Google Chromecast

Google Chromecast is a small, well priced and sexy looking piece of kit. It promises hassle free plug and play streaming functionality to your living room TV from a variety of devices such as PC, Tablet and Mobile – lets see if it can compete in this crowded market.

Chromecast unboxing
Chromecast unboxing
What is Chromecast used for?

As described by Google, “Chromecast is a thumb-sized media streaming device that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV“. It leverages your smart phone, tablet or PC to send your favourite shows, movies and music to your TV so you can watch online shows on the big screen rather than the tiny mobile screen. At the time of writing, various online channels such as Youtube, Netflix, BBC, BT Sport and Plex are all supported – but Amazon Prime, 4oD, ITV and Now TV are not yet supported.

How does Chromecast work

Why are some channels supported and others not I hear you ask. Well it is all to do with how this clever little device works. One could be forgiven by looking at the Google adverts that its the mobile or tablet device which streams the contents to the TV using wifi. Actually its much more clever than that.

When you select which clip(s) you wish to watch on your mobile phone, it will send the source of the clip to Chromecast. The Chromecast device will then stream the clip directly from the internet to your TV. The mobile / tablet becomes nothing more than a really fancy TV remote at this stage, allowing you to fast forward etc as if you would using the mouse on your computer. However this clever bit requires the individual channels to support the Chromecast APIs which most are now slowing onboarding but some are still holding out.

Clip from youtube streaming on the TV via Chromecast
Clip from youtube streaming on the TV via Chromecast
Chromecast remote control app as shown on my Android Phone - the picture is static on your phone, its just a nice background while your clip plays on the TV
Chromecast remote control app as shown on my Android Phone – the picture is static on your phone, its just a nice background while your clip plays on the TV

The other really feature of Chromecast is its ability to allow you to “cast” any Chrome tabs from your computer directly to the TV. This is a great workaround for certain channels which doesn’t have direct Chromecast support. However, streaming from Chrome browser only works for Chrome on your desktop PC and NOT from your mobile and tablet. There has been some work to improve this but at time of writing this does not yet work well.

My personal favourite use of Chromecast is to pair it with my PLEX server and use it to stream my collection of movies and TV shows which reside on my computer. Its so successful that I am going to have to find another use for my Raspberry Pi which was acting as the Plex client.

Aesthetics and Build Quality

As I mentioned earlier, Chromecast is a sexy little device – at least in the photos. However if like me you dont have a USB connection on your TV, then you end up with wire hanging out to the power socket which makes a mess of the simple look and feel. Although I cant really blame Google for this one, just myself for having an old TV :)

However, I do worry about the life span of this device, it runs super hot all the time, even when idle it is still hot to touch. I also wonder how much electricity it is burning up as I plug it direct into the socket it doesnt go off when the TV is on standby.

Verdict

Google Chromecast is a wonderful little device, I believe its ever growing arsenal of channels and content will make it unbeatable at its £30 price point. Add full support for Chrome Android browser tab casting and it will help Chrome cement its place as the browser of choice too.

Do you have Chromecast? If so, would love to hear what you think in the comments below.

London Technology Week 2014

This week I was lucky enough to be able to take some time off work and attend the London Technology Week. This is a brief write up of the talks I attended and photos of some cool exhibits. Lets start with the talks

When smart-phones sense how you feel: The era of intelligent mobile devices

Talk description: “Argus Labs uses deep learning algorithms to sense, understand and predict human behaviour and emotions, based on the sensors in a smart-phone and general usage of a smart-phone. The presentation will demonstrate how smart-phones will start to behave as intelligent entities that know how a user feels and improve our lives.”

  • Argus Labs is working on APIs and SDK which will allow programmers to build emotion aware mobile apps
  • A variety of tools is used to predict mood, based on learning over time – i.e. every Monday morning you feel depressed and you tell the app this is how your feeling and over time it will form that pattern or maybe after everySaturday night after you come out of a club you feel happy. They also make use of the gyroscope to determine how happy / angry you are – for example, you are happy after clubbing and reading a book, but you might be jumping around after clubbing whereas your quietly happy after reading
  • The Presenter mentioned how personality is now really easy to predict – i.e. based on what feeds we subscribe to and what circle of friends we have. However mood is still extremely hard
  • An interesting topic was whether you should act on the user’s current mood or their predicted mood – i.e. if you know someone will be unhappy in an hour’s time, maybe play some happy music now to start counteracting that
  • A good example of this application is if the apps sees the user stuck in traffic and knows the user is typically angry – time to play some gentle music to help calm the user
Will cars be able to detect your mood in the future to make you a better driver?
Will cars be able to detect your mood in the future to make you a better driver?
  • The apps you build will learn about an individual’s mood and behavior over time, but is locked to that person so you cant pass your mobile to another user and expect it to work
  • Future of mobile is not about mobility, its been done – it will be about AI

This was a really interesting talk, made appreciate a lot more about how much companies are able to learn about me from my general online profile and keeping track of the places I visit etc. I start to think that one day my phone will know me better as a person than I do! Also the general idea of data mining and building a reasoning engine behind the massive amounts of data you collect is a theme that runs through many growth areas.

The Database of You – The opportunities and issues that arise from wearable technology everywhere

Talk description: “The last 5 years have seen an explosion in the growth of wearable technology, health and fitness data and mobiles apps and devices. Yet we are still only at the very start of our journey towards the database of me; – a personal cloud containing details of every aspect of our lives. How will the availability of huge quantities of health and performance data on everyone affect how companies do business, how people lead their lives and the general wellness of the population?”

  • Talk was delivered by CIO of Virgin Active Health Clubs and he started by mentioning that attrition rate in health club industry is a massive 60% – i.e. 60% of their members leave every year
  • The way to reduce attrition is to better facilitate users with their goals and allow users to see that they are making progress
  • The presenter mentioned the term “Cambrian explosion”, this is the period when there was a massive explosion of different life forms on earth and before settling on the best design – he sees wearable technology currently going through this period and everything we have not yet seen anything like the final design yet. He compared this to initial stages of the mobile where they came in all different shapes and sizes before everyone making phones that look like an iPhone
Graph showing popularity of a new technology as it comes out and then over time as it matures
Graph showing popularity of a new technology as it comes out and then over time as it matures
  • In terms of collecting data about individuals, he was nervous about how much personal data we are now able collect, but at the same time he felt everyone was starting to feel at ease with their data being in the cloud
  • This is an area which Apple, Samsung and Google are now all heavily investing with different platforms
  • Finally he compared current wearable tech to the early stages of car GPS systems which would plot on the map exactly where you are and the route you took – which was amazing when it first came out – to current GPS systems which also tell you about traffic and weather and best route home. So to make the tech actually useful you need a lot more context and a collective database about the person – The database of you.

Personally I really love the design of the new Samsung Gear – although I do worry slightly about the massive database of myself being held online, does that mean my medical insurance will go up with every McDonalds meal I eat? Maybe it should – but maybe this is just the perfect reason I needed to keep myself healthy as well.

Make sense of your (big) data and analyze in real-time like you have never done before!
Talk description: “With companies like Bloomberg, Facebook, Goldman Sachs and The Guardian using Elasticsearch, discover how the power of search can power your data analysis. We’ll enlighten you with some impressive use-cases for on-the-fly real-time data analysis and share dashboards that will delight you (and your stakeholders) beyond belief.”
Free Elasticsearch USB stick - yup I am easily brought
Free Elasticsearch USB stick – yup I am easily brought
  • Elasticsearch actually mentioned Goldman a few times as one of their star clients
  • Major advantage is its server plug and play capability – by adding new servers, the load will be automatically distributed for you
  • One of the most useful way to use it is not to look for the items with the biggest volumn / ticks / treads, but to look for exceptions in your data – i.e. comparing this week’s and last week’s dataset and seeing which currency is doing more or less relative to last week
  • Everything is open source and available for commercial use for free – Elasticsearch themselves make money by providing training and some APIs and tools
  • Do not use Elasticsearch db as your golden source if the data is important for you, always keep a separate copy and elasticsearch can lose data in certain edge case scenarios
Other cool London Technology Week exhibits