The Chromecast was an important part of Google’s play for the living room. On today’s Throwback Thursday, we take a quick look at the 1st gen Chromecast, the device that started it all.
The first gen Chromecast was released in July, 2013. Priced at $35, it quickly became somewhat of an “impulse” buy amongst techies, as it was pretty much the cheapest streamer “stick” that worked well.
Compatible with both Android and the Chrome browser, it was initially only capable of catching media streams “casted” from compatible devices. In subsequent updates, it gained the much vaunted capability of receiving full “screencasts” as well, making it an even more useful tool for the mobile Tech-Nomad.
DESIGN / BUILD QUALITY
The Chromecast comes as a very small dongle not much bigger than your typical flash drive. Built primarily out of plastic, the Chromecast features a HDMI connector on one end, with the indicator LED, power button and microUSB power port on the other.
It looks slick and simple, and it’s also pretty foolproof to use: Plug the HDMI end to your TV, the microUSB to a power source (a spare USB port on the TV, a powerbank or a USB charger) and turn it on. Not much can go wrong with the process, and Google even includes a HDMI extender cable in case the Chromecast couldn’t fit the port you want it to go into.
Build wise, the plastic chosen feels high quality and the whole thing feels sturdy enough, especially compared to mass market OEM “Miracast” dongles from China. If there is one complaint though, it would be that the HDMI connector can be slightly wobbly.
The Chromecast was based on the Marvell Armada 1500-mini 88DE3005 system on a chip running an ARM Cortex-A9 processor, with 512 MB of Micron DDR3L RAM and 2 GB of flash storage. Radio communication was handled by the AzureWave NH–387 802.11b/g/n WIFI chip and the SoC also includes codecs for the hardware decoding of VP8 and H.264 video.
The OS on the Chromecast itself is a customised version of Android, and works quite well considering the limited resources available to it. It’s pretty dependent on a “caster” for content though, and on its own will only show pictures or news it automatically pulls off the WIFI it’s connected to.
Connected to a caster, much like an Apple TV, it often takes a few seconds for the Chromecast to buffer content before its able to stream. Similarly, any seeking will result in re-buffering, but it often only takes a few seconds for the Chromecast to go back to smooth playback.
Full desktop screen casting performance was also similar, with the screen losing definition in lieu of buffering during activity and movement, and gaining back that definition once its fully buffered.
However, this is very much dependent on the speed of the WIFI it’s being connected to, and how the congestion of the wireless spectrum around it is like.
The newer, 2nd Gen and Ultra Chromecast suffer less issues in this respect due to them having dual-band WIFI vs the 1st Gen’s single-band chip. Also, their improved SoC specs mean that they have less buffering to begin with.
At $35 at launch, it was pretty hard to argue about just how good a value proposition the Chromecast was.
And as prices tumbled even lower after the lunch of the 2nd Gen, it got harder and harder to justify not having one.
I mean, a tiny media streaming dongle that even does screen casting for less than $30? It’s pretty clear why some even called it “THE impulse buy device to get”.
The 1st Gen Chromecast, while now overshadowed in terms of performance compared to its more current brethren, is still the wonder device it was nearly four years ago – thanks to Google software updates.
It’s a tad slower and the single-band WIFI suffers the effects of wireless congestion much more, but it can still at least perform almost all of the functions of its more advanced siblings.
Plus, compared to the rest, the 1st gen Chromecast is still pretty much the smallest of them all and this might just be the reason why it’s still in my everyday pack, carried everywhere in case I ever need to connect any of my devices to a TV or a projector wirelessly.
So, next time you see a 1st Gen Chromecast being offered on clearance, just get one unless you already have one.