. I've tried several different things and have found no way to use a Chromecast without an Internet connection, even if it's just local content you want to stream to it.

      Before I discuss other possible options, I need to know if your phone is an iPhone or an Android phone.

      - Elizabeth

    • Hi Christa.

      There's a service called Sling TV that is a streaming content provider that costs $20/month for the base fee. They stream ESPN and ESPN2 as part of the base service, and it they currently have channels/apps on the Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Chromecast and they are working on developing one for the Apple TV. They also have a Sports Extra package add-on for $5 more a month, which includes Bein and other sports networks.

      You can learn more about the service in my post about it at their own website:

      There are also services that stream games for individual sports, like NFL Game Pass. However, these games are only available after they've aired on broadcast television:

      I'm not a big sports person myself, but I expect the other major leagues have some similar offerings.

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

  • Understand that chromecast will use the wifi it is connected to. Can I shutdown my laptop or my phone after publishing/transferring the content to chromecast? Will it continue to play the transferred content?

    • Hi Sushil.

      Yes, once the content is playing on the TV you can turn off your phone. However, you'll have no way to control what's playing, e.g. pause a video, skip a song, etc.

      - Elizabeth

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