Google’s latest launch, Chromecast, is a sleek $35 USB dongle that plugs in behind an LCD TV, allowing it to ‘cast’ videos via smartphones, tablets and PCs. Because screen resolutions, distance to the viewer and remote control devices vary greatly across models, bringing a powerful yet intuitive user interface (UI) to a TV is tough. Google, therefore, is betting that the best UI is no UI. It relies on the smartphone, tablet or PC to provide control, while the TV merely plays the video or audio ‘cast to it’.
Through this simple concept and rock-bottom pricing, Google is attempting to disrupt three well-entrenched sets of players positioned to control the modern living room: The likes of Apple and Roku who bring games and apps to the TV with their entertainment ‘hubs’; companies such as Microsoft and Sony who want to morph their gaming consoles, like the Xbox and PlayStation, into family entertainment devices; and TV makers like Samsung and LG who want to make their units ‘smart’.
Industry insiders like Vishal Malhotra, the head of Zee’s internet-based TV offering Ditto TV, feel Chromecast is a mere gimmick. “I’ve used Android-based HDMI devices that do video and gaming, and cost just $27. They’ve never caught on because users find them too complex,” he says. But initial reviews indicate Chromecast is very easy to use and is near-seamless in terms of playback.