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Hands-on with Chromecast, Google's wireless HDMI streaming dongle (update: video)

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We should've known this was coming after Google and Netflix informed us back at CES they were working on their AirPlay competitor, the DIAL wireless streaming protocol. Today, with the revelation of the new Chromecast HDMI dongle to leverage DIAL and expand upon it, you'll be able to stream more content more easily to your home's biggest screen -- all for just 35 bucks. We got to check out the Chromecast at today's Google event, so join us, won't you, for our full impressions.

Gallery: Google Chromecast hands-on | 12 Photos

As noted during the announcement, the dongle itself is a mere two inches long, with a bulbous circular end opposite the necessary HDMI port. It's got white Chrome branding printed on one side and the requisite FCC info on the other. While we take no issue with the shape itself, we're concerned that flared-out end might take up the space of two HDMI ports despite it needing only one to operate -- good thing you get an HDMI extender plug in the box to ensure that doesn't happen. It's a solid little thing, constructed of black plastic and jammed with the 2.4GHz wireless radio needed to talk with tablets and phones. There's no battery inside, however, which is why the dongle also comes with a micro-USB cable and an outlet adapter to provide it the juice it needs to keep the music and videos flowing.

In practice, the act of throwing video from your phone using the YouTube or Netflix apps is dead simple, and anyone familiar with the mechanics of YouTube's "send to TV" feature will be right at home. In speaking with a Chromecast product manager, he was quick to point out that, while the underlying technology for Chromecast and send to TV isn't exactly the same; the major difference is that Chromecast has been built to scale and integrate with other services. During our brief demo, the system was able to send videos from both a Nexus 4 and an iPhone 5 with only a couple seconds delay before the requested content appeared on screen. Once a video was playing, the handsets could be used for other purposes or put into standby mode with nary a hiccup on the TV. In short, Chromecast works as advertised, and we're looking forward to seeing the new content partners using the service. Content is king, and more is always better, right?

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