Google's Chromecast is Mountain View's next foray into the television market. In brief, it's a $35 HDMI dongle that mirrors content being played nearby on a tablet, smartphone or computer. (Hrm, that sounds familiar.) Importantly though, the mirrored content isn't beamed from your local device, but is streamed from the cloud direct to the dongle when you activate mirroring on a Chromecast-compatible service like YouTube or Netflix. At that point, your PC or mobile is freed up for multi-tasking, and for working as a WiFi-based remote control for the content on the bigger display. Check out our hands-on to see the Chromecast in action, or read on for more detail.
The 2-inch device runs "a simplified version of Chrome OS" and requires separate USB power. You connect it to your local WiFi network and it finds similarly connected devices that it can work with. It can be ordered right now on Google Play and will apparently ship in one to two days. Of note, the device seems US-only for now, as our UK colleagues are showing a "not available in your country" prompt. Early buyers get three months of free Netflix with the purchase. Additionally, it's also heading to retail (read: Best Buy) on July 28th. Google ended its presentation with a quick word that Chromecast functionality will eventually come embedded in various other devices, and that it's working on getting other countries access "as quickly as possible." No specs were given during the presentation, but its Google Play page lists the device as HDMI-CEC compatible, and it uses 2.4GHz 801.11 b/g/n WiFi. Given the separate USB power required, the $35 nets you a Chromecast device, an HDMI extended, a USB power cable and a separate power adapter.
Apps that work with the device include a "Cast" button that allows users to push video to their televisions and control various aspects remotely (volume, play, pause, etc.). "Once Chromecast is plugged in, you just go to YouTube on your smartphone," Google reps said. "You'll see the cast button in your UI and you press it -- Chromecast will pull the info you requested from the cloud and play it on your TV." Meanwhile, an on-stage demonstration showed YouTube video being pushed "via the cloud," thus enabling other apps to be used while a video is being viewed on a television screen. Netflix was up next, and it has similar remote control functionality. Google Play movies and television (expectedly) also work with Chromecast, and Google delightedly demonstrated it with Vin Diesel vehicle Fast Five. Finally, Google demoed full Google Chrome projected on a TV and controlled remotely with a "standard $500 Windows 8 laptop." The feature is "still in early days," but a promise has already been made: that users will be able to easily project content to televisions via their web browser.
Update: We've added Chromecast's first commercial (which demonstrates much of the device's functionality) above, and a source link with Google's formal announcement.
Update 2: Aside from the Google Play store and Best Buy, you can also buy the Chromecast from Amazon. Thankfully, that three-month gratis Netflix would still be applicable if you buy it from the online giant.