August 09, 2013

web tv

Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast (Photo credit: John Biehler)

I just got my Google Chromecast dongle; plugged it in and it's working fine. No idea if it is the wave of the future or another DOA-gadget, but it is intriguing. Here's my take on it and some of the previous technologies:

Chromecast - Enables you to share video, audio, and (chrome) browser tabs on an HDMI-capable TV set. Could be a likely next-gen use case. Get rid of the TV remote, never use the painful on-screen guide or the even worse user experience of Verizon/Comcast "on-demand" apps, and just navigate, etc using your personal tablet, phone, whatever.

The tablet interface is of course much nicer than any TV-remote, easy to look for shows, movies, esp from multiple conglomerates, independents, etc. Could well be that the TV becomes just an output device, like a printer. Will be even more fun when more Android apps turn on this functionality: One use case would be for family game nights, with the board/scores being displayed on the big screen. And being the geek that I am, I'd rather pop-up a map on the TV than insist people huddle over my notebook, or bring up a presentation or web page when chatting with friends about a topic.

Nexus Q - Interesting that this "cast"-ability was first available on the abandoned Google Nexus Q device from last year. Luckily I got it for free. Never understood why Google abandoned it; perfectly good Android device, with Google TV capabilities. It never had the apps that Google TV had, but it did have the "cast" feature where YouTube videos could be thrown on to the TV. Perhaps once they built this, Google realized that they didn't need the Q sphere, but just a dongle would do. Presumably some of the rendering of the apps/pages is done inside the google cloud data center and then just streamed to the Q and now the dongle. (Sort of like having Amazon's Kindle cloud-cache/renderer tee the output somewhere else).

Vizio Co-Star - I did buy a Vizio Co-Star for $100 for a better Google TV experience. That works pretty good, no need to "cast" stuff to the TV, the apps themselves run on the little box and display directly. Not all Android apps work, but many do. And, for example, there's an optimized Google TV Picasa app, somewhat better than casting the Picasa web page onto the screen. The remote control is bulky but one of the best devices that integrates an alphanumeric keypad (on the back) and a small trackpad (on the front). One good feature is that the remote control and the Co-Star integrate with your cable box, so you can pretty much run everything from one remote, and switch back and forth from normal TV to Android easily. (For those of us that haven't quite given up normal cable watching.)

Mac Mini

About eight years ago, with nothing like these devices available, I got myself a low-end Mac Mini to use as my dedicated computer/web interface for the TV. With a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, this worked pretty well, though the interface, of course, was mostly classic "PC" desktop. And having one more PC around the house to administer.


But for the original web tv interface, way back in the '90s, I purchased a real "WebTV" device. That wasn't too bad at all - pardoning the 2400 baud phone bandwidth available at the time. But I could certainly email, get news, and browse the web. There was even an app for reading Usenet, the original global social and technical media site.

Amazing - in a little under 20 years, I've gone from browsing the web on my TV to browsing the web on my TV. How things have changed!

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Posted by netrc at August 9, 2013 03:33 PM