Google's New TV Gadget, the Chromecast

Chromecast doesn't so much "solve a problem" so much as create a new one: Why can't I put my content, whatever it is, on any screen I encounter, at the touch of a button?
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What I'm Chromecasting

For the past couple days, I've been playing with Google's new $35 device for your TV, the Chromecast. It works simply: You plug it into the back of your TV and a power source, hook it up to the wifi through your computer, and thereafter, you can toss ("cast") anything from a Chrome browser tab to the television.

While friends of the blog like Wired's Mat Honan are excited about the "miracle device," others like Buzzfeed's John Hermann think it's no great shakes. John Gruber argues, "I just don't get why anyone would want this."

Viewed largely as a video transmission gadget, Gruber's point is well taken. There are at least two good options for getting computery video onto a TV: Apple TV (at $99) and Roku (at $50). Chromecast is $35. The Apple TV has Airplay and is all-around a bit more capable (though no Flash allowed). The Roku lets you access Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, and it works fine.

But I don't think Chromecast is just for video. It's for anything. It's fun and a little magical to be able to cast literally anything to your biggest screen. Sure, there's Netflix or a streaming music service like Rdio or Spotify. But there's also a random YouTube video embedded in a blog post. There's the New York Times. There's pornography and the Prelinger Archives and your Gmail and big old PDFs and barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com. You can put anything on that screen, and Google makes it feel effortless.

I know putting stuff from your computer or phone screen onto your TV is not novel. I've had a Roku box and plenty of display adapters for a long time. But when something works as easily as Chromecast does, the capability becomes more real. You think of it.

To me, Chromecast doesn't so much "solve a problem" so much as create a new one: Why can't I put my content, whatever it is, on any screen I encounter, at the touch of a button? After only two days of using Chromecast, I feel like that's how the technological world should work.

Will the Chromecast be a commercial success? I have no idea. Google's marketing thus far has been a little boneheaded. But I like it, and it works as advertised, and it makes me feel like I'm a little further into the future. For $35, that's a good deal.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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