Google’s new Chromecast audio dongle

23 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon Fire TV review: simple, fast, 4K and the best TV streaming.

We all knew that evicting Apple and Google from the Amazon marketplace set-top category was going to hurt the two Silicon Valley giants, the question was — how much?Amazon’s new Fire TV, the company’s 4K UHD-capable follow up to its successful streaming media box, beefs up specs but cuts a few small corners in the process.

NBC is bringing its smart TV experience to additional devices: The NBC app launched on Microsoft’s Xbox One as well as on legacy Apple TVs Tuesday, and the network is working on bringing the app to Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast next.A dongle is basically a piece of hardware which can attach to your TV, computer or just about any electronic device in order to increase its functionality.

The app offers access to full episodes of NBC shows like “The Voice,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Grimm,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Days of Our Lives” and others. When you’re ready to watch TV, you open a supported app such as Netflix or Hulu, hit the big “Cast” button, choose a video, and watch as it starts streaming on the television a few seconds later. The remote doesn’t need line-of-sight to the box and is simple to use, with play control buttons, a home button, back button, menu button and a directional pad with a select button.

By moving the entire browsing experience to the device in your pocket (or on your lap), Chromecast is unburdened by heavy computational and storage requirements, not to mention the cost of a remote. You will simply have to plug the dongle in in order for Chromecast to access the Wi-Fi of your phone, tablet or laptop and simply push the cast button through Chrome to cast whatever Chromecast app you want onto your TV. You can send a lot of stuff to the TV as well including stuff from TV & movie sites such as HBO now, music form Spotify, Pandora, photos & videos from YouTube and even games.

On the back of the device is an HDMI port for plugging into your TV, a power port for the included power adapter – no powering via USB here – an ethernet port, a USB port and a microSD card slot for adding more storage. It predicts growth for online sales of set-top devices, with advertising revenue from these devices an important source of income for its hardware manufacturers. Following the success of the 1st Chromecast, this new Audio Google dongle which is also priced at $ 35 is the same when it comes to ease of installation & mode of operation as the Chromecast. This doesn’t mean that consumers can’t still purchase Apple TV and Chromecast devices through other means (nor does it spell the end of either device).

It won’t work without an Amazon account, and I’m not quite sure why you would buy it if you were not an Amazon Prime or Amazon Instant video subscriber. The new Chromecast does look different from the 2013 version, which was slightly larger than a USB stick and plugged directly into a television’s HDMI slot.

The Fire TV has one of the best setup introductory help videos I have seen on a device, which helpfully guides the user through using its various features. Area vice president, Samir Bhavnani, explained, “The data for the study came from our analysts’ study of 1010data’s eCom Insights panel that consists of millions of online shoppers who allow 1010data to anonymously track their online behavior for market research. This move by Amazon helps its odds of winning the long-term benefit of access to customers televisions, while offering customers the best ‘Amazon Experience.’” Doing so will drain your device’s battery life quickly, and doesn’t always provide smooth playback, but it’s a fine fallback measure for music and video services that don’t support Chromecast natively. Amazon content is listed in two camps: that included with a Prime subscription, of which most good stuff is and indicated with the Prime sash icon, and that which is not and can be bought or rented for around 99p an episode.

The “What’s On” section suggests videos to watch from any Cast-enabled apps you already have, while the search bar lets you look up movies, TV shows, actors, directors, and genres from across all apps, either by voice or text. You can’t Cast videos directly from this app, and search sometimes fails to list every available video search, but overall the Chromecast app provides a useful starting point when you don’t know exactly what to watch. Those with photos on Amazon’s Cloud drive can access them on the big screen, which is handy for subjecting family and friends to your holiday snaps. It won’t replace a dedicated console, but for a spot of light gaming it works well; better with the optional £40 wireless games controller, but most games can just about be controlled using the remote.

Of course, any streaming device lives and dies by its app support, and over the past two years Google has done an admirable job of getting major streaming video and music services on board. I didn’t have a 4K TV at home with which to thoroughly test it, so cannot attest to its streaming quality in all situations, but I did try it out with a 4K TV in a 15 minute demonstration and it performed well. HD video quality was excellent with Dolby Digital Plus sound for Amazon content and starts very fast indeed if viewing successive TV episodes thanks to Amazon’s predictive pre-caching of content. Apple services such as iTunes and Apple Music are absent, but you can buy movies and TV shows from Google Play or Vudu, and listen to other subscription music services such as Spotify and Rdio. It’s still a love-it-or-hate-it concept, as some people just won’t like the lack of a physical remote control; but for everything Chromecast set out to do, it performs well.

It really only makes sense if you subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service costing £79 a year or buy video content through Amazon’s digital store, but with access to Netflix, UK catchup services and a solid collection of apps and games it makes for a compelling mix.

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