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Google breaks ChromeCast’s ability to play local content [updated]

Bad news for all ChromeCast users who were thinking of being able to stream local content to their HD TVs. Google has pushed an update for  ChromeCast which has broken support for 3rd party apps like AirCast (AllCast) which allow users to ‘stream’ local files from their devices to ChromeCast connected TV sets.

The renowned Cyanogenmod developer Koushik Dutta was working on AirCast and was planning to eventually publish it on the Google Play Store. We tested the apps and it worked great.

The app won’t work anymore if your ChromeCast was updated.

Dutta says that Google has intentionally broken his app. “They disabled ‘video_playback’ support from the ChromeCast application,” says Dutta.

It is intentional? Can’t it be a bug? Dutta says otherwise. “Given that this is the second time they’ve purposefully removed/disabled the ability to play media from external sources, it confirms some of my suspicions that I have had about the ChromeCast developer program: The policy seems to be a heavy handed approach, where only approved content will be played through the device. The ChromeCast will probably not be indie developer friendly. The Google TV team will likely only whitelist media companies.”

This is very unlike of Google which always maintained that ‘you own the device that you buy and are free to do what ever you want to do with it.’ We have seen this in Google’s Chromebooks and Android devices where Google documented how to root such devices and install the OS of your own choice.

Google has not released any official statement about breaking the playback feature, but if Google is deliberating doing what Amazon, Microsoft of Apple do with their devices to break the 3rd party features then it doesn’t sound very good. One of the USPs of ChromeCast was the huge potential it holds beyond broadcasting content from YouTube, Netflix, Google Play Movies/Music and Chrome browser. Many bloggers cites this potential as an edge over Apple TV.

If ChromeCast loses this ability it may not remain a ‘devel’ friendly device.

Is Google taking the path of Apple, Amazon and Microsoft? Is Google diverting from it’s ‘you own the device you buy and can do whatever you want to do with it?’

Update 1: As one reader pointed out that the Google SKD which Dutta presumably reverse engineered is only for preview purpose and Google specifically asked developers to not create publicly available apps at the moment as it may change and break their apps. Google highlighted that in red:

Warning: The current Google Cast SDK is a preview SDK intended for development and testing purposes only, not for production apps. Google may change this SDK significantly prior to the official release of the Google Cast SDK. We strongly recommend that you do not publicly distribute any application using this preview SDK, as this preview SDK will no longer be supported after the official SDK is released (which will cause applications based only on the preview SDK to break).

Applications using this preview SDK will work only on Chromecast receiver devices that are whitelisted for development. Google will provide whitelisting for Google Cast receivers for development and testing purposes until the final SDK is released. See Whitelisting your receiver.

So Google may not have ‘broken’ Dutta’s app intentionally. Google has clearly mentioned that it encourages developers to create apps to send their data to the ‘second screen':

You can develop sender applications for Android, iOS, and Chrome which “cast” their content to a receiver device connected to a large display (television), and you can develop a receiver app that extends the default receiver functionality.

I assume the ‘sender applications’ can also be the ones which play the local content. Since everything is in testing phase, it may be too early to say Google won’t allow local content.

Update 2: We just got a statement from a Google spokesperson which addressed the main concern:

We’re excited to bring more content to Chromecast and would like to support all types of apps, including those for local content. It’s still early days for the Google Cast SDK, which we just released in developer preview for early development and testing only. We expect that the SDK will continue to change before we launch out of developer preview, and want to provide a great experience for users and developers before making the SDK and additional apps more broadly available.

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You may also want to read Confirmed: ChromeCast will be able to play local content, go ahead and order yours!

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.