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I bought my Google Chromecast the day it hit stores figuring at $35 it could be a really nifty little gadget that’s easier to take to a friend’s or on vacation than other media streamers.  I received the device, unboxed and plugged it into my TV without incident (make sure you have a free HDMI port).  I tuned to the correct input on my HDTV and followed the instructions; setup was unbelievably simple (both iPhone and PC setup was a breeze).  Once everything was connected, I played a few YouTube videos, and tried one from Netflix; the quality wasn’t perfect but certainly good enough to be enjoyable.  Then, I unplugged the device and tossed it in a drawer thinking I had spent $35 on something with a lot of potential but not much practical use.

Fast forward a couple of months and things have changed; more services are available for Chromecast, including HBO GO, HULU Plus, Pandora and the one I’m most excited about, RealPlayer Cloud.  With all these apps there’s now a huge amount of content, making me rather pleased with this purchase.

I use a Windows Media Center PC connected to my HDTV for home entertainment; though it will never catch on, the living room PC will always trump the more limited streaming devices.  The problem I’ve had up until now is taking my media on the road; I’ve tried lots of different services and devices with only limited success.  The Chromecast, along with Realplayer Cloud and a little setup at home is the simplest and most elegant solution for keeping up with TV viewing while traveling I have found.

Download and install the Realplayer Cloud application to your home PC, after installation is finished, complete the account registration process and sign in.  Once you are logged in the software will scan your system for media, or you can stop the scanning process, go to settings and select the directories you wish to monitor.  That’s all there is to setting it up on your pc.  In my case, each time my computer records a television program, and every time I download a video it is automatically picked up by Realplayer Cloud.

Moving on to the mobile aspect, access the iTunes App Store or Google Play from your phone or tablet and download the app, let it install and sign in using the account you created earlier.  Once you are logged in, all the media you made available on your home PC will be visible and playable in the app.  Media is accessible over your phone’s data connection, though you will need to be on the same WiFi network as your Chromecast to use the streaming feature.

Finally, sending media to the Chromecast is easy; If you are at home and you have a Chromecast it’s likely you’ve already set it up, so just select your device in the menu and start watching videos.  If you intend to use this on the road like I do, things become slightly more complex.  I doubt Chromecast will be able to connect to your phone through a hotel WiFi network, and even if it could they can be full of security threats. There are two other options worth considering, simply select the one that works best for you. 

First, consider getting a mobile broadband router and connect your phone (or tablet) and Chromecast.  I checked with Verizon and one can be had for free on contract and it only adds $20 per month to my shared data plan. 

The other option is buying a mobile WiFi router/extender (I use this one); these devices are reasonably simple to set up and allow one to create a personal network using any WiFi signal that can be legitimately accessed.  The TL-MR3020 can also connect to USB broadband modems, giving you a backup if your hotel WiFi is pathetically slow.  Whichever option you choose, plug the Chromecast into the HDMI port on the back of your room’s TV and then plug the USB power adapter into the service port or a wall jack using the provided adapter.

I talked my neighbor into letting me use her WiFi network to test this all out and it works great!  I was able to see the videos (including TV programs recorded by my PC) on my home computer and access them on my iPhone 5s, I was then able to stream them to the Chromecast.  One other cool feature is that I can select to upload videos to the cloud or directly to my iPhone right from the Realplayer Cloud app.

This post ended up being a bit more techie than I had intended, but I am guessing you get the bottom line; the Google Chromecast, coupled with the new apps, and an iOS or Android device is a powerful and simple to use media streamer.  If you have a gadget geek on your shopping list the inexpensive Chromecast is a legit stocking stuffer.  Better hurry though, there’s only about twenty-four shopping hours left!

Click the image below to be taken to Google’s Chromecast information page.

- John Morton

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