Google has taken a new tack in trying to get Internet video to HDTVs with the launch of Chromecast, a $35 two-inch dongle that plugs into the back of a television and lets users pull up content from YouTube, Netflix and other sources using a mobile device as a remote control.
Chromecast is Google’s latest answer to the Apple TV $99 set-top for delivering over-the-top video — with Google execs highlighting that unlike Apple’s strategy, the pocket-size Chromecast device can work with any mobile device or PC. The dongle also will compete with connected-TV boxes such as Microsoft’s Xbox and Roku.
“One barrier to viewing online content on TV is getting your TV connected in the first place,” Google veep of product management Mario Queiroz said at the company’s launch event Wednesday. Chromecast, named after the Chrome web browser, is designed to “enable experiences across all platforms and devices — it should just work with your TV.”
Chromecast, available for purchase in the U.S. starting Wednesday, plugs into an HDMI slot in the back of a TV set. The dongle works with Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV and Google Play Music, with more apps including Pandora coming soon, according to Google. For a limited time, Chromecast purchasers will be eligible to receive three months of Netflix service free.
With the launch of Chromecast, Google appears to be acknowledging the failure to date of its three-year-old Google TV initiative, designed to meld traditional TV with Internet-delivered content through an integrated interface. Queiroz has overseen the Google TV project, which the company says it will continue to develop as its full-fledged television platform.
The company had lined up big-name partners for Google TV including Sony, LG, Intel and Samsung, which embedded Google’s Android-based software into television sets and connected-TV devices. But the approach was costly for consumer-electronics makers and Google TV never gained traction with consumers.
Meanwhile, Google is reportedly in early talks with TV programmers about licensing content for an Internet-delivered “over-the-top” subscription service that would challenge cable, satellite and telco TV operators. It’s not clear when or even whether Google would launch such a service; Intel is aiming to intro an Internet TV service later this year.
Chromecast works not only with Android smartphones and tablets, but also Apple’s iPhones and iPads and Windows and Mac computers via Google’s Chrome browser. Using one of those devices, users can browse for something to watch, control playback, and adjust volume settings: “You won’t have to learn anything new,” Queiroz said.
For example, using Chromecast, a user will see a new button in the YouTube mobile app labeled “cast.” According to Google, watching any video on the TV is as simple as pressing the button, and the Wi-Fi-enabled Chromecast device then streams the video from the Internet.
In addition, Chromecast can sling a range of web content to the big-screen HDTV via a new feature in the Chrome browser that allows a user to “project” any browser tab to a connected TV. The feature is launching in beta.
Also at the event Wednesday, Google introduced the next generation of the Nexus 7 tablet, with a 1080p HD-capable display. Netflix also is among the first partners with a full HD app for the new tablet.