Google Chromecast is released today in the UK. The streaming stick, which plugs into the HDMI port of your telly, turns any old set into a smart television, allowing you to stream content from services such as YouTube and Netflix UK.
The device launched in the US last year as a rival to similar streaming devices such as Roku (who operate a range of set-top boxes with online connectivity) and Apple TV. It sold over 1 million units in 2013. Last month, Roku announced its own Streaming Stick, which also plugs into an HDMI port to Internetify – it’s a word, honest – your TV. The Streaming Stick will be released in April.
Now, though, Google has leapfrogged ahead, releasing in an additional 11 countries, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and, of course, the UK.
Chromecast costs £30 and will be available to buy from Amazon, Currys, PC World and directly from Google. The device will include a range of channels, including the newly added BBC iPlayer – an essential streaming platform for any device hoping to enter British living rooms.
“Apps” is perhaps a better word than “channels”, though: using Android’s operating system, Google says it has recently opened up Chromecast to developers: “In a few short weeks more than 3,000 developers worldwide have signed up to bring their apps and websites to Chromecast. You’ll soon have more TV shows, movies, videos, sports, music and games to choose from.”
Games is the key term to note, there, with Google placing as much emphasis on what you hold in your hand as to what you stream (or “cast”) onto the big screen. Indeed, the device has no remote and instead relies upon another device, such as a smartphone, computer or tablet, to control it.
Google’s stick has the upper hand against Apple’s already established streaming enabler: it may be smaller, but it’s also almost one-third of Apple’s £99 price tag, and is compatible with YouTube, Google Play Movies, Google Play Music and Netflix. It will not, though, feature any Apple compatibility.
Chromecast is also not yet offering Amazon Instant Video, ITV, Channel 4 or Five’s catch-up services, or Sky’s NOW TV, although Google says it is working with local content providers to bring more movies and TV shows to the platform. Indeed, Sky may seem like a rival, with its own range of NOW TV set-top boxes – made by Roku, but with Netflix removed, and priced at £10 – but as recent deals with YouView have shown, the company is not adverse to using other people’s platforms to secure more subscribers.
Google’s Chromecast sparks a new wave of devices coming onto the market targeting those with older sets not looking to upgrade their entire set to a Smart TV. At the moment, 26 per cent of the TV market is made of Smart TVs, while another quarter already use games consoles or Blu-ray players to provide online functionality. How big and active the demand is for Digital Media Adapters, though, remains to be seen.
As Tom Morrod, senior director of consumer electronics at research firm IHS, tells the Guardian: “Devices like this that plug into the TV to stream video or other media, including the Apple TV and Roku, typically don’t fly off the shelves.”
Is that about to change?