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Chromecast Review: running it from openSUSE

I ordered my Chromecast the day it was announced, like any other Google device. Though the delivery date said 8th August, Google surprised me as it arrived on 31sth of July. What I forgot was that I just moved to the US and all of my stuff was still in the shipment. In a nutshell, I did not have any HDMI-enabled TV or monitor to test it. Yesterday my stuff arrived an I set-up my Chromecast.

Setting it up

Setting up Chromecast was extremely easy. The device comes with an HDMI extension cable which also helps in improving signal strength and helps connecting the ‘dongle’ if the HDMI port of the TV is at an akward place. The dongle come with a power adapter with a cord long enough to reac the power outlet where the TV gets its juices from.

  1. Connect your device to the TV, and select the HDMI port on the TV and you will be greeted with this Set Me Up Screen.
  2. If you are using Mac, Chrome OS or Windows then you can download the app from this link to configure the device. If you are running Linux (obviously), then you can visit the web-browser based set-up which is intended for iOS devices as there is no set-up app available at the moment.
  3. The app or the link will list the Chromecast available nearby and will offer you to connect it to your Wifi and give the device a desired name. Once done you will see a number on the TV screen, you will have to enter this code when you try to connect any device with Chromecast.

Once it’s done you are all set to Chromecast content.

Chromecast meets openSUSE

I am using openSUSE as my primary OS and it was extremely easy to configure the device. You, of course, need the Chrome browser to use the device with your PC. There is a Google Cast extension for Chrome which is available for Linux. Once the extenstion is installed and the browser rebooted you will see the Chromecast icon on top right.

Now you can ‘cast’ any tab from your system onto your TV using the device. You can broadcast any website or any content that playes in the browser – including videos, web sites, etc.

However, if you want to play YouTube videos you will notice the Chromecast icon on the YouTube windows, use this icon intead of the one on the browser as you will get better performance.

Unfortunately Netlfix is not yet available on the Linux plaform so you won’t be able to play it, including Amazon videos and other such services that require DRM.

What I was able to play: YouTube, Google Music, Vimeo and all other multi-media services available under GNULinux. You can also play Chrome games.

Playing offline content

I was able to play HD videos or my wedding and some films that I made by opening them in Chrome, same was the case with music. However, you will notice a lag since all the decoding of high-res data happens on your system and then played over the wifi it will be using the CPU of your PC. Even on my a bit powerful Macbook Pro the streaming from the browser was a bit choppy. You may reduce the video quality but then you won’t be enjoying HD videos. I think this is one are where native apps can do a better job than the browser.

On your Android devices, there is no support for broadcasting the browser you can play any content from YouTube, Netflix and Google Play. However many independent developers have created and are working on apps that allow chromecasting offline data. Koushik Datta or CM fame has created a time-restricted app called AirCast that can play videos and music stored on your Android device onto the TV.

Unexpected experience

The overall experience of Chromecast as unbelievelble. I commend Google for delivering more and hyping less. No history was made or no records were broken, a device was launched which holds more potential than Google told us.

As I stated above that developers are already working on expanding the features of Chromecast there are certain features that makes it the ‘must have’ device.

What I was able to do

  • Currently, I am able to broadcast movies from my Netflix account to my TV.
  • I can Chromecast Amazon Videos from my MacBook to my TV using Chromecast.
  • If I am playing games on Chrome browser, I can broadcast those games to the bigger screen.
  • I can chromecast offline music movies and images from my laptop.
  • I was able to play any media (such as YouTube videos) embedded within a web page, with Audio also streaming through the HDMI.

With Chromecast once you cast the content your device is free to be used for anything else. So you can chromecast Netflix movie and then go back to replying to emails or chat with friends.

Not locked to a user or device

One of the best features of the Chromecast is that it’s not locked to an accout or a device. If you have friends at home they can connect to your Chromecast device and ‘stream’ their own content from their YouTube or Netflix accounts. At the same time its not locked into one platform so wherther you are an Android, iOS, Windows (desktop), GNULinux or Chrome OS you will be able to connect to the device..

Another advantage that I see is if I am travelling I can bring it with me and plug it into the HDMI-enabled TV in my hotel room, connect over the WiFi and enjoy my Netflix movies. The devices is so cheap and portable that you can have more than one and connect one with each TV that you have.

Apple TV?

None of the above can be achieved by Apple TV. And you can buy 3 such devices at the price of one ATV. I trust Apple, now caught in the game of catching up with Android will refresh its ATV soon. However, it will always be the catch-up game for Apple so if you are planning to buy one, I will heavily recommed the Chromecast.

What I would love?

I would love to have support for productive apps so that I can open a document on my smartphone, chromecast it on my monitor and edit it there. I would like to have support built in apps like Vlc, Amarok etc to be able to play such content on my TV.

I can already visualize some KDE developers working on Chromecasting the entire KDE desktop on the TV screen.

Last but not the least I would love to see out of the box Chromecast support on the upcoming KDE Plasma Active tablet Vivaldi.

Conclusion

I am amazed at this $35 devices. It’s far better than any solution that we have seen in the market including Apple TV. Google has once again beaten Apple in its own game by introducing a much cheaper, much better looking (no ugly sqare box sitting on the table), much more portable device which can do much more than what Apple TV could.

We are looking for aspiring bloggers and journalists for The Mukt. If you are interested, apply now!

So if you have not ordered your Chromecast yet, order it now.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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