How does Google Chromecast work?

Google Chromecast is a device that you can plug into your television’s HDMI port and use to stream content from various streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, and even Amazon Prime Video.

While the setup may seem simple, many people don’t understand how a Google Chromecast actually works. You may think you’re streaming content directly from the device you’re casting the video stream from, but this isn’t true.

In fact, there are several ways to stream content to a Chromecast and a wide variety of devices and services that work with it. This article describes how Google Chromecast works and clears up the mystery about the technology behind this powerful streaming device.

What’s in a Google Chromecast?

Before we get into the services that work with Google Chromecast and how to control them, it’s important to understand how Google Chromecast technology works.

Plug the Chromecast device into the HDMI port of your television. If you have 4K or if you use High-Dynamic Range video (HDR), you may want to invest in the Chromecast Ultra. Ultra supports these and has an Ethernet adapter that supports such high data transfer rates.

For most users, though, the regular Chromecast, priced at half the ultra ($35), will suffice.

Chromecast’s internal hardware includes all of the following:

  • HDMI output connector
  • micro USB port for power
  • 512 MB SDRAM (2nd generation has 4 GB SDRAM)
  • 2 GB flash memory
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac adapter
  • NFC and FM receivers

The device comes with a USB cable that you can use to connect the Chromecast to a standard USB 2.0 port to power it. Many modern TVs have one.

How does Google Chromecast work?

So how does it all work when you’re casting something to your Chromecast device?

Google built its screen sharing technology on top of the DIAL Service Discovery protocol. They also provide Google Cast Software Development Kits (SDK) and Application Programming Interfaces (API) for third-party companies to develop Chromecast-compatible applications.

DIAL protocol is just a technology developed by Netflix and YouTube to discover and launch applications on the same network. SDKs and APIs are tools that programmers can use to integrate their own applications with Chromecast technology.

Client apps and devices send HTTP requests to the Chromecast DIAL server. The Chromecast device has its own version of the Chrome browser. It uses this to respond to HTTP requests and retrieve the content from the web.

Many people mistakenly believe that their device is streaming the content from the Internet and “sending” that stream of data to the Chromecast to display on the TV. This is not the case. Devices such as cell phones and laptops that can cast only act as a “remote control” for the Chromecast.

This means that when you open a YouTube video and select the Chromecast icon, the following events occur.

  1. Your device sends an HTTP request to the Chromecast and tells it the URL of the content you want to stream.
  2. The Chromecast uses its own browser to connect to the Internet and retrieve that content.
  3. The Chromecast will start streaming the content. Your device still has the ability to stop, start, go back or forward, or adjust the volume. However, all content streaming is done directly from the internet through the Chromecast device and to the TV.

You can see this in action by starting a video through your Chromecast and then turning off your phone or laptop. The Chromecast will continue to stream the video regardless.

Set up a Chromecast

Since the Chromecast device fetches content for you directly from the Internet, you should initially set it up with valid credentials for your Wi-Fi network. That network must also have open internet access. This is why a Chromecast device may not work on a corporate or hotel network, which requires a second level of browser credentials to access the Internet.

To set up your new Chromecast, you need to: install the Google Home app on your mobile device.

After installing the app, follow these steps to set up the app.

  1. Plug your Chromecast’s HDMI output cable into your TV’s HDMI port.
  2. Make sure your TV is switched to the correct HDMI input that your Chromecast is connected to. You will see the Chromecast screen when you select the correct HDMI source.
  3. Open the Google Home app on your mobile device.
  4. At the top left of the app, select the icon. Select Set up deviceand then Set up new devices
  5. The app will guide you through the steps required to set up the Chromecast. This includes choosing your Wi-Fi network and entering the correct network passcode.

Once your Chromecast is set up and ready to receive commands from your mobile device or laptop, there are dozens of ways to stream content.

Cast to your Chromecast

Depending on what you want to cast, there are many ways to do it. Here are a few options you have available.

  • Display what you see in your browser by casting a browser tab
  • Cast from a Chromecast-enabled website, such as YouTube
  • Cast from apps using Chromecast on your mobile device

Cast a browser tab

Casting from your browser is one of the easiest ways to cast content to a Chromecast.

Select the three dots at the top right next to your profile picture and select Form… from the drop-down menu.

A window will appear where you can select which device (out of all devices connected to your Google Home) you want to cast to.

Select the TV to which your Chromecast is connected. This will display your browser directly on the television.

As you scroll or click to new web pages, the television shows all your activities live.

Keep in mind that this is not the best way to use if you want to stream video from a website. Ideally, choose sites (like YouTube or Netflix) that offer casting functionality in the form of a Cast button (see below).

If you try to display video using the browsercast function, the quality will be very low or not work at all. And in the case of YouTube or other sites that support Chromecast, they will automatically revert to the Cast functionality.

Cast from a Chromecast-enabled website

The best way to stream video content through your Chromecast is to select content sites that have Chromecast enabled. You can view the full list of carriers with Chromecast at Google’s Chromecast Apps & Partners page

Launching content from these websites is very easy. You can usually find the Cast icon on the video player itself. For example, when you start the video on YouTube, look for the Cast icon in the bottom right corner of the video.

You will see a pop-up list of Chromecast devices on your network, similar to when you cast browser tabs.

Just select the Chromecast you want to stream the video from and the video will play from the Chromecast device to your TV.

Another good site with Chromecast is the Spotify Web Player. When you play music from Spotify website, you can select the device icon at the bottom of the window. This will open a popup where you will see Google Cast if Chromecast devices are detected on your network.

Once you’ve selected Google Cast, you’ll see the usual device selection pop-up where you can select the Chromecast TV you want to listen to music on.

Casting music is great if you have a nice sound system connected to your TV and want to take advantage of it to listen to music.

You can even launch video to your Chromecast using certain Chromecast-enabled PC apps, such as VLC.

Cast from apps with Chromecast

The most convenient way to use a Chromecast is to control it from your mobile phone. You don’t need to start up your laptop or computer. Just launch an app with Chromecast and you can cast right from your phone.

An excellent example of this is the Amazon Prime Video app. Amazon refused to enable compatibility with Chromecast devices for years. This recently changed when Amazon made its Prime Video app Chromecast compatible.

Now when you watch episodes or watch a movie from the Prime Video app, you will see a semi-transparent Cast icon in the lower right corner of the screen.

Just tap the icon and select the Chromecast device on your network to watch that Amazon Prime video on your TV.

The YouTube apps (including YouTube TV) always come with Chromecast. You can find the Chromecast icon in the top right corner of the screen.

You can also cast music from your phone using the Spotify app or the Google Music app. In Google Music, the Cast icon is in the top right corner of the window.

In almost all cases, if a music or video app is Chromecast compatible and you’ve detected a Chromecast device on your home network, you’ll see this Cast icon appear when you start a video or play music.

Of course, if you are one of those people who don’t like using Google products, there are plenty of Google Chromecast alternatives available.

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