Google’s cheap Chromecast TV stick was a hot item from the moment it launched last year. Before then, no major tech maker had ever offered a living-room streaming device for a measly $35.
See also: TV Streaming Gadgets: ReadWrite’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide
For Black Friday, some retailers slashed the price even further, to an absurd $24. But even at the original price, the value is still remarkable—especially considering how much the little stick grew up this year. Let’s take a look.
5 Ways Google Improved Chromecast In 2014
- Released software tools so that more apps can support Chromecast. Initially, the stick only worked with Netflix, YouTube and a couple of Google Play services. New streaming sources dribbled in after, but when Google released software tools to other developers in February, it threw open the door to hundreds of other apps. Now Chromecast can stream Hulu, HBO GO, ESPN, Showtime and loads of other sources, while apps like Plex and Bitcasa let users cast their own media files.
- Put casual gaming on TV. Last month, Chromecast got a completely new feature—gaming! Download and launch a compatible game app on a mobile device, fling it to the TV, and use those phones or tablets as controllers. Titles include Wheel of Fortune, Hasbro’s Monopoly Dash, Scrabble Blitz, Connect Four Quads, Simon Swipe, Just Dance Now, Emoji Party, or Big Web Quiz, powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph.
- Made group casting with pals easier. Soon, friends won’t have to join the same Wi-Fi network to cast to a single TV. This summer, Google introduced its grand plans for ultrasonic pairing—a sound-based proximity technology that can tell who’s in the room and which Chromecast is there, to link them up. The feature’s not available yet, but it will be soon, says the company. More importantly, the effort proved Google’s commitment to improving the Chromecast experience.
- Launched Backdrop, giving your TV a better screen saver. In October, the new Backdrop feature turned Chromecast-equipped televisions into the biggest digital picture frames imaginable. Now, when users aren’t casting, select artwork and news headlines can grace the screen, as well as the user’s own Google Plus photos.
- Gave Chromecast powers to Nexus Player. It’s not a direct change to the TV dongle, but it’s still a great development for it. The company’s clearly dedicated to Google Cast, the technology that powers the Chromecast and now Nexus Player. That should allay any concerns about these devices going the way of the doomed Google TV and Nexus Q, two previous TV devices Google began, then dumped.
Holiday shoppers should note that the device doesn’t come with a remote control. If that matters to you or your gift recipient, competing products like the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick may be better picks.
But if a remote control’s not essential, and flinging online media from a phone to the big screen sounds appealing, then penny-pinchers need look no further than Chromecast. Google’s smallest device can ably handle that and more. Much more.
Photo courtesy of Netflix