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Getting the most out of your Chromecast this Christmas

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Google's Chromecast makes it easy to stream pretty much anything to your TV. Movies, TV shows, music, games, photos -- whatever you're interested in, there are plenty of smartphone and tablet apps equipped with Google's little Cast button. So, whether you have one hooked up to the main TV in your living room, or a second screen somewhere else in the house, Chromecast could be a useful tool to have on hand this Christmas. For our UK readers, here's a quick rundown for maxing out the tiny dongle over the next few days.

​Music

Once your home is covered in tinsel and glowing lights, nothing beats some cringeworthy, yet beloved Christmas music to get everyone in the festive spirit. And, because not every household has a dedicated hi-fi system, Google's Chromecast is a pretty good alternative for pumping out some classic carols and Christmas chart-toppers through your TV.

Google, of course, has its own music streaming service to help you out. Any music you already own can be synced with Play Music via Google's cloud-based "locker" service, after which you can starting building the perfect playlist using any Android or iOS device. Alternatively, you can take out a Spotify-style All Access subscription to stream anything from Google's online catalogue; it also comes with the new YouTube Music Key for ad-free music videos.

Rdio and Deezer both support Chromecast, and if you have a subscription with either service you can stream your favourite Christmas tracks without interruption. Blinkbox Music is a solid free option that offers genre- and artist-based "stations" (curated playlists), while TuneIn's apps cover more conventional Internet radio.

Want to dance around with some music videos playing in the background? YouTube is an obvious choice, but we'd also throw VEVO's mobile apps into the mix.

TV and Movies

It's easy to miss some cracking TV specials while you're tucking into the Christmas turkey or dominating your relatives at Monopoly. If and when you manage to grab a quiet moment, though, there are a few catch-up TV services that'll play nicely with your Chromecast. BBC iPlayer is an obvious choice in the UK, although it's possible to stream both 4oD and ITV player via the Chrome browser on any laptop or PC.

If you think this year's TV schedule looks pretty grim, there are tons of video on-demand services to keep you entertained. Netflix is a clear frontrunner, although Now TV's monthly passes (Movies and Entertainment) are handy for streaming recent releases.

For renting or buying the very latest blockbusters, however, it's hard to ignore Google Play Movies. The service is Google's answer to iTunes and has a diverse catalogue that you can download and stream from both iOS and Android devices. Should you find a particular title to be too pricey, you can always try its competitors Blinkbox Movies and Wuaki.tv.

Oh, and of course there's always YouTube. Whatever you're craving, be it professional documentaries or bizarre cartoons, the service has it in droves. Pretty much everything is free to watch, too, which is never a bad thing.

Sport

While we stuff our collective faces with mince pies, some of the best sports teams in the world will be going head-to-head. Boxing Day fixtures are a UK tradition, and you can catch all the Premier League action this Christmas by streaming Sky Sports (via Now TV) or BT Sport to your TV using the Chromecast dongle. However, if American football is more your thing, there's also NFL Game Pass for watching every sack and touchdown.

Fun & Games

Christmas and board games go hand-in-hand, but if you're tired of rolling dice and pushing cardboard around the kitchen table, Google's Chromecast can offer a few TV-based alternatives. Monopoly Dash is a new take on the property-collecting classic, while Connect 4 Quads has you dropping discs in the familiar, albeit virtual grid. There's also Simon Swipe, a digital incarnation of the classic memory game, and Wheel of Fortune, which... well, doesn't really require an explanation, does it?

Big Web Quiz is another option -- cooked up by Google's Creative Labs, it leans on the company's Knowledge Graph to conjure up fast, fun trivia quizzes for up to five people. And, for those who like to bust some mean shapes on the dance floor, there's a new instalment in the Just Dance franchise. The game doesn't require a video game console or controller though: all of the moves are beamed to your TV from your smartphone, which records your body posture in real-time (with varying levels of success).

Photos

Getting the family together at Christmas can be the perfect opportunity to share your favourite snaps, both from recent escapades and years gone by. However, rather than crowding round a small laptop, smartphone or tablet, you can use Google's Chromecast to push them to the big screen.

If you already own an Android device, there's a good chance your photos and videos are already backed up automatically to Google+. If so, you can launch the app, browse what's in your library and easily set a slideshow running on your TV. If you're not invested in Google's photo storage platform, Dayframe is a nifty alternative for Android users. It lets you access photos from all sorts of different places, including Facebook, Instagram, Dropbox, Twitter and Flickr.

If you have a house full of shutterbugs capturing festive photos this winter, Google's Photowall app is a fun way to bring them all together. Once you've set up a "wall" on your TV, anyone with a smartphone, tablet or laptop can contribute photos to the dynamic collage. It's a simple way to share your best moments and the option to doodle on your images before they're uploaded can be entertaining for children in particular.

Everything Else

If you have a substantial movie and/or TV collection stored locally, there are plenty of ways to use Chromecast to pump them to your flatscreen. Plex is probably the most prolific, although there are several alternatives such as Videostream (Android only), MediaBrowser and BubbleUPnP. Most of them follow the same basic premise: you use server software on your PC or Mac to organise your personal media and make it available for streaming on other devices, including the Chromecast.

If you just want to stream the videos, music and photos stored on your Android phone or tablet, AllCast is an easier solution. If your device happens to be on this list, you can also forgo the app entirely and stream your device's screen using Google's Chromecast app. Unfortunately, there aren't as many options for iOS users. Some, such as Photo Cast, are perfectly functional, but they're never going to win an Apple Design Award.

It's also worth noting that if you want to stream a webpage, you might be better off using the Cast extension on your laptop or PC. And should your Chromecast go down a storm with the rest of the family, you can also set up guest mode, which lets them control the content on your TV without needing to connect to your WiFi network. Happy streaming (and Christmas)!

[Image credits: Ronnie Macdonald and Thomas Hawk, Flickr]

Origin: Engadget UK
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