How To Use Chromecast: The Ultimate Guide
In the era of streaming television, there have never been quite as many selections to choose from to satisfy your set-top box needs as there are in 2017. No matter where you get your entertainment, it’s easy to find the right streaming device for you, regardless of your budget. With Roku and Amazon both competing for the top streaming device under $50, competition has never been hotter. Of course, one of our very favorite budget streaming devices of the last few years has been Google’s Chromecast, thanks to its affordable price of just $35 and the simplicity that comes with streaming content straight from your device. The Chromecast has seen a few iterations over the past several years since it was first launched in 2013. While plenty of people may want a streaming stick or set-top box with support for a real interface, Google’s Chromecast line of products make it easy to watch a movie, listen to music, or streaming some YouTube videos over your home network straight from any device you own.
Of course, just because using a Chromecast is designed to be simple doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to learn about the device category as a whole. Whether you just received a brand-new Chromecast for Christmas, or you went out and bought one yourself, we’ve prepared the ultimate guide on how to use your Chromecast as effectively as possible. We’ll cover how to set-up your device, how to mirror your phone, tablet, and even computer on your television, and how to stream directly from your iOS or Android device.— And if you’re still trying to decide whether the Chromecast line of products is right for you, we even have a buyer’s guide to help make the most of your buying power.
Google’s Chromecast line of devices are cheap, powerful, and great streaming boxes for the money. If you’re new to the product, we’ll take you step-by-step on how to use the product effectively and efficiently. Consider this the manual not shipped inside the Chromecast box, to help you get the most out of your new streaming stick. This is our full guide to choosing, buying, and using your Google Chromecast.
Choosing a Chromecast
The first step when buying any electronic device is to make sure you purchase the model that is correct for you, and when it comes to picking up a Chromecast device, that’s no exception. While actually using a Chromecast device is fairly simple, you’ll want to make sure you select the correct model that fits your needs before dropping cash on your new streaming device. The original Chromecast product was a one-device-fits-all solution, but when Google rolled out the second-gen Chromecast device in 2015, they took it as an opportunity to expand the product line beyond the original device. When shopping at your local Best Buy or Walmart, you’ll actually have three different Chromecast devices to choose from now, so you’ll want to make sure you know which product is right for you. Let’s take a look at each device.
The second generation Chromecast device launched in September of 2015, and happens to be the first major product revision for Google’s Chromecast line of products. This newest device is both a redesign of the hardware and the internal specs, with an increased focus on speed and usability. Unlike the original device, which was a basic stick shape and came with an HDMI extension in order to allow users to use the stick in televisions where the design of the casing for the Chromecast couldn’t properly fit into the device, the current iteration of the Chromecast uses the hanging-module design that has become popular overall with the streaming box manufacturers, with a similar design now being used by both Roku and Amazon for their newest devices. This means that, with or without an extension, you can easily plug the Chromecast into your television for easy viewing.
The specs for the Chromecast (second-gen) include:
- Processor: Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3006
- 512 MB RAM DDR3L
- Capable of producing 1080p Full HD video
- HDMI-CEC output
- Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n/ac @ 2.4/5 GHz) and Ethernet with optional power adapter
- Powered over Micro USB
Those aren’t too far off from the specs of the original Chromecast release in 2013, albeit with an improved processor and support for 802.11 ac wireless internet connection. Strangely, the second-gen Chromecast we’re looking at here dropped support for the 2GB of internal storage that was included with the original model, but consider that it was never used in any officially-sanctioned capacity, you won’t notice it missing from your device. You’ll also notice that you’ll need an optional power adapter from Google if you want to use Ethernet with this device. For most users, your internet connection should be stable enough to support 1080p streaming over WiFi, but you might want to consider grabbing it anyway.
As 4K, or “Ultra HD,” televisions become more readily available and consumers choose to spend a few hundred dollars on upgrading their televisions to this higher-resolution panel, you’ll also begin seeing more media that’s designed to take advantage of these higher-quality materials. UHD Blu-Rays are readily available at your local Best Buy, and even the Xbox One now includes a UHD Blu-Ray player built into the box for playing back your favorite movies. Streaming 4K options are slowly becoming available as well; Netflix has a 4K plan available for $13.99 per month that also includes streaming on up to four displays, and Google Play Movies also support renting and purchasing 4K UHD content for just a couple extra dollars on top of the HD videos. The Chromecast Ultra was designed by Google to support the 4K content that is rapidly becoming more available on these devices, and it’s a great buy if you’re in the market for a Chromecast that supports your UHD streaming library.
The specs for the Chromecast Ultra include:
- Processor: Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3009
- 512 MB RAM DDR3L
- Capable of producing 4K Ultra HD video, along with support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision
- HDMI-CEC output
- Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n/ac @ 2.4/5 GHz) and Ethernet with included USB power adapter
- Powered over Micro USB
As you can see from those specs, the Chromecast Ultra is actually fairly similar to the second generation Chromecast, albeit with some minor changes. The processor in the Ultra version is more powerful than the processor included inside of the standard Chromecast, which helps display the extra resolution when showing 4K content on your screen. The RAM stays the same, as does the CEC-supported HDMI. The biggest change outside of the processor comes from the included Ethernet adapter built into the USB power adapter, which makes streaming content to your device a whole lot faster than relying on your standard wireless internet connection. As mentioned above, the standard Chromecast supports Ethernet as well, but you’ll need to pick up the adapter separately from the actual device to use Ethernet.
Overall, if you’re looking at upgrading to a 4K television—or you already have one that supports 4K in addition to HDR10 or Dolby Vision—you’ll want to make the jump to the Chromecast Ultra. While some users have reported some stuttering when relying on WiFi to stream UHD content, overall, this is a great way to futureproof your purchase.
The final device in the trio of Chromecast streaming boxes is a bit different than the first two. Unlike both the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra, the Chromecast Audio is designed specifically for users looking to hook their Chromecast up to a pair of speakers for adding Cast-enabled streaming from their favorite music player. Most music apps on Android, including Google Play Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music, not to mention podcast apps like Pocket Casts, fully support Google’s Cast standard, making it easy to stream your favorite albums or playlists from your phone, tablet, or computer to your speakers without having to rely on Bluetooth as a universal standard. The Chromecast Audio looks nearly-identical to the second-gen Chromecast, with the biggest difference coming with the change from HDMI-out to a 3.5mm input cable coming from the back of the device, which makes it possible to stream to nearly any speaker on the market. You’ll also want a Chromecast Audio to go with your Google Home Mini, though we’ll cover Home integration with Chromecast further down in this guide.
For now, let’s just take a look at the specs in this device:
- Processor: Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3006
- 256 MB RAM DDR3L
- AKM AK4430 192kHz 24-Bit DAC
- Combined 3.5 mm audio jack and mini-TOSLINK socket
- Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n/ac @ 2.4/5 GHz) and Ethernet with optional power adapter
- Powered over Micro USB
As you can see from those specs, the Chromecast Audio is fairly similar to what we’ve seen from the second-gen Chromecast, with a matching processor and identical WiFi setup. The big difference, outside of the audio-only output, comes from the 50 percent reduction in RAM; however, since you’re only using the RAM to playback audio content and not video, it shouldn’t matter when it comes to using your device. The Audio version also doesn’t include the Ethernet-enabled power adapter, so if you want that, you’ll have to purchase it separately. Overall, anyone looking to use a Chromecast with their existing speakers should definitely take note of the Chromecast Audio—at only $35, it’s just as much of a steal as its video-enabled sibling.
Purchasing a Chromecast
You’ll need to decide which Chromecast you wish to purchase first, though the three products are different enough that choosing the correct model for your needs shouldn’t be too difficult. If you’re looking for something future-proof, you’ll want to pick up the Chromecast Ultra, especially if you have or plan on purchasing a 4K television in the near-future. That will guarantee that you’re ready to move forward into the 4K UHD streaming era that awaits us. Of course, it’s $69, double the cost over the standard 1080p Chromecast and the audio-only Chromecast Audio, both of which cost just $35. Here’s our quick buyer’s guide for choosing which to purchase:
- If you own or plan on owning a 4K television, need an Ethernet connection, or want a more-futureproof Chromecast, choose the Chromecast Ultra. You’ll have to pay that $69 upfront, but it’s still fairly affordable when compared to similar options like the Nvidia Shield TV or the Apple TV 4K, both of which cost $180, more than double the cost of the Chromecast Ultra. You also get the Ethernet-enabled power adapter with your purchase of a Chromecast Ultra, something that costs $15 when sold separately. You can pick up the Chromecast Ultra from Google, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target.
- If you’re looking for the basic Chromecast setup, and don’t plan on purchasing a 4K television in the near future, pick up the standard Chromecast from Google. At only $35, every penny you drop on the Chromecast will be well spent. The only difference between the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra when it comes to streaming is the resolution, so don’t stress about losing out on features just because you’re paying less. You can pick up the Chromecast Audio from Google, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target.
- If you mostly want a Chromecast to play music or other audio, pick up a Chromecast Audio. At the same $35 entry fee, the Chromecast Ultra has a dedicated DAC that helps your audio sound far improved over the standard HDMI-equipped Chromecast. Plus, you’ll probably want your Chromecast to be hooked up to a solid pair of speakers, not to play through your television’s sound system. Even if you have a home-theater audio setup, you can typically plug the Chromecast Audio into the back of the device for better sound. You can pick up the Chromecast Audio from Google, Best Buy, Walmart, and Target.
Amazon, unfortunately, has made the decision to not sell any Chromecast devices on their site; searching for a Chromecast will actually bring you results for their Fire TV line, which is in direct competition with Chromecast in the cheap home theater market. This isn’t the only way Amazon has tried to undermine Google’s efforts in making the Chromecast a powerful place to watch your media, though we’ll discuss their other limitations in a later section. For now, just know that the best way to pick up a Chromecast is either through your local electronics store, or buy using the sites linked above to purchase online.
Setting Up Your Chromecast
Alright, you’ve purchased your desired Chromecast device and it’s finally in your hand, either after waiting for days by the mailbox or by taking a quick trip to the store. Now that you have it, it’s easy to get setup and to start streaming from your home devices without much effort on your part. The setup process on the traditional Chromecast and the audio-only Chromecast are a bit different when compared, so we’ve split them into different sections so as to make sure each user is setting up their device in the correct fashion. Let’s take a look.
Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra
In the box for your new Chromecast, you’ll find the standard items: the power cable, a small power adapter, and of course, the Chromecast itself. On the Chromecast Ultra, you’ll notice the power cable and the power adapter are connected, as well as an Ethernet port embedded in the power adapter of your cable. If you wish to use an Ethernet connection for your device, you’ll want to make sure you plug in your Ethernet cable into the adapter before setup. Also note that the traditional Chromecast uses a USB power cable, which allows you to plug your Chromecast into the USB port on the back of your television, if applicable. The Chromecast Ultra must be powered by the included power adapter, because it required more input power than what the USB port on your television can deliver. If you have a Chromecast and you wish to plug in your USB cable, Google recommends using the included AC adapter. Once it’s properly powered, plug your device into your television’s HDMI port.
Next up, you’ll need to download Google’s Home application onto your phone. This app was formerly known as Google Cast, but following the launch of the Google Home smart speaker, was renamed to featuring Google Home branding. The Google Home app is available on both Android and iOS, and if you don’t have a smartphone or tablet to complete the setup with, you can also use any computer running Chrome by following the steps outlined here.
Once you’ve downloaded the Google Home app onto your device, make sure the Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra is properly plugged into your television and has powered on correctly. Tune your television so as to display Google’s Chromecast interface on your screen, and open up the Google Home app on your device. Tap on “Get Started” within the app and select the Google account on your device to link your profile to the Chromecast itself. Accept the permissions requested by Google and wait as Google Home scans to find your Chromecast. Once your device is found, tap Next on your display and wait for your phone or tablet to connect directly to your new Chromecast. Both devices will display a code; ensure the codes match on both devices and tap Yes. If you don’t see a code, make sure that you’re close to your Chromecast device and tap “Try Again” to scan for your device. Since you haven’t yet set up the internet on your device quite yet, you’ll want to make sure you’re nearby for your devices to match with each other locally.
After your devices have matched codes, you’ll want to set the region on your new Chromecast. Tap the region list and select your region from the menu. Then, hit continue to select the room you’ve located the Chromecast. You can choose the room where your device is located, making it easy to help you choose the device you want to stream to if you have multiple Cast-enabled devices. This basically becomes the name of your device, so when you select the Cast menu on your screen, you’ll see this enabled on your display when selecting from the Cast menu in-app. Finally, you’ll want to select the network for your device. This differs based on whether you’re connecting to WiFi or Ethernet, so choose your version below:
- For WiFi: Select the WiFi network you wish to connect to from this display. This will bring you to a field to enter your password. If your phone or tablet is already on your network, you can tap “Get Password” on your display to automatically have Android enter your home network password into the Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra, though do note that this will require Android 5.0 or higher to work. On iOS devices, you’ll have to enter your password manually. Tap the Connect button to finish setting up your device.
- For Ethernet: Make sure your Ethernet cable is connected between your router and your Chromecast. If required, you may be prompted to enter a password for your network. Once you’ve successfully connected your device, you’ll be up and running with a wired connection.
Once your network setup is complete, you’re all set to go. The Google Home app will finish by asking you to subscribe to email updates; you don’t have to if you don’t wish to have your email spammed with messages from Google, though they can be handy in finding out about new hardware from the search giant. Once that’s set, you’ll see a display showing you a confirmation of your setup process, and that’s that—you’re all set to stream content to your Chromecast. Of course, to learn how to do that, you’ll need the next part in our guide, so skip below the Chromecast Audio instructions below to continue learning how to stream with Chromecast!
Setting up a Chromecast Audio isn’t too different from the steps involved with setting up a traditional Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra, but since there’s no visual component to the Chromecast Audio, everything you see and do will have to be done entirely on your phone, tablet, or computer, all without being able to view confirmation displays on your television. It’s a fairly simple process however, as it is with the Chromecast method described above, and just as with the video streaming stick, we’ll need to download the Google Home (formerly Google Cast) application to your iOS or Android device. You can view the instructions for setting up your device on a computer here; otherwise, grab your phone or tablet and follow along!
In the box you’ll find the Chromecast Audio, complete with its vinyl-styled shell, the power adapter and USB cable, and a 3.5mm stereo cable that is designed to plug into the Chromecast and run to your speakers. As with the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra, the Audio plugs into any outlet using the included power adapter and cable, and the 3.5mm stereo cable plugs directly into your speakers or receiver. Once your device is plugged into both a power source and your speaker system, it’s time to use the Google Home app to finish setup.
Much of this will sound familiar to anyone who has used a Chromecast device in the past. Tap on “Get Started” within the app and select the Google account on your device to link your profile to the Chromecast Audio itself. Accept the permissions requested by Google and wait as Google Home scans to find your Chromecast. Once your device is found, tap Next on your display and wait for your phone or tablet to connect directly to your new Chromecast. Your Chromecast Audio will then produce a sound on the device to make sure you’re setting up the device, replacing the code system usually used when setting up a Chromecast device with a screen. When you hear the sound produced by your speakers, tap “Yes” on your display. If you don’t hear the sound, make sure you’re close to the Chromecast device and tap “Try Again” on your display. Also make sure your speaker system is properly powered on, and that the volume is up on your device.
After you’ve identified your Chromecast Audio device to Google, you’ll be asked to send your usage data to Google, though you can disable this service by toggling off the switch on your device’s screen. Then tap the region list and select your region from the menu. Then, hit continue to select the room you’ve located the Chromecast. You can choose the room where your device is located, making it easy to help you choose the device you want to stream to if you have multiple Cast-enabled devices. After you’ve finished entering your room information, you’ll also have to enter your WiFi information onto your device. As we outlined above with the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra guide, the Google Home app will automatically detect your WiFi password if you’re connected to that network and using a device with Android 5.0 or above. If you’re using an iPad or iPhone to setup your Chromecast Audio, you’ll need to manually enter your password and hit “Connect” on your screen. Google Home will ask to remember this network on your account, making setting up future Google Home or Chromecast devices a cinch.
Finally, your Chromecast Audio will ask for information about your address, and will attempt to pre-fill your address by using your location. You don’t need to provide an address if you don’t wish to, but Google Assistant, which works with Chromecast, won’t be able to answer questions about local weather, traffic, and businesses. The Google Home app will finish by asking you to subscribe to email updates; you don’t have to if you don’t wish to have your email spammed with messages from Google, though they can be handy in finding out about new hardware from the search giant. Once that’s set, you’ll see a display showing you a confirmation of your setup process, and that’s that—you’re all set to stream music or other audio sources to your Chromecast Audio!
Understanding How Chromecast Works
Chromecast doesn’t have a menu interface with a remote control that users interact with. Instead, everything happens on your phone, from selecting your media to playing and pausing playback of a movie, or skipping to the next song in a playlist. Though it may seem like Google is essentially pushing the media from your phone or tablet to your Chromecast or Chromecast Audio, that isn’t actually what’s happening. Instead, Google is actually sending your Chromecast a custom URL link to a feed that your Chromecast then plays back, either visually or audibly. This means your Chromecast is actually running a basic version of Google Chrome, and everything you’re playing back on your television is actually displayed as a web application. This allows your phone to be used as a remote control for your Chromecast, since there’s a channel of open communication between the devices. Howstuffworks has a great explainer on the technical nitty-gritty on how Chromecast functions over at their website where they dive into some real nerdy stuff, so make sure to check that out!
Learning to Cast Media
Now that you have your Chromecast, Chromecast Ultra, or Chromecast Audio setup both in your house and linked to your Google account, it’s simple to begin casting content from your phone to your local network. There are several different ways to cast media from your smartphone, tablet, or computer using Google Chrome, and it makes sending music or videos through your network a whole lot easier than simply relying on the built-in apps that ship with most Smart TVs these days. Let’s take a look at all the different variations on streaming content from your smartphone, tablet, and even your computer to your Chromecast or Chromecast Audio.
Casting Media from an Android or iOS Device
For the majority of consumers learning how to use their Chromecast devices, this is how you’ll be interacting with the gadget 99 percent of the time. Chromecast and Chromecast Audio are both designed to stream media from your device wirelessly, and while what you can stream from the device largely depends on looking at each app on a case-by-case basis, for the most part, you’re likely to find that your favorite apps all have Cast support baked right into their interface. If you’re wondering why you’ve never noticed the option to stream to a Cast-enabled device before, it’s likely because most Android and iOS apps that support Cast are designed to only show the option to stream to Cast devices whenever an applicable device is nearby.
So, with that said, make sure your Chromecast or Chromecast Audio is enabled and grab your Android or iOS device. We’ll be using Android screenshots in this guide, since Chromecast products are primarily designed to support Android devices, though they function with iPhones and iPads as well. For the most part, you’ll find the majority of common applications have some form of Chromecast support built in, on both Android and iOS. You can find a partial list of applications on Wikipedia here, and if the app you’re trying to use isn’t listed, typically each app developer is typically fairly open whether they support Cast within their application. Unfortunately, you may need to use alternatives to your favorite apps when trying to use Chromecast regularly with iOS, as some developers have opted not to add in support for Google’s popular standard. For example, while all of Google’s applications (Play Music, YouTube, etc.) have built-in support for Cast on both iOS and Android, iOS users will find that their standard Apple apps only worth with Airplay. For example, if you want to listen to a podcast over your Chromecast Audio device, you’ll have to find a third-party app like Pocket Casts that supports Cast on iOS. Both the Apple-made Podcasts app and the popular Overcast application for iOS have chosen to forego including Cast support.
All that said, if you have a device that supports casting, it’s as easy as opening the app on your iOS or Android device and waiting for your phone or tablet to connect to Chromecast. After a few moments, you should see the Cast icon appear in the top-right corner of your display. Tapping on that icon will bring forward a list of Cast-enabled devices, which, in addition to your Chromecast, will also list any Google Home products in your house (Home, Home Mini, and the upcoming Home Max), in addition to any other smart televisions or apps that also support Cast, like Netflix and YouTube on other platforms. Simply select the device of your choice you wish to cast with, and you’ll see the video or audio appear on your television or speaker, respectively. Casting from your mobile device is, by far, the easiest way to broadcast media from your device to a Chromecast-enabled television or speaker.
Casting Media from a Computer
That said, it’s pretty easy to use your Chromecast in tandem with your existing computer too. All you’ll need is a laptop or desktop capable of running Chrome, which means you can use Windows, MacOS, Linux, or even a Chromebook to cast media from your device. Casting from a computer required you to use Chrome as your browser, so Microsoft Edge or Apple Safari users will have to keep Chrome installed and open on their devices for this to work. However, there is a benefit to casting from a computer, and it comes from the ability to cast video or audio from both Chromecast-enabled sources and the ability to mirror your computer’s entire desktop interface to your television, similar to what we’ve seen from Apple’s Airplay on MacOS.
First, let’s talk about the basic ability to cast from sites that already have support for Chromecast built in, like Netflix or YouTube. You probably know these sites well, since they’re some of the largest entertainment offerings in the business today. Nevertheless, casting from your computer is a bit different than casting from, say, your mobile device. You’ll need to start by loading up the site you wish to cast from, while also making sure your Chromecast device is up and running. Once that’s all set, begin to playback a video from your source site and look for the cast icon to popup within the player interface of your video. Obviously, this won’t work for every video played inside Chrome, but a large majority of video players should have Cast support built-in and ready to go. The only four currently enabled are, unsurprisingly, Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Music, and Google Play Movies, but Google has promised more are coming in the near-future. Hopefully Spotify support isn’t far down the line.
That said, if you’re looking to stream content like Spotify to your Chromecast from your computer, you aren’t out of luck. Google makes it easy to mirror your entire computer or simply a single tab from your browser, and it’s something we’ll discuss in our “Chromecast Tricks” section below in more detail.
Casting Local Media from your Device
Google focuses nearly entirely on streaming content from the web to your Chromecast device, largely because of how Chromecast works to begin with. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to stream local media from your device. The easiest way to stream local photos and videos from your device is to use Google’s own Photos app, which allows you to backup your collection to the web for free with a high-quality resolution, but you can also use an app called AllCast to stream content on your device not hosted in Google’s cloud service. AllCast has a free version, but you’ll want the $4.99 paid app if you’re looking to stream your favorite movies or TV shows stored locally on your device to your television or Chromecast-enabled speakers.
AllCast is an app from ClockworkMod, a developer team well-known for their custom recovery for rooted Android devices, as well as their ROM Manager applications and their app Vysor, designed for sharing your Android display on your computer. AllCast is perhaps their most popular app, which allows you to cast photos, music, and media straight from your phone to your Chromecast device, with additional support for the Fire Stick, Apple TV, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and other devices that typically lack support for Cast-based content. You’ll only be able to cast content that is stored locally on your device, so you won’t be using AllCast with Netflix, but it is a good way to add additional features to your device without much additional work. You’ll want to upgrade to AllCast Premium because the basic version has a five-minute limit on streaming content that makes it all but impossible to use to watch movies or television shows, but that doesn’t mean you can’t test out the app for free. Check out their Google Play listing here, and follow the guide on their site for more information if you have trouble setting up the app. In our testing, streaming content from our phone to a Chromecast device was all too easy with AllCast, and we even managed to cast to a Fire Stick from Amazon.
Casting Media Using the Google Home App
Last but not least, the Google Home app used to setup your Chromecast device is also capable of casting media straight from the included Google Home app. Google Home, previously Google Cast, is the app we used in our setup guide above to get your Chromecast working on your home network. While you can uninstall it from your iOS or Android device once you’ve completed setting up your device, Home actually can offer you a ton of useful content if you know where to look. In addition to being used with Guest Mode and to change the preferences on your Google Cast-enabled devices, Home also allows you to easily find content from your favorite music and video apps to stream from your devices. With integration from all sorts of sources, it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.
To search for content inside the Google Home application, all you’ll need to do is open the application and select the “Browse” tab from the bottom of your display. Here you’ll find a list of all the services linked with your Google Play account, like Spotify or Google Play Music, along with suggestions for what to listen to with your app. Play Music, for example, will show you contextually-based music suggestions, just as it would within the traditional app, but while making it easy to link directly to your Chromecast device. You’ll find content from all sorts of Cast-enabled sources, with movie recommendations from Netflix or suggested stations from Pandora, all by linking your accounts to Google Play. You can find more services at the bottom of your display.
The “Discover” tab works a bit differently than Browse, showing you suggested apps with Cast support to add to your phone or tablet that will make your media experience on Chromecast a bit more whole. You’ll find music apps like Deezer, or video apps like Hulu mentioned here, making it easy to find new apps to add to your collection. Finally, if you swipe open from the left side of your screen, you’ll reveal the menu that also allows you to select “Offers.” Here, you can find occasional deals based on the services you use that have built-in Cast support, though depending on your location and which Chromecast device you own, you may end up with a display that lacks any sort of deals whatsoever.
Overall, the Google Home app is a surprisingly great way to find new stuff to stream on your Chromecast you might not have heard about. Whether you’re looking to find the next hot Netflix original, or you want to listen to a new album release you didn’t know had dropped, the Google Home app is a great way to push all your favorite media apps into one giant conglomerate. In a way, Home acts like the missing UI component from the Chromecast line of devices so many users miss from similar streaming platforms like the Fire Stick. No matter whether you’re on iOS or Android, definitely keep it around on your phone.
Other Chromecast Tricks
Using Chromecast and Google Home Together
Though Chromecast was originally announced as its own thing, Google’s rapid evolution of its Google Assistant product and the focus on developing their Google Home product line from a standalone smart speaker into three unique devices has pushed the Chromecast into a standard territory. Now known as Cast, Google’s way of pushing your content around its devices, your Chromecast can integrate directly with Google Home, allowing you to play content in your television or through your speakers without having to pick up your phone.
Let’s start with the most obvious application: Chromecast Audio. We’ve discussed the benefits to using Chromecast Audio over a Bluetooth adapter previously. It’s always on, there’s no need to pair it with new devices, and it integrates directly with your current speaker. In many ways, it seems like Google’s new Home Mini could do the same at only a $15 price increase on top of the already-cheap $35 Chromecast Audio. The Home Mini speaker is actually pretty solid for its size and price, able to fill a room with clear sound, but it just can’t compare to something like a classic set of speakers, and unfortunately, the lack of a 3.5mm output jack on the back of the Home Mini means you won’t be pairing it with your bookshelf speakers anytime soon. But thanks to the Chromecast Audio, you won’t have to rely on the Home Mini’s speaker. By using your Google Home or Home Mini, you can ask your Google Assistant to play audio back on your Chromecast Audio.
To do this, you’ll need to ensure you know the name of your Chromecast Audio target, which you name during the setup process within the Google Home application. You can use your Google Home app to rename your Chromecast Audio device, by renaming the room it’s set in. For example, if your Chromecast Audio device is labeled “Bedroom Speakers,” you’ll need to remember that name in order to properly play audio on your speakers through your Chromecast Audio. Once you’ve properly named the Chromecast device you wish to stream to, you’ll be using your voice to control the rest of the ecosystem. So, once you’ve setup your Google Home Mini and your Chromecast Audio, all you’ll need to do is give voice commands to initialize the system. For example, if you want to play Taylor Swift on your Chromecast Audio-connected speakers, just say “OK Google, play Taylor Swift on Bedroom Speakers.” Google Home will then give you a confirmation prompt, and you should begin to hear a Taylor Swift playlist or radio station play on your device. This system will default to using the default music app of your choice, so if you prefer Spotify over Google Home, make sure to set your preferences to match.
The same way that you can begin playing back content with these instructions, you can also control your media using these devices. If you need to raise or lower your volume, you can ask Google to do so by using commands like “OK Google, turn it up.” Google Home should remember the content you have playing back on a device, so asking Google to pause a song or skip to the next track in your playlist shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, when it comes to basic music streaming, you should be able to use Google Home for most of your controls, even while playing on your Chromecast Audio.
Though we’ve been using Chromecast Audio as an example of how to do wireless audio streaming on the cheap with your existing speakers, make no mistake: Google Home also works with your traditional Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra devices. All you have to do is ask your Google Home to playback content and name the device, and Google will push the video to your television. For example, if you’re looking to watch Master of None on Netflix, just ask Google “OK Google, play Master of None on Living Room TV.” This does require you to link your Google account and your Netflix account together within the settings of Google Home, something you can find out how to do on Netflix’s website here. Finally, using Google Home to control the video side of Chromecast is still fairly early in development, and is only supported on these platforms:
You can find much more information about the video side of Google Home and Chromecast integration by checking out their support site here.
Mirroring Your Display Using Chromecast (Android and Chrome Only)
You can use your Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra to mirror your phone, tablet, or computer display wirelessly and effortlessly on your screen. While this may not be the perfect solution for watching video, it does make using an HDMI cable hooked up to your computer a thing of the past when you’re looking to mirror a web page, show some friends photos on your computer, or just need a way to display your computer on a larger display, the best way to do it without a physical cable is by using a Chromecast with Google Chrome running on your device.
On Android, you’ll need to have the Google Home app open on your device. Tap the triple-lined menu button in the top-left corner to open the sliding menu, and tap “Cast Screen/Audio” at the top selection of the list. You’ll receive the menu option to cast your screen or audio from your phone or tablet to any Cast-enabled devices, including speakers, televisions, or Google Home. Tap on the blue button to begin searching for a Cast-enabled device. When the “Cast to” prompt opens, find the name of your personal Chromecast device, and select the option to mirror your Android phone or tablet’s screen. It’s important to remember that, when you’re mirroring your screen instead of casting, your device will be using additional battery power and will drain far quicker. Casting allows you to simply tell the Chromecast what to pull down from the cloud; mirroring is actively using your device to display information from one screen to another. If you’re concerned about your battery life, plug your phone or tablet into a wall outlet using the AC adapter shipped with your device.
With Chrome on your Windows, Mac, or Chrome OS-based devices, you’ll have the option to mirror both a single tab or your entire desktop. Start by installing Chrome onto your computer if you haven’t, or by making sure you’re running the latest version of Chrome by clicking on the triple-dotted menu icon in the top-right corner of the display, opening your settings menu, and selecting “About Chrome” from the sliding menu on the left side of the screen. Once you’re running the most up-to-date version of Chrome on your computer, use that same triple-dotted menu icon in the top-right corner to drop down the Chrome menu, then select “Cast.” This will open up a small dialogue box on your display allowing you to choose a device to cast content. Clicking on the “Cast to” menu in the top of the blue panel will allow you to select between mirroring just the tab and mirroring your whole desktop. While video can occasionally stutter when choosing to use this method, overall, it’s the best way to stream certain providers that don’t let you use Cast on their mobile applications.
Guest Mode and Using Your Device With Friends and Visitors
One way that Chromecast truly shines is through the use of Guest Mode, which makes the streaming stick perhaps the most useful device on the market for hosting parties or watching movies together with friends. We don’t say this lightly—nearly every other device compared to Chromecast is a joke when it comes to sharing control with your family and friends. There are two ways to interact with your Chromecast throughout regular use. Typically, interacting with your Castr device requires you to be on the same wireless network as your device, as that neighbors or people passing by your apartment are unable to stream content to your Chromecast. For most day-to-day use, this is fine. Even if you have a family of five or more, each with their own devices, they’ll all share a network together, making it easy for any user to stream Netflix or Hulu to the living room television.
This goes double for friends that happen to have access to your wireless network. For example, if you have a few friends over and you’re looking to build a queue of music to listen to inside of Spotify, every individual can use Cast to add their favorite tracks to their playlist. YouTube works really well for this, since adding a video or song to the streaming queue can be done for free with the YouTube app from both within a browser and on an iOS or Android device.
But what happens when you have twenty or thirty people over for an event, and you don’t want to give out your wireless information to every stranger who walks into your house party, while still allowing people to build a queue? That’s where Chromecast truly shines with a feature called Guest Mode. Guest Mode is an optional feature within Chromecast that allows users to connect to a Chromecast device without first being connected to the network that Chromecast devices runs on. To do this, you’ll first need to set up Guest Mode by diving back into the Google Home application. Tap Devices in the upper-right corner of your display and select the Chromecast device on which you want to enable Guest Mode. In the top-right corner of the display, you’ll find a triple-dotted menu icon; tap it and select “Guest Mode,” and make sure the toggle is enabled. This will only enable Guest Mode for that single device, so if you’re hoping to only enable the mode on, say, your Chromecast Audio and not the device in your bedroom, you’ll be all set to go.
Activating Guest Mode allows your Chromecast or Chromecast Audio device to emit a special WiFi beacon that acts like a low-range, private network. So, when someone not on your local network launches YouTube on their phone and taps on the Cast icon inside the top of the application, you’ll be able to select the Guest Mode-enabled device as a local option on your Chromecast. Then, your device will generate a random 4-digit PIN. That PIN is accessed three different ways, and if you’re worried about random people managing to find your access code without permission, don’t worry: they’ll have to come through you to get the code. Here’s where you can find the Guest Mode PIN:
- On the Chromecast backdrop, with the 4-digit number appearing somewhere near the bottom of the display. Obviously, this won’t work with your Chromecast Audio devices.
- On the device card inside the Google Home App. Open up your Home application and tap on the Devices icon in the top-right to view your synced devices. Select your Chromecast device with Guest Mode enabled and you’ll view an information card for that specific Chromecast. You’ll find the random PIN under your device name.
- You can also find the PIN inside the Google Home app by diving into the Guest Mode settings we described early. Underneath the switch to enable or disable your Chromecast’s Guest Mode, you’ll see the PIN listed as an option.
When the PIN is entered by an individual not on your network, they gain access to the local network enabled by your Chromecast device, which means they can automatically start casting content from their iOS or Android devices. Guest Mode is disabled by default, so you’ll have to enable it during setup or by following the steps above, which helps to provide some additional security with your Chromecast. Speaking of security, your guest PIN refreshes every 24 hours, which means no reoccurring house guests can just jump on your Chromecast’s guest network whenever they feel like it. Guest Mode is ideal for parties or large gatherings where users may want people to have access to the Chromecast from their device without giving out your private internet access information.
Using a Chromecast With Your Xbox One
Believe it or not, you can actually use your Chromecast with your Xbox One, Xbox One S, or your Xbox One X. No, this doesn’t come down to some strange deal made on the side with Google and Microsoft. Instead, you actually plug your Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra into the back of your Xbox One, which has a built-in HDMI input on the back of the device. This HDMI input was designed to add the ability to watch cable television through the Xbox’s interface. While Microsoft has since downplayed the media capabilities of the Xbox One, instead choosing to focus on gameplay as much as possible. Despite this, all three models of the Xbox One still support HDMI-in. Most electronics that aren’t monitors or displays feature an HDMI-out port, meaning video and audio services can be outputted through that port into a display. The Xbox One, however, supports both HDMI-out and HDMI-in.
We actually have a full guide to understanding how to use your Chromecast with your Xbox One, One S, or One X, that you can view here. For brevity’s sake, here’s a quick start guide to help you use your Chromecast with your Xbox One console. You’ll need to start by plugging your Chromecast into the HDMI-input port on the back of your Xbox, and plugging the USB power source into either the Xbox One or the included AC adapter. Once you’ve plugged in your device, power on your Xbox One and find the TV app on your device’s home menu. A display will appear on your device inviting you to “Watch TV on your Xbox”; select “Set up your cable or satellite box.” While the Chromecast is by no means a DVR or cable box, all we’re trying to do is get the Xbox One to recognize the device as a media input. Once your Xbox One has detected your Chromecast (by displaying a simple message saying “We’ve detected a signal from your cable or satellite box”), select the “Next” button on your display, which will show a few more setup screens before finally allowing you to use your Chromecast through your Xbox One.
What makes using your Chromecast and Xbox One together so great is the ease of use of balancing two different media universes. Your Chromecast makes it easy to stream most of the content directly from your phone, including video from Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and more. What’s better, though, is that you also get the benefit of being able to stream content that would otherwise be inaccessible through Xbox’s apps, like your Google Play content. Nearly every media app on the Play Store has built-in support for Chromecast, and the only major app that doesn’t—Amazon Instant Video—has an app for the Xbox One. In addition to the bonus of combining media content from Google Play, you can also use this as an opportunity to consolidate your HDMI ports on your television, using one port for both devices. Plus, one of the coolest features of the Xbox interface, Snap, allows you to display your Chromecast on one side of the display and use the remaining part of the screen to play a game or display a second app.
What Can’t a Chromecast Do?
This is the ultimate question, isn’t it? While your Chromecast device happens to be one of our favorite streaming boxes out there, it isn’t perfect—not by a long shot. When it comes to streaming content to your television or a pair of speakers, you’ll find most of your favorite content just work out of the box. Want to host a Stranger Things marathon on Netflix? Chromecast has you covered with support for Netflix. Watching a Let’s Play video on YouTube is also easy using just your phone or tablet, and you’ll find that other popular video apps like Hulu, NFL Sunday Ticket, FX Now, HBO Go and Now, and ESPN all have support for Chromecast built right into their applications, making it easy for you to stream your favorite content instantly. On the audio side of things, you can listen to your favorite music through Google Play Music or Spotify, browse through online radio stations on Pandora, or listen to podcasts through an app like Pocket Casts, all through both your television or your speakers with Chromecast Audio.
So what’s missing? Well, while you might find that smaller, independent apps are missing on a low-level scale, there are only two large applications that don’t feature built-in Cast support out of the box, and the culprits won’t surprise you. On the video side of things, Amazon’s Prime Video application is lacking Chromecast support entirely. Amazon only added their app back into the Play Store this year, and since Chromecast support is still missing, we don’t expect to see things improve anytime soon. The war between Amazon and Google has been going on for a few years now, basically since Amazon launched its own Android app store to compete with the Play Store, and the constant tit for tat between the two companies only hurts consumers. For example, Amazon has pulled the Chromecast from their digital store shelves and, as mentioned earlier in this guide, typically pushes consumers searching for a Chromecast towards the Amazon Fire Stick. Meanwhile, Google has pulled the YouTube app off of multiple Amazon products, including, most recently, the Amazon Echo Show.
As far as audio goes, the major player missing from Chromecast support is as equally unsurprising as Amazon. While Spotify, Tidal, and Google Play Music all offer Cast support, Apple has yet to add Casting to their app, despite being on the Google Play Store for nearly two years. It’s unclear whether Apple will ever add Cast support—though we’d rate it happening at a higher chance than Amazon adding support for Google Cast into their application, if only because Apple seems a bit more willing to play ball with Google that their Seattle-based competition. It’s unfortunate that these two applications remain free of any Cast support nearly half a decade into the existence of the standard, but that’s where things stand as of right now. Still, with these two exceptions aside, Cast is capable of playing back video or audio from nearly every app on your device, and that alone is a good reason to grab a Chromecast or two to spread around your house, with your assorted televisions and speakers.
Google’s Chromecast has grown into one mighty powerful platform, one that’s managed to outgrow many of its competitors to become a cross-platform hit for Android, iOS, and Chrome users around the world. At such a cheap entry price—and with multiple devices to help fit the use for every member of the family looking for a Cast device—it’s easy to jump into the world of streaming for very little money upfront. While plenty of users may find the lack of a UI and a dedicated remote disappointing, the ability to stream right from the phone you already have in your hand is ideal for a large percentage of consumers around the world. There’s no interface to learn, no adjustments that have to be made, and when you upgrade to a new device, your Chromecast continues to work just as it had before.
While Chromecast started as a small, one-size-fits-all gadget that had a basic purpose—move your entertainment from your phone to your television—so much has been added to the platform since its launch back in 2013. With the addition of mirroring your phone or computer display, using Guest Mode to host parties with friends, the ability to use Chromecast Audio devices to make your speakers smarter, and of course, growing integration with Google Home, it’s no surprise we’re absolutely head over heels with what’s offered with the Chromecast library today. It’s slowly become a must-have gadget for tech consumers everywhere, and it’s easy to see why. With this guide, we’ve covered nearly every special utility you can use your Chromecast for—but of course, new features and abilities get added all the times, and your library of apps help add even more utility to the tool. Let us know in the comments below what your favorite use for your Chromecast is, and as new features get added to the platform, we’ll make sure to shout them out in our guide above.