58 Comments

Summary:

Learn how to play videos you recorded on your phone, customize your Chromecast, make your remote control obsolete and more with our collection of essential tricks and tips for new Chromecast owners.

chromecast feature art

So you got yourself a Chromecast, either as an early holiday gift, or you just bought it for yourself. You unpacked it, installed it, watched a bit of Netflix or YouTube, and now you are wondering: What else can I do with this?

A lot, actually. Chromecast offers access to media through a growing list of apps (14 at the time of writing), and there are a whole bunch of neat ways to get additional functionality out of the device. We’ve compiled ten of the best Chromecast tips and tricks below:

1. Turn on your TV from your mobile device

One of the coolest things about Chromecast is that it can turn on your TV, and even change to the right HDMI input, when you start casting music or videos from your mobile device – no TV remote required. That’s because Chromecast uses a little-known technology called HDMI-CEC that is supported by most modern TVs.

Some TVs require you to change some settings before Chromecast can make the remote control obsolete.

Some TVs require you to change some settings before Chromecast can make the remote control obsolete.

However, some TVs don’t have CEC enabled by default, so you might have to dive into the settings and look for CEC options to turn on. Unfortunately, not every TV maker calls it by that name, so you may have to scour for Anynet+ (Samsung), Bravia Link or Bravia Sync (Sony), Simplink (LG), Viera Link (Panasonic), Regza Link (Toshiba) or similar terms and then try to enable options to power the TV and switch input (as seen in the photo above). And if that still doesn’t do the trick, double-check that you are using the power adapter that came with the Chromecast as opposed to your TV’s USB port to make sure it gets power even when the TV is turned off.

2. Mirror your computer screen with the Chrome extension

There are now more than a dozen apps with Chromecast support, but you can get even more content to the TV by installing the Google Cast extension for Google’s Chrome browser, which is available for Windows, OS X and Google’s own Chrome OS. With that extension, you can not only cast videos straight from YouTube’s and Netflix’s website, but even beam entire websites — or videos playing on any website — to the TV.

The Google Cast extension for Chrome allows you to beam entire websites to the TV.

The Google Cast extension for Chrome allows you to beam entire websites to the TV.

A fair warning: Casting videos from your computer requires a lot of processing power, so your PC shouldn’t be too old, and the results can be mixed. But casting websites can still be great if you want to quickly show everyone something, be it a presentation or some holiday pictures. And you can even opt to mirror your entire computer desktop by going into the extension’s settings.

3. Add Emoji to your Chromecast name

Don’t want to give your Chromecast a boring name like “Living Room TV”? Then this one is for you: Using the Android or iOS Chromecast setup and configuration app, you can add Emoji to your Chromecast name. Android supports Emoji natively starting with version 4.4, and I was also able to add Emoji to my Chromecast’s name with the Chromecast iOS app and the Mac OS X app as well.

Adding Emoji to your Chromecast device name is easy with Android 4.4.

Adding Emoji to your Chromecast device name is easy with Android 4.4.

You should be able to do the same with the Chromecast Windows app, and dedicated Emoji keyboards may even make the same possible with older versions of Android, but your mileage may vary.

My Chromecast has a new name - complete with emoji.

My Chromecast has a new name – complete with Emoji.

4. Play local media

There are now a number of ways to play local media — including the videos you took on your last vacation, on your Chromecast — and each one has its strengths: Avia is a currently the best way to cast photos from your Android mobile device, but video playback buffers a lot.

Plex is great for playing homemade or downloaded videos on your Chromecast. The Plex server even transcodes videos on the fly that aren't in the right file format.

Plex is great for playing homemade or downloaded videos on your Chromecast. The Plex server even transcodes videos on the fly that aren’t in the right file format.

Plex is a great solution for people with extensive local media libraries, but it requires a bit of a learning curve, and users also have to run a server application on their PC. Also, Chromecast support is currently limited to members of Plex’s paid beta program.

This is a video stored on my iPad, accessed through my Nexus 7 and playing back on my TV, all thanks to RealPlayer Cloud.

This is a video stored on my iPad, accessed through my Nexus 7 and playing back on my TV, all thanks to RealPlayer Cloud.

RealPlayer Cloud finally is the easiest way to cast videos recorded on your phone. And as a bonus, you can even share media across devices, and for example launch playback of a video stored on your phone from your iPad.

5. Use Chromecast with your Kindle Fire

Chromecast officially only supports iOS and Android mobile apps, but here’s a secret: You can also cast with any Kindle Fire. You won’t find YouTube or any other official Google apps on the Kindle Fire, but using Chromecast with apps like Netflix, Hulu+ and Pandora works just fine.

Pandora and other apps supports casting even from a Kindle Fire.

Pandora and other apps supports casting even from a Kindle Fire.

6. Troubleshot your Netflix streaming

Do you feel like Netflix doesn’t look as good as it should on your Chromecast? There’s an easy way to check if the service living up to its potential on the device: Just play a Netflix title called Example Short 23.976 on your Chromecast, and you’ll see the bit rate used and other information displayed on the screen. You can then compare these results with the performance of other devices on your network. For example, hardwire your PC and see if results are better to see if you need to improve your Wi-Fi. And if you want to know the backstory to the admittedly pretty odd video, read my story about Netflix’s Secret Cult Hit.

Netflix has a test video that you can use to check your Wifi connection.

Netflix has a test video that you can use to check your Wi-Fi connection.

7. Have a YouTube party

One of the neatest things about YouTube’s Chromecast integration is that you can queue up videos in your mobile app to play in order on your TV. And that’s not all: This can also be done by multiple people on multiple devices, both on iOS and Android, as long as everyone is on the same home Wi-Fi network. Just have everyone search for their favorite YouTube videos, queue them up and voila: you have an instant YouTube party.

Chromecast + YouTube = instant party.

Chromecast + YouTube = instant party.

8. Use it in a hotel room

Wouldn’t it be great if you could skip the expensive Lodgenet charges, and instead just watch Netflix or even movies stored on your own devices on your hotel room TV? You can — kind of, anyway. Chromecast doesn’t work with your typical hotel Wi-Fi network, but some users have had success with using their mobile device as a hotspot (just keep those mobile data caps in mind). Using your PC as a router might work as well, but internet sharing under Mac OS X unfortunately doesn’t work with Chromecast. Trust me, I tried. The final option for people who travel a lot would be a portable travel router, which can cost as little as $20.

9. Launch Netflix shows from Google Now

This is a really cool hack for anyone with a little too much time on their hands: Using Google Now and Tasker, you can launch TV shows on your Chromecast just by talking to your phone.

10. Turn any Android device into another Chromecast

Now that you’ve gotten used to your Chromecast, wouldn’t it be great if you could have this casting functionality everywhere? You can, thanks to an app called CheapCast that turns any Android device into a Chromecast receiver.

Cheapcast can turn your old Android phone into a cast-compatible music player.

Cheapcast can turn your old Android phone into a cast-compatible music player.

To be fair, Cheapcast doesn’t work with Netflix, and I also couldn’t get Plex to work, but it’s still good enough to turn an old Android phone into a dedicated music player and cast away with Pandora.

Want more Chromecast tips? Then you should check out the excellent Chromecast community on Google+, where I got many inspirations for this article. And feel free to leave your favorite tips and tricks in the comments below!

  1. Thanks for the tip about the bit rate! My Chromecast starts at 4300 Kbps and jumps to 5800 in about 10-20 seconds. I prefer that to my Roku 3, which always starts with terrible quality and slowly improves. I understand that Roku wants the experience to feel “quick” but I don’t mind waiting a little for the thing to start in high quality.

    I also prefer to watch the credits of a TV show without having to disarm the “post-play” anti-feature on the Roku. I’ve given Netflix a piece of my mind about that a couple of times. I can’t be the only one that likes to savor the ending of a TV show and not have to immediately press 4 (4!) buttons on the Roku remote to bring up the credits again. Then it starts counting down when the credits end. Again. I can’t stand watching Netflix on the Roku anymore because of the intense hatred I feel towards Netflix every time a show ends now.

    Share
  2. 2. Mirror your computer screen with the Chrome extension

    Unless its android… :(

    Share
  3. I still don’t get why these things are so popular. The only advantage I can see over something like a Roku (or any other streaming player) is the Chrome screen mirroring feature for sites that don’t have apps or channels. For everything else, you need two pieces of hardware, and accompanying costs, including power, instead of just one for a real streaming player.

    By the way, Janko, or any other gigaom/newteevee writers: I just noticed this morning that Roku has finally rolled out their DLNA player feature! They have replaced the old USB media player with a “Roku Media Player”, that can play from either a USB device OR a DLNA server! This might deserve a story, since it’s been a long-awaited feature for Roku.

    Share
    1. 1) Even my 70 year old mom and 75 year old dad have smartphones.

      2) Searching for content is a lot easier using a touch screen keyboard than using a directional pad. (Playback is better using dedicated physical keys though.)

      Share
      1. 2) How difficult is it to download the Roku app to your phone or tablet? Took me about ten seconds.

        Share
        1. I have a Roku. I also have a Chromecast.

          The Roku is HORRIBLE with Hulu…freezes up all the time, during commercial transitions.

          The Roku has a problem with overheating, and switching off on its own or has to be re-started when the controls stop responding.

          The app is serviceable, but your comment does nothing to negate the fact that Shenan’s comment about needing “two pieces of hardware with accompanying costs” is ridiculous.

          People have different tastes. No need to come to Roku’s defense like you owe them favors or something.

          We haven’t used the Roku ONCE, since getting the Chromecast…probably going to give it to someone who can’t afford one, and can’t afford a cellphone…otherwise, we’d just suggest a Chromecast. :P

          Share
          1. I just bought a chromecast because I got tired of my roku box freezing and rebooting with hulu. I figured chromecast is cheap enough I would try it. I am relieved that you have not had this issue at all with your chomecast. I guess it was money well spent.

            Share
    2. This is the domest thing.

      Share
      1. Says the guy who can’t spell dumb…

        Share
    3. You really don’t know why they’re so popular??
      PRICE! They’re cheap, $35 dollars to be exact. I refuse to pay for direcTV/Cox and purchased a Chromecast instead while I waited for my modded Pivos XBMC player to arrive.

      Share
    4. Not to mention that Chromecast is $20 :)

      Share
  4. I work for a company that sell’s a asp.net software product and use chromecast as a replacement for a beamer as most small-medium sized conference rooms seem to have an hd tv present nowadays. I can bring now bring my nexus 5 and chromecast instead of laptop and a beamer, i love to travel light.

    Share
  5. Wow, this thing is absolute garbage. In all fairness I am using the chromecast un-traditionally via my projector, plus my only interest in the devices ability to mirror. However, I could never imagine that something as cheap as $35 could be this disappointing. Anyway it sucks for the following reasons: (1) text is barley legible, even at full resolution; (2) you cannot see the mouse so general navigation is very difficult; (3) the thing crashes every 20 min; (4) the delay between performing an action (e.g. typing or scrolling) is so extreme it gives me a headache; (5) most of the reviews I read prior to purchase were positive. Thus, BUYER BEWARE! The only thing it does well is display a cool screensaver with stunning photos.

    Share
    1. Allen is basing his opinion on a single feature that is in beta.

      The normal Chromecast experience (the 15 or so apps supported) work great. If you wanted something to cast your browser, this is NOT the device.

      Share
      1. Jason Schneider Saturday, January 4, 2014

        I disagree. Plex does not work great with Chromecast. Netflix, Hulu, no problem. The quality with Plex is unwatchable. I’ve gone back to using my HTPC when using Plex. Also, the Roku in the next room and the SmartTV in another play just fine with Plex. I’m sure a solution will arise, but until then I’ll remain of the persuasion that “you get what you pay for”.

        Share
    2. Allen, it wasn’t even designed for this, it’s an afterthought. Works GREAT for intended apps!

      Share
    3. James Forester, MD Saturday, January 18, 2014

      Only Google fan boys could possibly compliment this POS. It is truly one of the poorest performing digital devices I have purchased in 10 years. Again, google releases a piece of hardware and takes your money for it before it is ready to use as intended.

      Share
  6. Allen

    That’s not been my experience.

    Share
  7. I agree with Allen. It’s garbage.

    Share
  8. Absolute pure garbage.. freezes up when mirroring anything, which is what most people bought it for.
    I have a powerful PC under Win7, fast Wi-Fi and wired connections. No excuses..We have all become unknowing beta guinea pigs for Google.

    Share
    1. Unknowing beta guinea pigs? Everything I’ve ever seen has listed Chrome Browser tab casting as a beta feature.

      Share
    2. Every single new product in the WORLD is “Beta” for the first in line buyers. Heck Toyota, Honda, Ford and ALL the rest of manufacturing have TSB’s to fix all the issues the customers are finding until the new versions (next years models) come out with the fixes built in. This nothing new to Tech or software or anything for that matter.

      Share
    3. I mirrored Vimeo, Amazon Instant and HBO GO (before it worked with CC), no problems. You have to connect the laptop via ethernet to not get the eventual freezing up.

      Share
      1. Thanks for the ethernet tip!

        Share
  9. Using Avia to access my XBMC share from my PC is largely buffering free (tiny bit at the start) and looks fantastic. The latest Netflix and Hulu updates for Android are great to, I can start playing on my phone and pick up the control on my tablet. Expereincing most of my TV viewing with great tablet interfaces is fantastic, YouTube is also great and Play Music works wonderfully too.

    Share
  10. Absolute pure garbage? How can you say that about a $35 hdmi stick that lets you view your mobile apps on your tv. It does exactly that and it is completely worth $35. Especially since Google can update it add they go on. Seems pretty genius to me. No remote or box needed. Just use your phone or tablet and you can watch hbo , Netflix or Hulu anywhere. Awesome!

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post