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Hands on review: Chromecast 2 streaming video player

Google’s tiny Chromecast adaptor makes it easy to fling video from your computer or handheld gadgets to your television.

The easiest way to give an old television a smart overhaul, Google’s new Chromecast streaming adaptor is worth a second look.

At first glance the $59 Chromecast 2 appears to be a major overhaul, abandoning the minimalist HDMI stick design in favour of a palm-sized disc with a built-in HDMI cable. The new model improves Wi-Fi performance, plus it packs more grunt, but otherwise there’s very little to separate this streaming media adaptor from its predecessor.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, with Google opting to hone a winning formula rather than starting from scratch.

The first-gen Chromecast is difficult to squeeze into a tight spot, especially if your television is wall mounted.

Not so sticky

One shortcoming of the original Chromecast design was that the bulky HDMI stick was awkward to fit in some tight spaces. Google included a short HDMI extension cable so the stick could hang down behind your television if necessary, but it didn’t always do the job.

The new disc-based design, similar to the Chromecast Audio adaptor, features a built-in HDMI cable. Admittedly seeing the disc hanging from your television doesn’t look as elegant as the HDMI stick, but thankfully the new cable is a lot thinner and more flexible than the old HDMI extension cable.

The second-gen Chromecast comes in a choice of three colours, not that you’re likely to see it often.

This flexible cable makes it much easier to fit the Chromecast in a tight spot and perhaps even fold the cable all the way back so the disc can sit behind the television and out of sight. This flexibility could save the day if your television is wall mounted. The tiny disc is light enough that you might even use a strip of velcro to stick it to the back of your television.

In the box you’ll also find an AC power adaptor, which connects to the Chromecast’s micro-USB port, or else you can power the streaming adaptor straight from your television if it features a powered USB port. The new-look power adaptor has the cable extending from the back rather than the side, so it won’t block an adjacent power socket.

Faster Wi-Fi

Under the bonnet, Google has upgraded the Chromecast to support 5GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi networks. If your home wireless router supports these standards they allow for faster data speeds and are less susceptible to wireless interference from other devices around your home such as your microwave oven or cordless phone.

The trade-off is that 5GHz networks aren’t as good at penetrating walls as slower 2.4GHz networks, but it’s good to have the choice. If Wi-Fi just won’t cut it in your lounge room then Google offers an optional Ethernet adaptor.

Google has also blessed the new Chromecast with more grunt, which makes its presence felt by ensuring that the apps launch roughly twice as fast. This means there’s much less of a lag between when you press the Chromecast button in the app on your phone and when the video starts playing on your television, although you’re still at the mercy of your broadband speeds.

Plenty of apps

The Chromecast is compatible with both iOS and Android apps, which might make it a sensible compromise for technologically blended homes.

There’s still no remote control in the box, instead you drive the Chromecast from your computer, smartphone or tablet using compatible apps. The list of apps continues to grow, including Netflix, Stan, Presto, Google Play Movies/Music, Spotify and YouTube. You’ll also find Plex, Synology’s DSVideo and other media players for streaming content from your device or a home server.

There’s also a Chromecast app which acts as a central hub, but unfortunately the Australian version of the app lacks the cross-platform content search and voice search features available to US users.

The Chromecast supports up to 1080p video, so don’t get excited about streaming Ultra HD Netflix. It’s also worth noting that the Chromecast is hardwired to Google’s DNS servers, making it more difficult (but not impossible) to bluff your way into the US Netflix library.

It’s not as tight as Apple’s AirPlay ecosystem, but in return Chromecast-capable apps can stream in the background while you do something else with your handheld device. Like the Chromecast Audio adaptors you can even stream from multiple apps to multiple Chromecasts simultaneously from the one device.

Some Android devices can also take advantage of screen mirroring to send any app to your television, which is a handy fallback but can sacrifice picture quality compared to Chromecast-compatible apps.

Unlike Apple’s AirPlay, the Chromecast adaptor cuts out the middle man when you send video to your television from a Chromecast-compatible app like Netflix. The Chromecast makes a direct link to the source rather than relying on your computer, smartphone or tablet to relay the video.

As with the original Chromecast you can also mirror any tab from the desktop Chrome browser, with less lag thanks to the extra processing power.

So what’s the verdict?

The Chromecast’s lack of a physical remote control will suit some people and frustrate others, depending on who lives in your home and the gadgets they have at hand.

Omitting a physical remote helps keep the price down – if you’d rather have a remote control to live on the coffee table then take a look at Google’s $129 Nexus Player, although at that price you’ll want to weigh it up against an older model Apple TV.

If you’re looking to dip your toe into streaming video then it’s hard to go past the new Chromecast. Even if your lounge room already has an abundance of internet video-enabled devices, the Chromecast might be the perfect addition to the bedroom or rumpus room, assuming the television features an HDMI port.

If you already own the first-gen Chromecast and you’re perfectly happy with it then there’s no pressing need to rush out and upgrade, but it’ll be a welcome addition to your home if you’d benefit from 5GHz Wi-Fi support or you find the original Chromecast a little sluggish at times.

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