Android TV got a splashy introduction at Google’s I/O conference keynote on Wednesday, but Google’s little streaming stick that could, Chromecast, got some love too. After all, the Android TV set-top boxes will support Google Cast, which means that, as engineering director Dave Burke quipped from the stage, “As Cast gets better, so does Android TV.”
Sure, Chromecast is something people can already buy—launched last July, it’s now in 18 countries and is the top-selling media streamer on Amazon in five of them. Google says it’s sold millions of units, which makes sense as it retails for just $35.
The app roster is growing quickly too, even though the Google Cast SDK just launched in February. Today 6,000 developers have registered for the program, and as the app ecosystem continues to swell, Google wants to make it easier for consumers to find Chromecast apps. You can see an updated list online, and that same “discovery experience” will roll out to the Chromecast mobile app too, which is on iOS and Android.
Cast off the shackles of Wi-Fi
As of right now, an iOS or Android device has to be on the same Wi-Fi network as a Chromecast to cast video to it. But not for long. Google will roll out an opt-in feature later this year that will let nearby devices cast to a Google Cast device like the Chromecast, even if they’re not on the local Wi-Fi.
The Cast button will appear in compatible apps like YouTube, and when you tap it, Google will attempt to automatically authorize your device to cast to a nearby Chromecast. If it can’t, the screen will display a PIN for you to enter, but if the authorization works, the experience will be just as seamless as if you were on the Wi-Fi. It seems like a lot of technological wizardry to avoid giving friends your Wi-Fi password, but convenient all the same. And since it’s opt-in, you’ll always have the final say over who can cast video to your big screen.
Mirror, mirror on the screen
Another new feature lets you mirror the display of select Android devices to your Chromecast, using Google’s own custom protocol. To start mirroring, all you have to do is open the Chromecast app on your Android device and select Cast Screen. Then you can exit that app and do whatever, and everything shows up on your Chromecast-connected TV—with very little lag, if we can believe the on-stage demo at Google I/O.
The demo included a big-screen version of Google Earth, which zoomed in smoothly and responded almost instantly to the navigation on the phone, as well as the camera app, which showed a live view of whatever the camera view could see.
Mirroring will roll out over the next few weeks. It isn’t supported on every Android device yet, but will start with a good handful of popular models from Samsung, LG, and HTC, as well as some Nexus devices. More will come later.
Backdrop it like it’s hot
When your Chromecast isn’t showing video, it displays a growing collection of lovely photographs, but there hasn’t been any official way to tweak that feature or get it to show your own pictures. A new Backdrop tab in the Chromecast mobile app will change that.
Users will be able to set one or more Google+ albums to display as the screensaver. If you don’t like your own mages, you can choose from topical feed, including Places, which is awesome Google Earth photos, or Art, which is of course famous paintings. The topics are curated by humans for quality and appropriateness.
If you’re watching the images in the Art topic, and you see a purty picture you want to know more about, just ask Google Voice search on your phone, “What’s on my Chromecast?” Cards will appear showing you more information about the painting and the artist, and they stay syncronized as the images change on your TV set. Google will work with third-party delopers to add more topics. The Backdrop feature will roll out this summer.