Chromecasts are cheap enough to get them all, but we can guide you to make sure you get the one you need.
Streaming media isn’t a new idea. Internet radio and video sharing sites have been around for over a decade, and smartphones might not have become as popular (some say necessary) as they are today had Apple and Google not worked together in 2007 to bring H.264 YouTube streaming to the first iPhone. We want to watch and listen to the things we like on our own schedule, and we all want it to be easy to do while still looking and sounding great.
While there are dozens of different ways to stream media from the internet to your TV or stereo, Chromecast remains one of the most popular options because of the way you initiate things. Clunky and slow user interfaces are replaced by your phone or your web browser with the ability to handoff control between devices and to allow multiple people to get in on the fun. You are comfortable with the way your phone works, and you know how to use the tools it has. Adding in one button to send media streams to the television is just better than most anything else. Add in a low cost of entry and you have a recipe for success.
If you’re thinking of buying a Chromecast, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure you pick the right one. That’s where the Chromecast buyer’s guide comes in. In five minutes you’ll be able to make the right choice and get the device that suits your needs the best.
If you are looking for a way to get music from the internet — whether it be a subscription service like Spotify or Google Play Music or audio from YouTube or even music stored on your phone — the Chromecast Audio is a great way to do it.
It’s an audio-only device, so if you want to send video or images you’ll need to look at other options in our guide. But it’s a dedicated audio streamer done right. With a 24-bit audio decoder and both 3.5 mm and optical audio output through the mini toslink jack, you’ll be able to send high-quality audio to just about any speaker setup available. Setup is easy — provide power and plug an audio cable from the Chromecast output to the input jack on your receiver or powered speakers and you’re done. You can even run the output through a small bookshelf amplifier to create a complete stand-alone audio system that sounds a lot better than the price tag would suggest.
The Chromecast Audio is small and lightweight, uses very little power and delivers premium sound to almost any speaker or stereo system. If you’re looking for a way to play music from the internet on the system you have now or just plugging into the back of a small stand-alone speaker the Chromecast Audio is the best way to do it.
The Chromecast is the device that started Google down the path of streaming media. We’re currently at version two of the hardware, and there isn’t another way to get online video onto your TV screen that’s this easy or this inexpensive.
Setup is simple. Plug the Chromecast into an available HDMI port on your TV or receiver, provide USB input for power (either directly from the TV or through the included power adapter) and use the Google Home app to get your Chromecast onto your Wi-Fi and able to be seen from your phone or laptop. Speedy and robust 5GHz ac Wi-Fi means you’ll be able to stream HD content (up to 1080p) smoothly and easily. Fallback to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is available if you have a lot of interference on your network so you won’t miss a thing. And as mentioned, watching a movie or show on the best screen in your house is as easy as tapping a button on your phone screen.
Unless you have a 4K TV and a fast connection to the internet to stream UHD HDR content, the Chromecast is the right tool to get the job done cheaply and easily.
The premium offering in Google’s Chromecast lineup, the Chromecast Ultra can deliver full UHD (4K) content in HDR to your high-end television, and it’s as easy to set up and use as the rest of the Chromecast family.
The Ultra costs a little more, but everything about it is an improvement over the regular Chromecast. You’ll need a better processor and more power to deliver demanding UHD HDR content and the Chromecast Ultra has that covered. The standard 5GHz/2.4GHz Wi-Fi option is available, but the Ultra also has a Gigabit Ethernet port built into the power supply (which you’ll need to use because your TV can’t deliver enough power for the Ultra) if you want the backhaul and speed a wire can offer. You’ll also need to have a fast connection — 20Mbs sustained not peak — and have a service like Netflix that can deliver UHD content. Using the Ultra is the same as the regular Chromecast — as easy as tapping a button.
The Chromecast Ultra is for people who have high-end equipment and the internet speed to bring 4K streams to their television. But it’s also a great way to be “future-proof” because your next TV will be 4K.
No matter what your needs are, there’s a Chromecast that can fill them and is in your budget!
Update August 2017: This post was updated with the latest information about Chromecast devices.