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Google Chromecast (2015) review: Still a cheap way to make your TV smart

Google Chromecast 2015
Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £30
inc VAT

The Google Chromecast is a cheap way to make your TV smart, but should you buy the Chromecast Ultra instead?


  • Affordable
  • Easy setup


  • Doesn't fully support all apps

It’s hard to believe that the disc-shaped Chromecast is a few years old. Since then, Google released the Chromecast Ultra, which ups the ante by offering 4K and HDR capabilities. Still, the non-4K Chromecast is £39 cheaper and might be better suited for you. Why? As if you don’t have a 4K TV, you’ll not benefit from a 4K streamer.

So stick to the original Chromecast if you have an HD television, and if you have a 4K set, you’re probably better off using the built-in apps until something comes along to convince us otherwise. If you don’t have said apps and are happy blowing £69 for a media streamer, by all means, go ahead – but I think your hard-earned cash is better spent elsewhere.

READ NEXT: Chromecast Ultra review: Do you really need this streamer?

Google Chromecast review: What you need to know

It’s always difficult reviewing products which cost as little as the Chromecast. For £30, you’re getting a media streamer which is incredibly easy to set up, can be used with the vast majority of services, and can be stretched to do a whole lot more. At this price, it’s hard to make a case that someone shouldn’t buy it.

However things have changed and there are now other rivals with diminutive streaming sticks all working in similar ways, offering up additional functionality. Can Chromecast compete? The simple answer is, yes. Yes it can. And then some.

Buy the Google Chromecast now from Currys

Google Chromecast review: Setup

Google’s small dongle doesn’t require a lot of setup or the use of messy cables – something any technophobe will appreciate – and it’s all controlled via Wi-Fi from your computer, smartphone or tablet, meaning no new remotes to master or lose. The Chromecast can also be tucked away behind your TV rather neatly, meaning you won’t even know it’s there once you’ve plugged it in.

Google Chromecast 2015 plug adaptor

Despite an aesthetic update, including a much-needed flexible HDMI cable, Chromecast does still need power via micro USB. While it does suggest you need a free plug socket, if your TV has a powered USB port, you can make use of that to give your Chromecast some juice.

Beyond the initial stages of plugging in your Chromecast, Google makes the setup process pleasingly simple, requiring you to just visit the Google Play Store or Apple App Store to download its Chromecast app. Google’s app guides you through the setup process, linking your tablet or smartphone directly to the Chromecast’s local Wi-Fi network so you can set it up to look for your home network.

Compared to the 2012 model Chromecast, Google’s newest dongle now supports 802.11ac dual-band networks and makes use of an adaptive antenna for vastly improved networking performance. Put simply, the new Chromecast won’t struggle with local streaming via Plex like its predecessor did. Chromecast’s “Fast Play” technology also helps speed up the time it takes for you to cast content as it essentially means your Chromecast starts buffering the content it expects you to watch while you’re browsing through menus. As you can imagine, this only works on supported apps such as YouTube or Netflix. Amazon’s Fire TV devices are already capable of a similar feature, although it only works with Prime Video.

Google has also improved its, previously lacking, Chromecast app. Now called Google Cast, it’s expanded upon the original’s features of connecting your Chromecast to a wireless network or mirror your device’s screen. Now the app is a great way to find Chromecast-supported apps, new content to throw to your TV and any upcoming offers and Google Chromecast-related promotions.

If you’re a BT customer and have BT Home Hub, you may come across some issues when setting up your Chromecast thanks to BT’s Smart Setup feature. Usually, this fires your newly connected device over to a BT Broadband splash page and that can cause issue for devices that don’t have a web browser built in. Don’t worry though, if this seems to be happening to you, disable Smart Setup on your Home Hub 4 or 5 before you connect your Chromecast.

Google Chromecast 2015 HDMI

Google Chromecast Review: Casting

Using a Chromecast is, thankfully, incredibly simple. Compatible with any Android device running 2.3 Gingerbread or higher, an iPhone or iPad with iOS 6.0 or newer installed or a Chromebook, Mac or Windows PC running Chrome, there’s really no mass-market device around that can’t support Chromecast.

Just like on Apple TV and AirPlay, casting to Chromecast requires you to simply tap the “Cast” button – a little square with the Wi-Fi symbol in the corner – and select the device you want to stream to. In most cases, you’re not actually streaming the content from your device to the TV, the Chromecast is picking up the source signal and streaming it directly to it. This means that you’re not only saving your battery and not using up mobile data, but you can also use your laptop, phone, tablet, whatever to do something else at the same time. A connection is still made between the two devices, so that you can control playback by simply diving back into the app and using the on-screen controls.

Chromecast’s casting ability isn’t just for video, any supported app can be cast to your TV. While the sky’s the limit in regards to what you could cast, for the most part you’ll just be sending audio, photos and video across and, even if you can’t cast the app you want, you can share your entire device’s screen to make sure something appears there. Thankfully, we’ve rounded up our best Chromecast apps for you to help you seek out what’s worth having.

Google Chromecast review: Netflix and Google Play Movies

If you want to use your Chromecast to watch movies from online, the two best options at the moment are Netflix and Google Play Movies. Sadly, there’s no support from rival services, including Amazon Prime Instant Video (even though this now has an Android App) or Blinkbox. Sky’s Now TV service is supported (see Catch-up section below for more information). Netflix is a great example of the Chromecast in action. You just use an app on your smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android), or via the web app, to pick what you want to watch, tap the Chromecast button and the content appears on your TV. There are a few seconds’ worth of buffering to get through, but it’s short enough not to be too annoying.

Netflix automatically connected to the highest quality stream in all cases and we were soon watching the high-quality 1080p content with absolutely no problems. If there’s one minor complaint, it’s that the Chromecast doesn’t easily support some of the third-party services for watching US Netflix in the UK, such as the excellent Unblock US. The problem with these services is that they need you to edit a device’s network settings, but the Chromecast doesn’t let you do this and has its settings hard wired.

There are ways around the problem but they depend on your router supporting them and they’re certainly not for the faint-hearted. For some this may be enough to put them off the Chromecast completely, opting for a more flexible platform, such as the Roku Streaming Stick or the Apple TV, which both have a Netflix client built-in. If you do want to give it a go, you can read our how to get US Netflix on Chromecast article.

Support for the Chromecast has grown a lot since launch, and as well as Netflix you can watch TV and film using Google Play Movies & TV, Wuaki.TV and Blinkbox. It’s a little disappointing that Amazon Prime Instant Video still only supports AirPlay, particularly as Amazon manufactures its own Android-based tablets.

Google Chromecast Netflix App

Google Chromecast review: Surround sound

Where available, the Chromecast supports surround sound, such as 5.1 from Netflix content. If you want to use this, you’ll be best off plugging the Chromecast directly into your surround-sound amp. You can run an optical cable from your TV to your amp instead, but this doesn’t always work, as many TVs only pass on stereo sound in this way.

At the moment, this is one area where the Chromecast is ahead of the Apple TV, as a current bug means that there’s no surround sound from Netflix. Apparently, this is being worked on, but the issue has been there for a few months.

Google Chromecast review: TV, catchup TV and iPlayer

Catch-up and live TV is another area where the Chromecast should be useful. It’s good to see that iPlayer is supported. As you’d expect, it works really well: just select the content you want to play, tap the cast option and after a short delay the content starts playing on your TV. It’s good to see that there’s BT Sport support, so you can stream live TV from the app to the player.

A recent addition to the mix is Sky’s Now TV, the subscription-free paid-for streaming service, which lets you get some of the top Sky channels, including Sky Atlantic, Sky Movies and Sky Sports. With a recent update, Sky has now enabled Chromecast, so you can just stream from your phone or tablet directly to your TV. While Sky’s on Now TV box is just £10, the Chromecast is still a great deal if you want other services, such as Netflix.

As good as iPlayer, Now TV and BT Sport are, it’s a real shame that there’s no ITV Player, 4oD or Demand Five support at the moment. Nor is there support for Sky Go. Admittedly this is the same as with the Apple TV, but it’s frustrating that so many of the UK’s big TV stations won’t take this kind of technology seriously and enable support.

BT Sport on Chromecast

Google Chromecast review: DLNA/UPnP

Strictly speaking the Chromecast doesn’t support DLNA/UPnP media servers, as it has no client. However, it can support them indirectly, just as you can connect an Apple TV to a DLNA server. As long as you’ve got an app that supports DLNA servers and Chromecast, you can browse for media using your smartphone or tablet and then cast the content.

This works brilliantly, just like any other ‘proper’ video streaming app, but there are some caveats. First, the Chromecast doesn’t support a lot of video codecs (you can view a list of supported codecs on the Chromecast developer site), with H.264 video the main one. This may mean that you need to convert video files – our guide on how to convert video for Apple TV will also work for Chromecast.

Secondly, you’ve got to find an app capable of doing it. On Android, BubbleUPnP does a brilliant job and is the app of choice. If you’ve got an iOS device, it’s a bit trickier. We love 8player for AirPlay DLNA, but this app doesn’t support Chromecast. That leaves GoodPlayer, which isn’t a patch on it. A third alternative is to use Plex. The server is free and will transcode video on the fly, letting unsupported formats play on a Chromecast (or indeed other device). Along with the server you need to pay for the Android or iOS client, or you can use the Chrome web browser. Check out our guide on how to use Plex with Chromecast for instructions on configuring the server and using the client software for more information.

Synology NAS Plex Server install

The Plex server is available for a wide range of devices, including Synology NAS drives. However, there are some limitations, based on the server type. If you’re running the Plex server on a Synology NAS, only the DS214play and DS415play can transcode video up to 1080p, some other NAS models can transcode video up to 720p; the cheaper models can’t transcode at all. You can see Synology NAS transcoding support for more information. The PC and Mac versions of Plex support transcoding of all resolutions, although you’ll need to have a fairly decent processor if you don’t want to slow your computer down. If you are streaming local content from a computer or NAS, this is where the Chromecast’s lack of 802.11ac might become a limitation as the slower file transfer speeds of 802.11n can become a bottleneck for high bit rate video. This might mean you need to transcode video to a lower resolution or bit rate to accommodate any network speed limitations. The Google Nexus Player, which also supports casting, has 802.11ac support

Google Chromecast review: Mirroring

Chromecast also supports mirroring, where you can send what you see on your screen directly to the TV. This is built into the Chrome Browser, via the Google Cast extension, letting you mirror an entire tab. The new version of the extension also lets you transmit your entire desktop. It’s not bad and it means that you can stream any video file or streaming service from your computer to the Chromecast. In this mode, the video is sent directly from your computer, rather than letting the Chromecast control the stream. At launch the services was pretty poor but Google has made some big improvements. You’ll still need a fast internet connection for it to work, but video streaming in Chrome can now easily be played through Chromecast without any stuttering. While not a replacement for apps like Netflix and BBC iPlayer it does mean you can watch pretty much anything on Chromecast.

New to Android, via the Chromecast app, is mirroring, sending everything you see on your smartphone or tablet. There are a handful of supported devices, making it handy to quickly mirror your phone’s screen to your TV.

This means that Chromecast has the same features as AirPlay does with iPhones and iPads on Apple TV. Mirroring is useful for showing off a particular app or game, but it’s too slow to stream video and audio properly, just as with the desktop app.

Google Chromecast review: Games

As well as simply being a device for displaying video, Google also wants Chromecast be a home for games and other entertainment. The Big Web Quiz for Chromecast is a perfect example of this in action: up to six players with the app (iOS and Android) can take part in an interactive quiz that uses Google’s Knowledge Graph, with the results and questions appearing on your TV. It’s brilliant fun and simple to set up, and shows how flexible Chromecast really is. There are other games available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, and the range is bound to expand soon. Amazon’s Fire TV Stick supports an optional game pad, as does Google’s newly-released Nexus Player, so these might be better choices if gaming is a priority. The games catalogue on both still yet to have a compelling killer-app, however.

Google Chromecast review: Verdict

At just £30, the Chromecast would appear to be a no-brainer, but it’s not quite that simple. Although support has become a lot better, there’s still not a lot of support for catch-up TV. Even in 2018, there’s no support for Demand Five and Sky Go.

That said, with Sky Now TV, Netflix and Blinkbox all on-board, there’s a great selection of movies and on-demand TV if you’re a fan of any of these services. It’s great to see Chromecast getting expanded and the Big Web Quiz is a great example of how lots of people can play games together on your TV.

There are a few issues, such as the Chromecast is really hard to hack into playing US Netflix, something that the Apple TV with its built-in Netflix client doesn’t suffer from. However, the Apple TV’s downsides are that it’s just as inflexible when it comes to DLNA media streaming and its AirPlay technology is only really supported on iOS – BBC iPlayer on Android, for example, doesn’t support AirPlay. Then, there’s the Roku Streaming Stick, which is only a little more expensive than the Chromecast, but has a wider range of built-in apps and is more configurable, even if it’s a little slow.

Google Chromecast apps

If that makes the choice sound a little confusing, then that’s because it really is that confusing and no one device is perfect for everyone. Ultimately, it depends on what you want. If you’ve primarily got Apple devices, the Apple TV makes a lot of sense, as it’s quick, ties in with Apple’s services brilliantly and AirPlay is great here. If you care more about flexibility and easier access to DLNA servers, the Roku Streaming Stick is good for you.

If you’ve got Android devices (or a mix of Android and iOS) and simply want a cheap and convenient way of adding some streaming services to your TV, then the Chromecast is brilliant and you should buy one today. Compared to the more expensive Google Nexus Player, which runs Android TV, we still find the Chromecast preferable, even if its functionality is much more limited its low-cost more than makes up for it.

Buy the Google Chromecast now from Currys

Audio inputsNone
Audio outputsNone
Video outputsHDMI
Dock connectorNone
USB portMicro USB (for power)
Networking802.11ac dual-band
App supportiOS, Android, Windows, Mac
Streaming formatsChromecast
Supported serversDLNA (indirect)
Audio formatsAAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WAV
Video formatsH.264
Video file extensionsN/A (no direct streaming)
Image formatsBMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG
Internet streaming servicesBBC iPlayer, BT Sport, Netflix
Buying information
Price including VAT£30
WarrantyOne-year RTB
Part codeGA3A00030A23

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