Fun With Google Chromecast

I recently acquired a Google Chromecast device. I didn’t know what I planned to do with it, because I wasn’t even sure what it could do, but at $35 I had to play with it.

Turns out, it’s a pretty sweet little addition to the old home entertainment center although I’ve had to solve a few issues to put it to best use.

Connection Issues (ports/audio): My HDTV has two HDMI ports on it. The easiest way to plug it in was to use one of those, but unfortunately this meant no ability to run the audio out to my older, non-HDMI equipped, surround sound receiver. When I bought my TV, I neglected to check for audio output and (thanks Samsung) there is none, so how to get the sound to my receiver?

Solution: I bought two things on Amazon, an HDMI switcher and an HDMI audio extractor box. The switcher gave me three HDMI ports, which when connected to one of the two I already had, moved me up to a total of four ports. I hooked the Chromecast and my DVR up to the switcher so now I have a spare HDMI input on the TV and one on the switcher if I want to plug my laptop in. The audio extractor box takes an HDMI input and sends just the audio out to an optical Dolby 5.1 connection on my receiver. The signal then passes through to the TV. So, video on the TV, digital audio to the receiver, problem solved.

Once everything was connected there was the question of what to do with it. The obvious stuff, Netflix and YouTube, were no-brainers, but I started wondering what was the best way to accomplish local video streaming. I get a video file, say this week’s Formula 1 qualifying session as an MP4 file on my hard drive. I want to watch it on the TV, not the laptop.  I figured I’d need a video server or something.  Turns out, I can open Chrome, open a video file with “File->Open…”, and click the “Cast This Tab” button and it works.  Pretty effing cool.  I have a DLink router that can serve up media files to a web browser so that’s an even nicer solution, but not totally necessary.  The only glitches I’ve run into with the local video streaming are occasional audio synchronization slips.  They seem to self-correct after a minute or two at the most.

All in all, I’m pretty stoked about the Chromecast.  Downloaded video files, Netflix, YouTube, and web video like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are all now being happily watched via Chromecast.  I’d say it is a worthwhile addition to my home theater.  I recommend it.  🙂

Wee Beastie

Re-reading things I wrote 5-10 years ago is a fairly humbling experience. I find that is don’t like how I sound much of the time. I don’t like how I wrote about my mother, I don’t like how I came across much of the time, actually.  Oh well, look forward I say…

Last night went to the Apple Store and picked up one of the new MacBook Pro laptops.  I got a 13-inch Retina display model.  I had really not been excited about getting this machine because of a number of factors.  First, it looks nearly identical to the 2008 model it’s replacing.  A little thinner, but other than that, it seems like there has been no progress on the form factor or design.  Second, there is no optical drive.  I don’t use optical disks all that terribly regularly anymore, but it still is mildly annoying.  Not the end of the world, as I have a couple of external USB drives I can use if I need to.  Third, no touch screen.  This is significantly more annoying.  I think touch screens on laptops are very nice.  Apple disagrees.  They’re wrong.  But, the screen it does have, with the Retina display, was another annoyance for me.  I felt like it added too much cost to the machine with too little value.  That is, until I spent a few hours using it and then turned to look at my standard-definition computer monitor and realized that everything suddenly looked like crap.  Retina displays are one of those things that you don’t know you want until you have ’em, I guess.  Final annoyance: non-upgradable RAM.  This is a PITA, but honestly these days 8GB of RAM (which is what I have in it) really does allow you to do just about anything you want.  There is very little reason to upgrade that over the lifespan (4-6 years) of a machine like this.

So, what do I think?  I named it WeeBeastie already because it’s so ridiculously fast.  I don’t want to look at the screen of my other computer because it looks so good, and I no longer feel like I want to carry my iPad around at work because it’s thin enough and light enough to be casually carried along with a notepad.  First impressions, then, are favorable.  Looking forward to putting it through more paces than just installing software on it.