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5 great things you can do with a Google Chromecast

Some people wonder what in the world they'd do with a Chromecast. Friends, there are a lot of great things you can do with a Chromecast besides watching funny cat videos on your 42-inch HDTV.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

My buddy David Gewirtz bought a Google Chromecast and now he's blaming me for it. The Chromecast, for those of you who don't know it, is a USB flash-drive stick-sized device that enables you to send anything you can see with the Chrome Web browser to your TV. David, however, isn't sure what to do with his latest gadget. Well, I have five great things that he, and you, can do with a Chromecast.

Say howdy to Chromecast, the smallest and easiest way to bring Internet video to your HDTV.

Like David, I have far more cord-cutting Internet-TV devices than any normal person would ever fill their home theater with. I'll see his Apple TV, XBox 360, PS3, directly connected Mac mini, and Roku box with my two Apple TVs, pair of Roku boxes, TiVo Premiere, and Internet enabled Sony and Samsung Blu-Ray DVD players. Even with all that gear between us, there are still good reasons to buy the $35 Chromecast.

2013's top four Internet media extenders (Gallery)

1) Watch any Web content on the big screen.

Not all Web content is created equal. The ordinary run of Internet media extenders, such as the Roku line, can show Internet video channels such as NetflixHulu Plus, and YouTube. But, some Internet TV shows are only available via websites, such as Hulu-only content and many of CBS's prime-time shows. If you want to watch these shows on your HDTV you need a Chromecast and any device that can run the Chrome Web browser, or a late-model Apple TV paired with a newer Apple computing device that can support AirPlay Mirroring

Yes, it would be nice if we could just easily stream everything and anything to our "smart" TVs, but we're still long, long way from being able to do that. For the next few years, if you want access to all Internet-enabled video you're going to need several devices but you'll not be able to see everything that's available from cable and satellite TV vendors. Darn it!

2) Watch "restricted access" Internet video on the big screen.

Living in the US, I can't easily watch my favorite current UK television shows like the second season of the BBC's The Paradise or the fourth season of ITV's Downton Abby. Were I living in the U.K., I wouldn't be able to access Hulu. Thanks to Web proxies, such as Media Hint, and virtual private networks (VPN)s, I can set my computers up so I can watch international TV shows.

These work by providing me with an Internet Protocol (IP) address in a country where the content is available. Then, with Chromecast, I can watch these programs on my "real" TV instead of one of my PCs or laptops. It's a lot more fun watching these shows on a big screen then even on the best of my computer displays.

3) Watch your own videos

For some reason, it's not well-known but you can use Chromecast to watch videos off your local or network drives. True, Chromecast has no media-server support as such, but it's easy to get around this. All you have to do is open a video file in Chrome with the command "Control-O." Since Chrome can natively play AVI, MP4, M4V, MPEG, OGV, and WEBM videos, you can then watch you own videos on your TV with no fuss or muss.

Personally, I've converted almost all my DVD collection into MP4 videos. So, almost my entire video library now lives on a mult-terabyte Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. This approach isn't for everybody, but for a pair of movie fanatics like my wife and me, it works quite well. 

4) Video-conferencing

I've been using video-conferencing since the 1980s and ISDN gave us the then remarkable speeds of up to 128-kilobits per second. That part of 80s technology I don't miss, but what I do miss is the big screens we used for videoconferencing in those days. Now, thanks to Chromecast, I can really see everyone I'm talking to in a Google+ Hangout, my preferred group video-conference service. On my 42" Sony HDTV, video-conferencing is once more a pleasure.

5) Replace laptop projector

I do some public speaking and consulting. A lot of that is in small meeting rooms. To make my points visually, I've used a series of Epson InFocus projectors over the years. These are nice, but, like any projector, they take up room, weigh down my laptop bag, go out of focus, and the bulbs always burn out at the worst possible times. Any business road-warrior knows the drill.

Now, thanks to the Chromecast, I just make sure I can get a modern TV in the space and I'm good to go. It is so, so much easier than futzing with projectors, that I don't know how I ever managed without it.

So, there you go, three fun and two business reasons why Chromecasts are great, little handy Internet to TV devices. Have fun with yours David and everyone else out there with a Chromecast to call their own. 

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