Google’s new Chromecast makes a play for the games market

30 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chromecast is Google’s hugely successful Trojan Horse into your home.

Video and music tend to hog the headlines around the subject of casting technology, but with its new Chromecast, Google is making a play in another area: games. Google’s secret weapon for getting inside our homes and deeper within the fabric of our daily lives is not smart appliance maker Nest or even its ubiquitous Android operating system.It might have been the worst-kept secret leading up to today’s Google event — aside from the new Nexus phones, that is — but Google has just announced two new Chromecast devices: a second-generation stick for streaming video, and a Chromecast Audio dongle that adds wireless music-streaming capabilities to any speaker with a 3.5mm auxiliary jack.

Both these devices will be priced at $35 (approx Rs 2,400) which was also the price of the original Chromecast (launched in 2013), and will start selling in around 17 countries soon. You can get out an old speaker and attach it to Chromecast’s 3.5mm stereo plug, and Chromecast can stream music to it from apps such as Spotify and Google Music. Like the first Chromecast, which was brought to market in 2013, the new Chromecast for video plugs into the back of a TV set via an HDMI port, and it mirrors, or casts, content from the Chromecast mobile app to TV screens.

That device can download and run games, spurring talk of it competing with established games consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 4, Microsoft’s Xbox One and Nintendo’s Wii U. As with the regular Chromecast, media morphs from being played on your device to being streamed directly from the cloud to your Chromecast connected device, so there is no battery drain. Now Google’s making playing games on smartphones but viewing them on TV’s a feature of its Chromecast, using your phone both as a controller and for its processing power. “There’s a fundamental difference between the other models out there and what we’re doing. And the expanded product family is poised to continue sucking up key infrastructure in the home media system thanks to its low-cost and ever-expanding feature set, which now includes Spotify support and universal search.

If you have a series of speakers you can choose which ones to stream to, and you can pump synchronised music through each speaker throughout your home. Further Chromecast includes a guest mode where family members and visitors to your home can access your Chromecast system on your home network, and select tracks to play on each speaker. It may be one or two generations more computing power,” he told the Guardian. “By running the game on the smartphone, you’re taking advantage of much more powerful computing power than you are by downloading a game on to a streaming box and running it on that device,” he said. “Our model gives us a huge advantage in being able to run games and render much higher quality graphics. With party goers collaborating, there’s no need for a DJ, but Chromecast audio could lead to age-old arguments about which track is going to play next.

The Chromecast is a no-frills device — you just tap its icon in whatever app you’re looking at and the Chromecast moves, or “casts,” the image to your TV. While Amazon has never disclosed sales figures for its Fire Stick, Roku only last year hit 10 million devices sold, making the Chromecast a comparable runaway success. Chromecast, as an infrastructure tool and not a content machine, is a tried-and-true strategy for Google: provide the piping, and it won’t matter much what products or services plug in or what comes out on the other end.

It comes with a ‘Fast Play’ feature that lets the Chromecast pre-fetch a video from an app and video content which it thinks you are most likely to watch even before you hit play. There’s a port for a microUSB connection that powers the devices and, in the case of Chromecast, an HDMI connection out or for Chromecast Audio, a stereo plug connection. Not much details were spoken about Fast Play, but it seems to be working based on your history of Chromecast use, loading videos faster than without the feature activated. This time, however, Google is using a small, cheap piece of hardware to put itself between you and all of the music, television, movies, and games you have flying back and forth across your in-home Wi-Fi network. But don’t expect to see the new Chromecasts in Australia anytime soon, as Australia is not among the countries chosen to get it first, sometime later this year.

The pieces of this that are new – that can bring it mainstream – are firstly the apps that people already use to listen to music on their smartphones,” he said. The Chromecast was one of the first devices that turned a dumb home product into a smart one without creating the feeling that you were buying a version of a DVD player or video game console. Gustav Soderstrom, vice president of product at Spotify, suggested that devices like the Chromecast family can also bring bigger tech-industry concepts to a more mainstream audience. “If you think about last year’s big focus on the internet of things, people kept talking about connected fire alarms and similar devices. So you can browse through photographs on your phone, while viewing pictures on your TV, and your browsing photo activity will not be mirrored on your TV.

Though the technical details are a little complicated (think coordination between your phone, the Chromecast’s software, and the web service delivering the video), the results are meant to equal less time waiting before you get your Narcos fix. If you wanted a wireless home sound system before, you’d have to look into a higher-end brand, settle on a Bluetooth-enabled model, or fall back on a company like Sonos, which makes a great speaker tied to a lackluster mobile app. Google says there are now “thousands” of apps that support casting through Chromecast, compared with just a handful that were available at the product’s first launch.

Most people don’t care if their thermostat talks to their fire extinguisher, even if I care about that quite a bit, because I’m a geek!” “There is a lot of experimentation about what the perfect interface is: is it a piece of glass, is it your voice, is it dedicated hardware? Amazon is experimenting with voice-only with its Echo, for example,” he said. “You see different companies taking different approaches.” The software and services running on these products are interesting because, in many cases, they will be interfacing with multiple people rather than a single owner. Google’s Queiroz said his company is looking to app developers to think about collaborative use cases. “For multiplayer games, your smartphone is your controller,” he said, before citing an API launched by Google this year that will enable developers to add “joint queues” for their cast-enabled apps. “It’s something we’ve had from the very first day we launched YouTube for Chromecast: you can create playlists that everybody can contribute to: they go into the YouTube app and add to a joint queue across multiple people,” he said. People with 4K TVs might be disappointed to learn that this second-generation Chromecast still doesn’t support 4K content, but Google says that’s something consumers can expect with Android TV. Spotify, too, is thinking about the communal experience, and how to best fit it into the company’s mobile app, which is becoming ever more personalised to the individual owner of the smartphone it’s installed on.

Then there’s the Nexus Q, a spherical speaker and streaming device that performed so poorly at convincing consumers why it should exist that Google pulled it from its Play Store after four months and gave it away for free to anyone who preordered it. Its Google TV product, which launched in 2010, married a slow, confusing interface with undesirable hardware made by third-party manufacturing partners. The Chromecast Audio app also supports ‘guest mode’ which will let your friends add their music to your speakers if you are connected on the same network, even if they dont have your Wi-fi password.

That has now been reincarnated as Android TV, another attempt to take over the TV by running an Android OS on television sets made by Sony, Sharp, and Philips. In that sense, the Android TV is an investment in that future, a product that will be ready for consumers when they upgrade their TV sets down the line, Chandra said. It’s not hard to imagine a Google-made go-between that outfits dumb or outdated home appliances with network connectivity or the ability to perform newer, more useful tasks. Amazon is already using a similar approach to the smart home with its Alexa voice assistant, which comes baked into the Amazon Echo speaker and Fire Stick and now lets you control home automation products from Smart Things, Belkin, Philips, and Insteon. Well, for the same reasons Google offers both Chromecast and Android TV: we may not be ready now to live in a world of smart appliances, but for a few bucks here and there you could get close enough in the meantime.

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