Google has finally made its Chromecast (reviewed here) device available in the UK. Here we examine what UK viewers can watch using the Google Chromecast, and explain why Chromecast has the potential to change everything. (See also: Google launches Chromecast TV dongle).
What is Google Chromecast?
The Chromecast is commonly described as a 'USB stick', but that's not technically true. It looks just like a USB memory stick, but in fact connects to your TV via the HDMI port. It's a £30 media-streaming device that allows you to play TV shows and movies from a variety of sources, on any display you choose including your TV. You can find out more in our in-depth article: Chromecast price, specs, features - what you need to know about Google Chromecast.
The key thing about Chromecast is it is easy to set up (see: How to set up a Chromecast). It doesn't tie you to a subscription service, it is simply a supremely easy and cheap way to turn any TV into a smart TV. With benefits.
What can you watch on Chromecast in UK?
The major content sources are BBC iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube and Google Play. There's also Red Bull TV and Vevo, plus a couple of apps that allow you to stream locally stored media via your Chromecast device. (See: Best free apps for Chromecast you don't know about.)
BBC iPlayer speaks for itself. Using it you can watch live BBC TV, as well as catch up on virtually all of the BBC's vast amount of programming over the past weeks. If you tend to catch up with Eastenders via your laptop, the £30 Chromecast will allow you to enjoy it in glorious HD on your large-screen TV. And, of course, as a Licence Fee payer in the UK you can enjoy all of this content for free. (See: Apple TV vs Chromecast review.)
Netflix is the coming man of the on-demand TV world. Although not exhaustive it offers access to thousands of TV shows and movies, many of them big-name titles from the US. It's a number that is growing all the time. And that's not taking into account the burgeoning amounsts of original programming such as the recent House of Cards series, as well as Arrested Development. You do, of course, have to pay for Netflix. It currently costs £5.99 a month.
YouTube isn't just cats falling out of trees. Indeed, more content is added to YouTube every day than has ever been broadcast on any (or indeed all) mainstream TV broadcasters. Increasingly high-quality original programming and livestream media is being uploaded to YouTube (including that of PC Advisor), and Chromecast allows you to watch it on the big screen.
And then there is Google Play. This is Google's alternative to iTunes and although not as mature it tends to be cheaper and the number of titles available is huge. You can watch a wide variety of Hollywood and indie movies, as well as high-class TV programming from around the world. The documentaries are great too. You have to pay for individual titles, but you can rent them cheaply (and you can watch a film on your commute and finish it off on the TV). You can also play Google Play music tracks over your Chromecast, if your TV has good speakers.
Other sources include Red Bull TV, which offers up original extreme sports, lifestyle and music programming, and Vevo, which is music videos.
Finally there are couple of apps - Plex and RealPlayer Cloud - that allow you to watch locally stored media such as ripped DVDs via your Chromecast.
Expect more apps to come on stream soon, and other content providers to get in on the act (see Google releases Chromecast SDK.)
Why Chromecast is a game changer
There's a battle going on for your custom and loyalty, and Chromecast is a key weapon in that battle. The TV and movies you watch are an important battle ground for a diverse variety of tech players including Google, as well as BT, Sky and Virgin, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft, Amazon and more.
The above listed companies each became successful offering different types of products in vastly different markets. But the internet is a unifying force, and so we find that a phone company - BT - is in an expensive battle with a TV company - Sky - to provide your broadband and TV. They won't both win. Neither will a PC company - Apple - and a book store - Amazon - both be able to sustain success in the tablet market.
They understand that in the future we are all likely to invest our time and money in just one or two providers, expecting in return digital entertainment and communications, connectivity and storage, home automation and hardware. That list of companies above? They won't all be independent enteties in decade, mark my words.
Thus we find the search engine company fighting with all of the above to take control of all of your digital life.
Google started out as a free, ad-supported search engine. But now it is the owner of the biggest smartphone platform by volume in Android, and the biggest TV broadcaster in YouTube. Its tentacles reach into most of our lives as the provider of email, storage, productivity software and more. It sells apps, music and movies via Google Play, and recently it invested in the Nest home automation service. Google wants you to use an Android phone and a Chrome laptop, but most of all Google wants you to use it and not its rivals, in any form and all of the time.
Google is the world's largest advertising platform, and it generates both the platform for ads and the data via which it can sell advertising by providing free- and low-cost alternatives to more expensive but ad-free products from the likes of Apple and Microsoft.
And like BT, Sky and Virgin, Google understands that the TV is the most important screen in the house. If you provide the things people watch you will both know a lot about them, and capture a lot of their attention. You'll also be able to sell them other services as add ons. And as we all become more connected, more of the time, the TV will become the biggest window into your online life.
Chromecast is cheap, very easy to use, and it doesn't trap you into a long-term contract. It doesn't tie you to a particular TV maker. It also provides a better smart TV service than you likely get from your Samsung or Sony TV.
Unlike a traditional smart TV Chromecast will get regular software updates, and will always offer access to a wide variety of content sources. It's also easy to search, allowing you to type out or speak search terms into a smartphone, and - being Google - understanding semantic search terms: you can ask it to find 'World War II documentaries' or 'sports shows' rather than having to know the specific names of the programs you want to watch.
The Chromecast is a potential game changer because it offers for a small price a great way to access a lot of digital TV, without tying you to a particular provider. It's an impulse buy that you will be unlikely ever to regret making. But paradoxically it offers Google a way in to the most important screen in the house, which furthers ties you into its clammy embrace. See also: How to set up a Chromecast and Who is making Android Wear smartwatches? What is Android Wear.