Google takes another stab at the living room with Chromecast

Google catches up with a number of Android and Chrome announcements that didn't make the cut (or weren't ready) at I/O in June.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Following up the long-awaited debut of Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), Chrome took center stage at Google's big news event on Wednesday morning.

See also: Google teams with Asus on upgraded Android 4.3-based Nexus 7 | CNET's live blog: 'Breakfast with Sundar'

Walking in to the Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco on Wednesday morning, one of the only objects already propped up on the bare stage was an HDTV from Samsung.

It became evident that Google taking yet another approach at syncing up the living room, but the surprise announcement wasn't another Google TV or even the dead-on-arrival Nexus Q.

Enter the Chromecast.

Measuring in at just two inches in length, Chromecast runs a "simplified version" of Chrome OS. It plugs into any HDMI input port and "simply disappears behind your TV."

Essentially, the Chromecast links up other Google products in your home (Android and Chrome-based) such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

The Chromecast streams the content (i.e. YouTube, Netflix, Google Play social games, etc.) from the device source via the cloud. The device (i.e. smartphone) operates as the remote control.

For developers, there is the new Google Cast SDK, which should enable building upon existing apps and interactions between devices and the TV through the Chromecast devices.

The developer preview for Android, Chrome and iOS is rolling out today.

The obvious benefits here include the compact form factor and the easy upgrade in a simple package. That is to say that consumers just need a TV with HDMI connectivity, and this device should be good-to-go.

Instead of paying hundreds of dollars to upgrade the HDTV itself (at least for Internet connectivity and related apps), consumers could save themselves a lot of time, trouble and money with a dongle that just plugs in.

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Compared to the confusing Nexus Q and the expensive Google TV models that had limited functionality, the Chromecast peripheral is possibly Google's best attempt at satisfying home entertainment devices yet.

That is, at first glance.

There are a few features still in the infamous beta mode, meaning users can't expect things to work so seamlessly out of the box.

For example, one function rolling out in beta is the ability to launch any Chrome tab from a user's laptop to the television via Chromecast. Based on the live demo, it also appears that there is a bit of a time delay between the source and the TV's display of Chrome.

Regardless, the Chromecast is nothing to shake your head at when you consider the price.

The Chromecast will launch in the United States first for $35, which garnered an audible (but deserved) gasp from the media audience, a typically jaded bunch at these product announcements.

Google reps promised that Chromecast will be shipped out to other international markets as soon as possible.

Images: James Martin, CNET

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