By Bernadette Johnson

Most streaming media junkies already have some experience getting entertainment on their TV sets from Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube or the like. You can do it with gaming systems, DVRs, Blu-ray players, smart TVs that have streaming hardware built in and set-top boxes specifically designed for streaming, such as the Roku. But with the launch of Chromecast in July 2013, Google jumped into the streaming media game.

Chromecast is an enlarged thumb drive-sized dongle that plugs into a modern television set’s HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port and allows you to stream (or rather cast) media from your existing computer or mobile device through your home WiFi network and onto your TV screen. You can play movies and TV shows with resolution as high as 1080p, listen to music through your entertainment center’s sound system and even throw Web pages onto your TV screen in some cases.

Your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop acts as the initial launching site for the entertainment and as the remote for controlling what you see and hear on your TV screen. Provided you already have as suitable device running a compatible operating system and have WiFi through a compatible router, you get all this functionality for the cost of the Chromecast, which as of its debut was priced below most similar streaming devices at $35 retail.

Chromecast Technical Specifications

The Chromecast is small black device with a form factor similar to a bulbous flash drive. It’s 2.8 inches (72 millimeters) in length, 1.4 inches (35 millimeters) in width and 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) in height, with a weight of 1.2 ounces (34 grams). It has an HDMI output connector on one end and a micro-USB port on the other end. It also has a reset button and an LED status light.

Its innards include a motherboard with a system-on-a-chip processor, 512 megabytes (MB) of SDRAM, 2 gigabytes (GB) of flash memory and a WLAN WiFi, Bluetooth and FM module. Fun fact for any Douglas Adams aficionados: The device’s model number, H2G2-42, appears to be a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” reference [source: iFixit].

To use Chromecast, you will need a TV or monitor with at least one open HDMI port, which you should find on just about any high-definition (HD) television. The device has a maximum resolution video output of 1080p. Chromecast is Consumer Electronic Control (CEC) compatible. You’ll also need a good WiFi network connection. The WiFi is 802.11b/g/n (802.11n at 2.4GHz only) with WEP, WPA and WPA2 security.

The device comes with the following:

  • A USB power cable with a micro-USB connector at one end and a standard USB 2.0 connector at the other.
  • A power supply with a USB 2.0 port.
  • An HDMI extender.

The latter two of the above can be used optionally. The extender works to plug in the device if it won’t fit neatly in any of your available HDMI ports, but using it can also help improve WiFi reception if your Chromecast is having trouble connecting to your network.

The device is powered using the USB power cable plugged into the Chromecast via the micro-USB port, with the other end either plugged into a standard USB port or into the power adapter for insertion into a wall outlet.

Chromecast is supported with the following operating systems, although some of its features may work with slightly older OSes in a few cases:

  • Android Gingerbread 2.3 or higher.
  • Chrome OS (Chromebook Pixel on Chrome 28 or higher).
  • iOS 6.0 or higher (on iPhone, iPad and iPod).
  • Mac OS 10.7 or higher.
  • Windows 7 or higher.