It's been a year now
Legs still shaky as before
Up high for how long?

How about this last second post? My descent into Google's hardware ecosystem continued this holiday season when I went the lazy route and got Chromecasts for my parents and relatives (I blame my sister's lack of ideas and/or effort this year). I didn't pay it too much attention when it first came out last year, mainly because I don't own a TV and didn't subscribe to too many streaming services, but a combination of hopelessness associated with last-second gifting and my parents' continue obsession with Fei Cheng Wu Rao finally gave me enough reasons to try it out.

The hardware's pretty well thought-out and certainly more than affordable for what it does, and the setup process was a breeze. Everything just plain worked out of the box with no surprises or hiccups. It's interesting to me that Google's one of those rare companies that can release new hardware into a well-developed software ecosystem instead of having to develop new software from scratch. In fact, I'd argue that the Chromecast is a much better pairing to Google's services than Chromeboxes ever were or could be. Makes me wonder what will become of Oculus under Facebook's care.

Naturally, the standard Google video services like Play or Youtube work super smoothly. When we first plugged it in, I think we spent a couple of hours just browsing through clips of stand-up comedians on my phone and then casting it to the big screen. My dad said he liked browsing through clips on his tablet and then casting the ones he liked without having to get up and update the laptop hooked up to the TV, which is what he had to do before. I've never tried a WiiU, but I'm guessing the user experience is sort of like their controller with the extra screen. It's just really nice to have a more functional controller with a display sometimes. It also looks like there's potential through setups like Chromecast to deliver more enhanced video content. This just feels like a much more natural separation of related and yet disjoint features in media. Complementary, not disruptive.

3rd party apps were a bit glitchy at times, but I was still impressed how smoothly most of the ones I tried ran. My subscription to Ballstreams showed up crystal clear despite it still being in beta. Twitch seemed to work okay, but it seemed to default to the highest resolution and not allow for changes afterwards, which is a tad disappointing. VideoStream is a great way to stream local media to the television, and it seems like a really well-designed and supported app. Even .mkv files with subtitles and multiple audio/video tracks played perfectly fine. I played around a bit with Plex, but since my main computer's an ultrabook and I don't tend to maintain a media library locally, I found VideoStream to be much more appropriate for my purposes. The idea behind Plex though seems pretty cool and worth checking out, especially if you find that you might be willing to pay for the subscription service to be able to stream from your personal workstation wherever you go.

Of course, definitely one major downside: everything falls apart very quickly once the internet connection either fails or slows. We have AT&T uVerse and download speeds of around 10-12 Mbps, resulting in intermittent lagging sometimes when the Chromecast was trying to play HD. This made casting from a Chrome tab a bit troublesome at times, which is unfortunate, since there's not yet an app for Amazon Instant Video, and I consume a lot of my media from mildly sketchy streaming sites like couchtuner and Youtube also had this nasty habit (imo) of needing a restart if it ever lost connection during video playback.

In a nutshell, the Chromecast turns any TV into a smart TV, except better. I also got to play around with someone else's smart TV this break, and it just wasn't as snappy, even with the same apps. It felt really cumbersome to have to interact with the TV with a standard remote. Casting wirelessly from existing devices just makes so much more sense. Even if the here and now for Chromecast is close to its ceiling, it's still a really worthwhile device. So much so that I'm thinking of buying one for me to stick on the big screen we have sitting in lab.