A device that you simply plug into the back of your television that could then beam content from your go-to streaming apps to your TV in seconds was a very attractive option for me. It sounded insane that it could be so simple. There wasn't any complicated setup or major headaches. It just worked. Chromecast was reliable from the jump, and it allowed people like me to upgrade their TVs for under $50 instead of spending over $1,000 on a new set. I vividly remember the first time I used it: I felt like I was performing some sort of magic trick with my phone and TV as the on-stage help.
When the Chromecast debuted, I already had a smart TV. In fact, it's still in my living room. However, my Panasonic set is beginning to show its age, only offering direct access to Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. While that may be enough for some, it wasn't for me. As a die-hard sports fan, I need the ability to stream games from ESPN, Fox, NBC Sports, TNT and more on the biggest screen in my house. There's also the various network apps, requisite software for keeping up with Mr. Robot, Game of Thrones, The Americans (RIP) and more. Basically, having a smart TV wasn't enough for my streaming habit, and the Chromecast was an affordable add-on.
Of course, I'm not really the target audience for this. Google created the Chromecast to give people who didn't own a smart TV access to all of its streaming apps directly from their phone. That is, so long as their internet-less display has an HDMI port. It's cheap, easy to set up and uses the device we're already constantly looking at as the remote.
For a look back at the design process, I spoke to Google's director of product management, Micah Collins. Collins has worked on the Chromecast starting with that first device, and he's also worked on the Google Home line of Assistant-powered speakers.
"For us, it was about making sure we knew what would put us in good stead for a long period of time on a 1080p television, and get that right," Collins explained. "Affordability definitely plays into that."
Rather than packing the Cast tech inside a set-top box akin to Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or Roku, Google opted for that diminutive dongle that's easily hidden out of sight. And the Chromecast's compact design demanded a novel approach.
"The vision never included adding more clutter to your existing TV," Collins said. "This presented unique design challenges around packaging the video processing, wireless performance and power management into a device that could fit into such a form factor, live behind a TV and keep costs affordable."
By now, I've upgraded from the original Chromecast. The WiFi stopped working about three years in, so I had to get the second-generation, puck-like version that debuted in 2015. By then, Google had added an optional ethernet adapter for more reliable connectivity, which was a welcome upgrade, even though WiFi had performed well for me throughout.
The Chromecast Ultra would follow in 2016, adding 4K, HDR and a price increase to $69. Most new TVs were internet-connected at this point, especially the 4K models. Still, the Chromecast Ultra offered the ease of Cast with high contrast, supersharp visuals -- and it was still much less than $100. With this new version, Google has a streaming option that's still affordable and can handle all the fancy new content that was available for streaming.