Smartening Your TV With Google Chromecast

The latest device that beams your computer to your TV is Google Chromecast. Technology writer Larry Magid tells us how it stacks up against the competition and how the Internet giant will impact streaming TV.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. Google has joined the growing list of companies that want to help you watch TV shows and online videos at your own convenience by streaming the shows from your computer or your smartphone to your TV set. Google Chromecast is the latest device to help you do that, and they gave a very reasonable price of - about 35 bucks. How does it stack up to Roku, Apple TV and others? Here to tell us if Chromecast is a game changer is Larry Magid, syndicated columnist, blogger for the San Jose Mercury News, Forbes.com, CNet and Huffington Post and co-director of ConnectedSafe.org. Good to talk to you again, Larry.

LARRY MAGID: Good to talk you, Ira.

FLATOW: So is it everything it's supposed to do? Tell us what it does.

MAGID: Well, I think it has great potential. What it does is you plug it into the HDMI port - that's the little port that's just about every high-definition TV has on it - and then you might have to plug it into a power source as well. And then when you tune in that HDMI channel on your TV, you then take your iPhone or your Android phone or your tablet or even a laptop, and you use that as your remote control to watch video. Now, right now, it's very limited in terms of what you can watch.

They have Netflix, and they have Google's own YouTube, and they also have Google Play so you could rent or buy a movie or music on Google Play. But it does not have a vast array of channels that you could get on the other devices - Roku or the Apple TV, for example. But it does this very elegantly. Now, it doesn't come with a remote control, which is one of the reasons perhaps they were able to sell it for so little. But your smartphone or your tablet or whatever is a remote control. And what's particularly interesting about it, if you are not streaming the video from your device, you're actually going directly from your Wi-Fi connector, wherever that is in your house, to the Chromecast.

Your device is simply your remote control. So once, for example, you start watching the video, you could then use your iPhone or your tablet or whatever to go do something else because it's streaming directly to the Chromecast.

FLATOW: So far, it's not what they used to call the killer app, you know?

MAGID: It has the potential, and here is why. Google, as we all know, is huge and has amazing outreach and can develop partnerships. If they can get millions of these things into people's homes at $35...

FLATOW: Yeah.

MAGID: ...then you better believe the HBOs and the Hulus and the Amazons and everybody else are going to be lining up to sign up. And already, we're hearing reports - I just read today that Hulu wants to get on board. HBO said it's exploring getting on board. So once the content is there, once you have potentially hundreds of channels, then if I were the - if I were a cable company or a satellite company, I'd be very worried about Google taking over my market.

FLATOW: So what do you do if you're Apple TV? Do you try to match the price of that, or how do you compete with that?

MAGID: Right. I read that actually Apple TV just lowered the price to bid on the refurbished models. They're $99 out the door retail. I think you're going to have to compete with price, and I think you're going to also - and I'm sure Apple will do this - compete with service and quality. I mean Apple does do things that you can't do and may never be able to do on Chromecast, for example, being able to access your iTunes library. That's something that's somewhat unique to Apple for obvious reasons.

And so Chromecast does have the potential of doing that with your Google Library, but I do think this is going to be a big horserace right now with Roku and Apple. And I think Amazon is going to get into the act, and we're going to probably see other players as well.

FLATOW: Because Roku is not that much more expensive, isn't it?

MAGID: You know, you can get a Roku for $50 or the one I have happens to be 99. It's got a few bells and whistles, but it has more than 100 channels.

FLATOW: Right.

MAGID: And it's also very easy to set up. It's hard to get much easier than a Roku. The only big difference between the Roku and the Chromecast from a setup standpoint is the Chromecast looks like a USB key. It plugs into the port directly, whereas with the Roku, you put in a cable and plug in, but not exactly brain surgery.

FLATOW: And just well I got you. Let me ask a couple of other geeky, techie things.

MAGID: Sure.

FLATOW: How - Google just released the Nexus 7 tablet.

MAGID: Yeah.

FLATOW: How do you like that?

MAGID: I do like it. I mean the resolution is quite good. I like the fact that it's thinner than the iPad Mini, and I have an iPad Mini. I was holding them hand right next to each other. And if you go to LarrysWorld.com, my main website, you can find a link to my Forbes review. I think it's a very competitive product, but, of course, Apple has got something in the drawing board. But again, this is going to be a huge horserace. But Google is definitely starting to catch up in the tablet wars. They have ways to go, but the Nexus 7 is a very good offering, especially if you like smaller tablets.

FLATOW: And you also just got back from the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas. See anything interesting there?

MAGID: Well, I saw a lot of hacking attempts or hacking demonstrations with phones, something called Mactans, where you have a rouge charger - you know at the airport you can go charge your phone...

FLATOW: Right.

MAGID: ...you better take a close look at those chargers because if it's a Mactan charger, it can eject malware into your iPhone or iPad. Apple says they're going to fix this with the next release of the iOS. But another thing I saw breaking into home security systems and home door locks. A lot of people have these electronic pads now to unlock their doors so they can do it from an iPhone or from a P.C. and change the combination.

FLATOW: Right.

MAGID: Well, some of guys have shown how you can hack into those. So you may think you're secure with this electronic lock but not if the bad guys get a hold of what the good guys showed at the conference. As you know, Black Hat is all about demonstrating what could happen, hopefully, so things are fixed before criminals actually exploit them.

FLATOW: Well, that's a good segue for us, Larry, because we're going to talk about the Def Con hacking conference in just a couple of minutes where people have been hacking into Prius, on these...

MAGID: Absolutely. And I drive a Prius. I actually worry.

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: All right, Larry. Thanks for taking time to be with us today.

MAGID: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Good to have you. Larry Magid, who has lots of hats, he's syndicated columnist, blogger for the San Jose Mercury News, Forbes.com, CNet, Huffington Post and co-director of ConnectSafety.org, a very interesting site for you and your kids.

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