- A $35 Chromecast device revived an old TV I was planning to give away.
- The small device allows you to stream on your TV from a phone, tablet, or laptop. It plugs into your TV via the HDMI port and works with all major streaming apps, like HBO, Netflix, Hulu, and, YouTube.
- Chromecasts can also work with older smart TVs that are on the verge of becoming obsolete.
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In the era of smart TVs and streaming devices, it’s hard to remember a time when not everything had an instant connection to Netflix.
But as little as five years ago, most of us were buying regular old TVs, without the built-in smarts.
I got a 32-inch Sony TV as a Christmas gift in 2014, right before I moved into my first solo apartment. It was perfect for my needs at the time: it fit on my mantle, it had an HDMI port that allowed me to connect my laptop to play movies once in a while, and it sounded pretty good in my small, one-bedroom place.
But by 2019, I had mostly worn out the speakers — I had to crank the volume nearly all the way up in order to hear something — and the size felt too small to properly enjoy movies or football games. My fiancé and I decided it was time to upgrade: we purchased a Vizio smart TV (a steal at less than $250) and hooked it up to an Apple TV.
At this point, I was ready to hand off my old TV to any friend who wanted it, or put it by the curb and hope it ended up in a good home. But then I remembered I had an extra Chromecast dongle lying around — the perks of being a former tech reviewer — and decided to give it a shot.
For the unfamiliar, a Chromecast allows you to stream on your TV from a phone, tablet, or laptop. It plugs into your TV via the HDMI port and works with all major streaming apps, like HBO, Netflix, Hulu, and, of course, YouTube. All you have to do is open the app on your iPhone or Android device, select what you’d like to watch, and then tap the cast button — your content will then appear on the TV screen as you control it from your phone.
This isn’t new technology by any means; Chromecast has been on the market since 2013. But I’d argue that the device is even more useful now than it’s ever been for three reasons:
- We’re all more used to using our phones for streaming, and many of us watch shows or movies on our smartphones anyway.
- There are more streaming apps than ever before, but not all of them work on every device, like older smart TVs. Most of them are available on smartphones, however.
- A $35 dongle is significantly cheaper than buying a new smart TV, or even a more sophisticated streaming device like an Apple TV, which will cost you up to $200.
And I can now vouch for its usefulness myself: adding a Chromecast to my older TV has completely transformed it from an item I planned to give away into a newly smart TV and a permanent fixture in my bedroom. I can stream whatever I want as long as I have the app on my phone and it’s compatible with Chromecast, and the worn out speakers aren’t really a problem in the more confined space.
(It’s worth noting that Google isn’t the only one doing this: Amazon and Roku make cheap streaming sticks as well, I just happen to prefer Google devices in my home.)
Chromecast does come with a few challenges and limitations. It won’t be compatible with every site or app you’d like to stream from, so if you watch shows and movies from some niche apps, it may not work (The device does have a lot of partners, though, so it’s worth checking Google’s partner list before you buy one.) It’s also worth noting that those looking to watch unofficial streams will be out of luck, as only official content is supported.
Additionally, the physical act of controlling what you’re watching from your phone can be a little wonky. Anytime I need to pause and restart something, or change the volume from my phone, it can be a bit glitchy, as if my phone forgot it was in charge of the stream. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I wouldn’t recommend Chromecast as the streaming conduit on your main TV for this reason — it will probably end up annoying you.
Flaws aside, however, for $35, you’re getting your money’s worth. And as my colleague Tony Villas-Boas points out, this isn’t only a solution for old, “dumb” TVs — adding a cheap streaming dongle to a smart TV can help circumvent older systems that don’t support your favorite apps.
SEE ALSO: I tried the new $250 wireless earbuds from Beats, and they’re officially the best AirPods alternative for iPhone users
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