Thursday, August 1, 2013

Google Chromecast - Not Ready for Education?

I had a chance today to play with one of the new Google Chromecast devices. Google bills it as, "The easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV." It sells for $35. When announced, I was quite excited by the price point and the promises of working with desktop computers and mobile devices. Many were thinking this might be a possible solution to displaying content from a mobile device to a projector in a classroom without the expense of an AppleTV or a sometimes flaky connection to a desktop application. Here is what we found...

It was three geeks and a superintendent evaluating the device's potential for education. We hooked it up to a projector with an HDMI input. Very simple to plug into the projector, but know that it requires a power supply or a usb connection for power. Google doesn't show that in any of the promotional materials. Next, one of the others in the room who refuses to read the manual had the device setup and working on the wireless network in a matter of minutes using an Android based tablet. Nice! Very simple!

So, we used the Android based tablet, an iPad, an iPhone and a Macbook to test the functionality. In all cases, using the most up-to-date versions of the Netflix and YouTube applications, we were able to stream content to the projector. Quality looked good and once you started the stream, you could quit the app and move on to other tasks without causing the stream to stop. (though we did have some difficulty reconnecting to the device to shut off the stream) We used the Macbook, with the Chrome browser and the required extension installed, to stream content from the browser. In this case, we experienced some buffering of the videos that we tried and the quality seemed a little lower than when using the Netflix or YouTube apps. We discovered that there is no support (at least not yet) for the Chrome browser on the Android or iOS platforms. So, mobile devices are not currently supported except for the Netflix and YouTube apps. Google documentation indicates that the Chrome browser for Windows (except RT), Mac and Linux is supported. Nonetheless, any browser based content, including Google Apps, can be displayed from a desktop computer, wirelessly.

We found it to have a nice "cool" factor, but that's about where the functionality ended and where the questions about classroom use started. Here are the issues we found that probably makes it difficult to implement in classrooms at this time.

  1. No support for mirroring from a mobile device, regardless of platform.
  2. No security to prevent any device from connecting to it. So, if a teacher were streaming to a Chromecast device and a student had a compatible device, they could start streaming to it effectively kicking the teacher off. No passwords needed. This could be a problem!
  3. No support for browser content from a mobile device.
  4. A few other bugs like the difficulty reconnecting to a device once a stream is started.
These could all be "fixed" by Google in the coming months, but for now, it seems like Chromecast is a nice little streaming media device best suited for household use. It works well with Netflix, YouTube, Google Play (with Pandora support coming soon I read) and with a price point lower than a Roku or AppleTV, it might be an attractive choice for home use. It is NOT, however, a mirroring device suitable for displaying the screen of a mobile device. I haven't read anything from Google indicating that it will ever support mirroring, but with Google, anything can change at any time. 

If you have a different experience or discover additional functionality, please share! I really want this to be a viable classroom tool, but at this point, I don't think it is there.

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