Ten tips to get the most out of your new Chromecast

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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIRJYzayQNI]

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!

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