TL;DR version: The Google Chromecast offers tremendous potential for use as a presentation device in the classroom. As a natural extension of Google Apps for Educators environment using Chromebooks with students, it allows for easy projection. There are several hurdles that will interfere with initial use of the Chromecast. I anticipate brisk innovations and development that will nullify these challenges.
I just received my Google Chromecast and quickly hooked it up to the TV in our living room. I have one on order from Amazon that should be here tomorrow. I stopped by Best Buy and was stoked to find out that they just received 7 units in their shipment. I spent a little time testing it out with various devices here at home and I have a couple of thoughts about how I’ll possibly use it in the classroom…and on the road.
Using RASPMBC on Raspberry Pi as a comparison point
At home I already have a sweet media system set-up. I have a Raspberry Pi running RASPBMC hooked up to every TV. These units all “talk” to the media server I have running in the basement. It did take some time to set up, and it is a bit “techie” but it works…and it works well. A couple things are different in running the Raspberry Pi than are found in the Chromecast. Most notably is the use of wifi as opposed to hard wiring the network connection. I can also use Airplay on the Raspberry Pi. I also have the ability to search and play most online video channels, including YouTube on the Pi. The reason I’m going into this much detail is because it serves as a decent base comparison for my review and thinking about the Chromecast. Below you can see a photo of the Raspberry Pi and the wood housing I bought for it. I’ll put together a post later on how to set up your own Raspberry Pi HTPC.
Chromecast Setup & Testing
Initial setup of the Chromecast was simple. Plug it into the HDMI port, and then plug the micro USB power cord in the other end. I have USB outputs on the back of the TV and I just plugged it in there. I used the Android app on my phone to connect to the Chromecast and connect it to the wifi in my house. The Chromecast quickly connected to my wifi and immediately pointed out that I needed to use specific apps (YouTube, Netflix, and Chrome) to send content to the Chromecast. I tested out YouTube from my phone and it streamed the video clips. I did notice that the YouTube clips that look great in HD on an iPad, projector, or phone…look lousy on a big HD TV.
I then tested the iPad with Chromecast to see how well it would push content…and what could I send to the Chromecast. YouTube instantly recognized the Chromecast on the same wifi network. Playback was instant…and once again quality was lousy (at least in comparison to the Raspberry Pi). After the video got started, there was some buffering of the clip while playing. I couldn’t figure out how to test other content on the iPad…but I’m sure that’s coming.
Finally, the big test for me was my Samsung Chromebook. I installed the Google Cast app in the Chrome store. It connected easily and I was able to mirror my Chrome browser up on the TV. Basically think of it as mirroring one tab from Chrome through Chromecast. Quality was excellent, audio was great. There was one little element that stuck out, it was super laggy. As I tried to scroll up and down on the screen on my Chromebook, playback was delayed on the Chromecast. I received tons of warnings about how the connection wasn’t great and possible reasons why.
I equate the “lagginess” and poor quality & buffering on YouTube clips to the wifi in my house. One key element of the Chromecast is the quality of the wifi you’re working with. If your wifi and Internet is lousy (…ahem AT&T U-verse…), then performance with the Chromecast will be severely affected. I also think this is due to the fact that the Chromecast is brand new. As they improve on the software, I think it will only improve. It will never get as good as a hard wired network connection, but many times we don’t have that luxury.
Chromecast in the classroom
Now that I’ve had a chance to play with the Chromecast at home, I’m wondering about bringing it into the classroom…and possibly on the road for presentations. The challenge with bringing it to either location is two-fold. The first problem is that a majority (if not all) smart classrooms, and set-ups for presentations run on a VGA connection. I would like to only use my Chromebook for talks, teaching, and my own writing. To do this I need to be able to use my Chromebook in much the same way that I have with my MacBook Pro. I would also see the power of using Chromecast in a classroom full of Chromebooks by allowing students to easily broadcast their Chrome tabs to the Chromecast. In this situation, once again the challenge is the use of VGA connections for most display equipment. One other factor that usually haunts me when I teach or present is the wifi at the location. Usually the wifi is non-existent…or (as is the case at school) so locked down that devices cannot “talk” to each other over the wireless. Nevertheless, I think the Chromecast has tremendous potential in the classroom to allow students on Chromebooks, laptops, tablets…and even mobile phones to all project easily to the class.
The Future of Chromecast
At this point, the Raspberry Pi, and RASPBMC still is the main media server platform in our house. Because it will be very easy to stream media content from iOs and Android devices…and Chrome on computers…this may change soon. The best thing about Chromecast, and the reason why I’m still very excited is that it is open to the community. I cannot wait until the developers get their hands on the device and begin hacking and developing for the Chromecast…and for other devices. Because the programming that makes Chromecast happen is open, and because it has been selling like hot-cakes, there will be a large development community that builds up. I’ll keep my eyes on the Chromecast forum at XDA to see what hacks people develop for the unit. I’m also anticipating elements of Chromecast being ported over to my RASPBMC collection.
I also anticipate Google iterating quickly not only on Chromecast, but the idea behind one screen vs. many screens. I think Google views Chrome as an opportunity to create one browser for people to view and access content. It doesn’t really matter what device you’re using, or what your purpose is, you could/should be using Chrome to do it all. With Chromecast you can already “beam” your multimodal content from your phone, tablet, or browser to your TV. Google also has Chrome Remote Desktop that can be used to remotely connect and control other computers that have Chrome installed…and you’re signed in to. Finally, Hangouts allow you to video conference with others, and also take over their computer if they give you permission. At some point, I anticipate these differing tools and affordances merging. I can foresee being able to use my Android phone to connect to my computer at home and retrieve materials, or watch a movie. I could also use my TV to video conference with my Wife and son while away on work. I could also walk into a smart classroom to teach or do a talk, log-in to my Google Account and remotely present from my phone, tablet, etc. Oh wait…I can already do that….
The initial launch of Chromecast has been stellar. I think that because of the price-point, the rapid sellout of the device…and the fact that it is an open source device built on Linux…we should see some incredible things soon from the technology behind Chromecast. For the average user that wants to just plug it into their TV and stream Netflix movies from their iPad, or Android phone…it’ll be great. For those of us that want to hack it…and repurpose it…it’ll also be great. Awesome things are coming.