As with the mobile apps, broadcasting video from a Chrome tab is as simple as tapping the Google Cast icon that shows up in the menu bar once you've installed the Google Cast extension. However, browser tag casting is different from the app implementation. Casting from the browser simply mirrors what's in a given tab; it doesn't stream video independently as it does within the apps. (This is the major difference between Chromecast and Plair
, which can stream video independently from the browser.) A quick note: you can
stream videos from YouTube on your laptop independently if you use the casting function built into the YouTube web player, but not if you use the Google cast extension in the browser itself. Netflix broadcasting from a browser won't be an option until the company makes the switch to HTML5
, because Chromecast doesn't support the Silverlight technology currently powering Netflix.com.
Update: We have discovered that previous sentence is a bit misleading regarding Netflix's website compatibility with Chromecast. To be clear, you cannot mirror Netflix in Chrome using the casting feature because Netflix on the web is powered by Silverlight. However, the Netflix web player has Google Cast built in, just as the YouTube web player does, so you can instruct Chromecast to play a Netflix video using any browser, not just Chrome.
Despite this being beta software, tabs and videos opened, maximized and cast at both default and high-bitrate 720p settings played as fluidly on the TV as they did on our test laptop (a 2011 MacBook Pro, in this case). While others have experienced audio sync issues, we've had none in our time with the device thus far. When we attempted to mirror a tab on our Cr-48 running Chrome OS or a Toshiba Portege R705 running Windows 7, however, things weren't so peachy. The minimum hardware requirement for HD playback on a Windows machine is a second-gen Core i5 CPU clocked at 2GHz or higher, while mirroring at 480p requires a Core i3 or equivalent processor. Currently, the Chromebook Pixel is the only laptop running Chrome OS that's officially supported. Still, we wanted to test the service with all of our available machines to see how it performed.
As expected, video from those laptops streamed at the default 720p resolution stuttered badly enough to render it unwatchable. Clips did mirror well from our Windows laptop when the resolution was reduced to the minimum 480p, but the quality was degraded and did not look very good on our 47-inch flatscreen. Streaming YouTube through the Google Cast feature built into the player worked just fine, however. So, if you've got an older machine and are banking on using the tab casting feature extensively, you're likely to be disappointed, barring some changes between now and when the feature exits beta.
Generally, we found the mirroring feature to be quite useful, mostly because it let us stream from Rhapsody, Showtime Anytime, HBOGo, Hulu, Vimeo and other online media sources that don't directly support the Google Cast standard. Using the Chrome extension is dead simple, and for the most part, it works really well. Plus, it serves as a great stop-gap solution to give folks access to the majority of content on the web -- while giving Google time to evangelize the platform and increase adoption of its Google Cast SDK in other content makers' apps and players, where the technology provides a much better user experience. Make no mistake, however: tab casting is not as good a user experience as using mobile apps.