Someone put a new Chromecast for you under the tree, or maybe you just bought one for yourself to finally bring Netflix to your TV. You unpacked it, hooked it up, watched a show or two — and now you’re wondering: What else can this thing do?
A lot, actually. Not only are there now hundreds of apps for Chromecast, you can also mirror almost any content to the screen, and add personal media to the pictures that are shown when you are not actively watching anything. Check out our updated list of the 10 best Chromecast tips and tricks below:
1. Use guest mode to let your friends cast
Chromecast is a great device to use with friends: Open the YouTube app on multiple devices, have everyone add some videos to the queue, and you’ve got yourself a YouTube party. Have your relatives use Chromecast to show off their latest photos on a bigger screen, and your family get-together becomes a lot more fun. Or invite your HBO Go-using buddy over to watch the network’s latest shows on your TV, and you might just be ready to cut the cord.
You don’t even need to hunt for that scrap piece of paper with your long and complicated Wi-Fi password to get guests started. Instead, just enable guest mode in the Chromecast app for Android.
After that, any nearby Android device can cast to your Chromecast without being on the same network. Your friends’ devices should be able to discover and link up with your Chromecast automatically, thanks to cool ultrasonic tech, but there is also a PIN on the TV screen in case this fails.
2. Mirror your computer screen and phone
There are hundreds of Android, iOS and web apps for Chromecast (here’s a list of most of them), but occasionally you still find an app that just doesn’t support casting yet. That’s where screen mirroring comes in. Any Android device running Android 4.4.2 or higher can mirror its screen to your Chromecast, meaning that your TV will show exactly what you are seeing on your phone screen.
Don’t have an Android phone, or maybe you’re stuck with a handset with an older version of Android? Then you should install the Google Cast extension for Google’s Chrome browser on your PC or laptop, which lets you mirror any website to the TV screen. Just be aware that this kind of mirroring is still experimental, which means that video stream in particular with sometimes lag or stutter. But it’s a great way to quickly show something on the TV, whether it’s a presentation or a funny photo you found on Facebook.
3. Turn your TV on 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.
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.
4. Play local media
There are now tons of apps to play your own photos, videos or media stored on your PC with Chromecast. Here are some of the best: AllCast handles videos, photos and audio files and can also beam media to a bunch of other devices in your house, including Sonos speakers and Apple TVs, but the app nags you with an annoying watermark to buy the premium version for $4.99?. Localcast looks a bit more complicated upon launching it for the first time, but the app is pretty powerful; it can load media from a range of devices, including NAS drives on your local network, and automatically compiles a media library from select sources. Plus, the free version can be used without any further restrictions.
Plex is a feature-rich personal media management solution that involves running some server software on your computer, but it can’t be beat if you have large libraries of content. And Dayframe can not only be used to compile slideshows from your personal media, but also cast photos from Facebook, Google+ and other sources, as well as curated slideshows that make your Chromecast look even better. It’s a petty powerful app with a bit of a learning curve, but the results do look pretty great.
5. Watch 3D VR without a headset
Want to experience virtual reality without shelling out money for a headset? You can, thanks to Chromecast — sort of, anyway, and provided that you not only have Google’s cardboard app installed on your Android phone, but also a 3D TV in your living room. I don’t, which is why this is the only tip on this list that I haven’t personally tried. But if you do, you can set it to SBS mode in the TV’s 3D settings. Then mirror the screen of the cardboard app to your TV, put on the 3D glasses that came with your TV, and voila: you’ve got yourself a VR experience without a VR headset (hat tip to Ryan Martin).
6. Add your photos to the Chromecast slideshow
Isn’t it nice that Chromecast shows you beautiful nature photos when you are not actively watching any videos? And wouldn’t it be even nicer if you could add your own photos to this slideshow? Actually, you can: The Chromecast Android and iOS apps offer a feature dubbed “Backdrop” that allows you to customize your home screen.
Not only can you add galleries of photos you uploaded to Google+ (which don’t have to be shared with anyone else), but you can also decide which other sources Google should use and add artworks, news photography, satellite images and even a small weather report widget to your Chromecast’s home screen.
7. Use it in a hotel room
Looking for an alternative to expensive in-room entertainment options during your next hotel stay? Chromecast could come to the rescue — if you are willing to experiment, that is. Getting Chromecast to work in hotels isn’t actually that easy. Most hotels have landing pages for their Wifi, forcing you to acknowledge the terms of service or even enter your room number, before you can start surfing. That doesn’t work with a Chromecast, simply because it doesn’t have a web browser.
But there are other ways: Some people have had success with running a hotspot on their mobile phone, and then either casting media straight from their phone or their laptop (just beware of mobile data charges). Others have been using hotspot software on their laptops to get their Chromecast up and running. Some even recommend to simply call up the front desk and whitelist the device, but your mileage may vary. In the past, I’ve had success using a small wireless router, as demonstrated in the video below:
8. Get some free stuff
Guess what: Your Chromecast can save you some real money. For example, Google started to give away $20 of Google Play credit for every Chromecast bought after December 7. Google is also currently giving away a free digital copy of the first X-Men movie and services like Hulu Plus, DramaFever, Sesame Street Go and Epix are all running free promotions.
Simply connect to your Chromecast in the Android or iOS app and then access offers through the options menu, or visit Chromecast.com/offers with your computer (Chrome browser and Google cast extension required) while on your home Wifi network. Google will then search for the device ID and let you know for which offers you qualify. And the best thing: Some of these perks are even available to people who have owned their Chromecast for some time, so it makes sense to frequently check for new offers.
9. Use Chromecast with your headphones
Want to watch a movie on the TV, but not wake up your significant other who fell asleep on the couch? Then just pipe the audio track through your phone and listen to it with earbuds. Chromecast doesn’t offer this kind of headphone listening out of the box, but there is a way to nonetheless make it happen: Local media casting app Localcast can route the audio signal to your phone while playing a video on your TV. Audio and video feed have to be manually synchronized, but after a little bit of trial-and-error, it actually works very well. However, Localcast only plays media saved on your phone, a NAS drive Google Drive — so you won’t be able to use this with Netflix.
10. Use it as an audio adapter
There are now dozens of music apps available for both iOS and Android that support casting, including Pandora, Rdio, Vevo, Google Play Music, Songza, 8tracks and more, as well as a number of podcast players and radio apps, including TuneIn, NPR One, BeyondPod and more. You can of course cast these to your TV, but you can also connect your Chromecast directly to any stereo — if you buy a small adapter, that is. Check out this video below for a quick demo:
Please note: I’ve gotten a few emails from readers who have said that these kinds of adapters haven’t worked for them, but I’ve had no problem with it, so it may depend on the exact model you order, and your mileage may vary.
This post was updated on 12/27 to clarify that mirroring is enabled for any device supporting Android version 4.4.2 or higher, not 4.2.2, as stated by a previous version of this article.