When we first reviewed the Chromecast back in 2013 we showed you how to set it up, but the Chromecast now comes in a sleeker, more powerful, and better designed package so we’re back with updated instructions.
What’s New With The Chromecast?
The most obvious change with the Chromecast is the form factor. The rigid HDMI-stick form factor is gone now and has been replaced with a flexible cable attached to a disk-shaped device. This is a great change as it makes it easier to position the Chromecast behind your HDTV and it better protects the Chromecast from damage. The original Chromecast had a seldom used extender (that we received more than a few emails about over the years) designed specifically to both improve the Wi-Fi signal and protect the HDMI jack. The new design builds a flexible extender right into the unit and ensures people use the feature (whether they need it or not).
Speaking of signal strength the new Chromecast features an updated Wi-Fi radio that finally supports 5GHz networks via 802.11ac wireless. For those who have had headaches with the 2.4GHz band it’s a welcome relief to both get a faster connection and the ability to move to a less congested band.
In addition to other small hardware changes under the hood the biggest change is brand new control software that radically extends the usefulness of the Chromecast. The old Chromecast app was pretty elementary and, while it got the job done, it existed pretty much to set up the Chromecast for the first time and find apps to use with it. The new Chromecast app will actually keep you coming back with features like the “Fast Play” prediction algorithm that pre-caches content it predicts you will want to watch across the services you use like Netflix and YouTube so you always get a snappy and ready to go playback experience.
Better yet, the Chromecast app now serves as a unified search platform for the video services you use; it’s never been easier to find exactly what you want to watch on the Chromecast than it is now with the new and updated software.
Finally, although it has yet to prove as popular as the traditional Chromecast, the new Chromecast update rolls out an audio-only Chromecast designed to link your streaming music services to your stereo.
If you already have a Chromecast you’re likely curious if it’s worth upgrading to the new model. Just like the old Chromecast the new Chromecast costs $35 (with an occasional sale here or there). If it’s in your budget to replace your Chromecast with the new one, we’d certainly recommend doing so: it really is a faster and smoother experience. If it’s not in your budget, don’t worry. The old Chromecast is compatible with the new software and will keep working just as well as it always has.
Setting Up The Chromecast
The setup process hasn’t changed much since the original Chromecast but it’s way more polished now. Unpack your Chromecast, plug it in, and you’re treated to clear step-by-step instructions.
If you don’t already have the Chromecast app installed on your smartphone or tablet, now is a great time to do so.
With the app installed, launch the app and select the “Devices” tab at the top of the screen. There you’ll find your new Chromecast ready for set up. Unless you live in a population-dense area like a college dorm or apartment complex you really don’t need to double check the identity of your Chromecast, but if you desire to do so you can look at the screen of your HDTV and the name of the Chromecast on the setup screen in the app to confirm they’re the same unit (you can see in the two screenshots above that both read Chromecast5108). Select “Set Up”.
The app will indicate the setup process is starting, prompt you to select “Next” and then you’ll see the screen above, on your mobile device, with a 4 character alpha-numeric confirmation code.
Confirm that the same code, as seen above, appears on the screen of your HDTV. Again, unless you live in a high-density area the chances of you setting up somebody else’s Chromecast is slim. Where this is handy, however, is if you’ve bought lots of Chromecasts. We’re huge fans of the Chromecast and with at least one Chromecast on every floor it’s definitely possible to mix them up.
Next, on your mobile device, select your region (e.g. The United States), then you’ll be prompted to name your Chromecast for easy identification and to toggle options like enabling guest mode and crash reporting.
The crash reporting bit is self explanatory, but if you’d like to read more about guest mode (which allows guests to use your Chromecast without logging into your Wi-Fi) you can read our full guide to enabling and using Chromecast’s guest mode here. In short: don’t worry about random people connecting to your Chromecast from the apartment down the hall; you need to see the actual screen and use the PIN on the screen in order to connect.
Finally, plug in the credentials for the Wi-Fi network you wish to connect the Chromecast too. If you have multiple Wi-Fi networks in your home and/or distinct SSIDs on your main router be sure to put the Chromecast on the Wi-Fi network/SSID you normally use with the device you intend to cast from (e.g. your iPhone) because it must be on the same Wi-Fi node.
Using Your Chromecast
There are two ways to use the Chromecast. You can cast from a mobile device and you can cast from your computer via Chrome browser plugin. If you want the full run down on the desktop casting option.
Although the desktop casting function has its uses the mobile casting experience is far more polished and certainly the source of the Chromecast’s popularity.
The easiest way to get started actually using the Chromecast is to use the Chromecast app to see what apps you already have on your phone that support casting. After completing the setup open up the Chromecast app.
In the screenshot above you can see that the Chromecast app has already populated the “What’s On” tab, the default view, with potential YouTube videos and Netflix content because we have both apps on our iPhone.
If you don’t have any apps yet or want to explore what else is out there, you can either select the “Get Apps” tab as seen above or you can scroll to the bottom of the “What’s On” tab where you’ll both see other apps on your device that can cast to the Chromecast (like Plex or other streaming apps) and you can click “Get More” beside those apps to search for more related apps.
Searching for Content
While we’re still in the Chromecast app let’s take a look at the new unified search function that really makes it easy to search across services like YouTube, Netflix, and Google Play to find the content you’re looking for. Let’s say, for example, want to get started with the popular TV show The Walking Dead.
Simply enter the key words for the content you’re looking for in the search box, found at the top of the Chromecast app, and you’ll be treated to a page of search results right inside the application.
Select the result you want, in this case the entry for the original series as seen above to the right.
There you’ll find a summary of the show and, most importantly, a “Watch” button linking you right to the Netflix app. If you tap the “Watch” button Netflix will launch just as if you had searched for the show within the app. Let’s take a look at how to cast the show to your TV in the next section.
Once you’ve loaded an app with Chromecast compatibility, like the Netflix app we just launched courtesy of our search query in the Chromecast app’s unified search dashboard, playback is as easy as can be (and this ease of use is definitely why the Chromecast is so wildly popular).
Any time you’re in an application that can cast to the Chromecast the Chromecast logo, seen above in the upper right-hand side of the screenshot, will appear. Tap the icon and the mobile app you’re using will automatically kick the stream over to the Chromecast and the stream will begin playback.
The extra nice thing about the Chromecast is that all the unpacking/decompression of the video stream is handled by the Chromecast itself (not the casting device) so even if your device is old, battered, and sporting a slow processor you can still use the Chromecast with ease. A such old Android and iOS devices make for great Chromecast “remote controls” you can leave plugged in next to the couch in the living room.