That new 2nd-generation Nexus 7 wasn't the only piece of hardware Google cut loose today. It also announced a new device called Chromecast, which streams media not only from Android phones and tablets, but also from iPhones and other iOS devices, Windows, and Mac OS X.
Chromecast has some similarities to Apple's AirPlay, but these are two different beasts. Chromecast isn't tied to a set-top box like the Apple TV. Instead it's a small dongle that plugs into your TV's HDMI port. When you queue up a video, song, or web page to stream to your TV, your mobile device tells the Wi-Fi connected Chromecast to stream it. The processing doesn't happen on your device, the Chromecast streams it straight from the cloud.
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There are some limits here. While AirPlay works with a variety of Apple and third-party apps, Google only mentioned streaming support from Google Play, Netflix, YouTube, and Chrome, with Pandora coming soon. There's also no system-wide screen mirroring from your device, like with AirPlay, and no beaming of local video or audio files. Chrome web content does appear to mirror on both your device and TV.
But the other part of that tradeoff is greater flexibility. Mobile-to-TV streaming technologies are typically built on a proprietary model, trying to lock you in to one company's ecosystem. Though Chromecast's content selection is very Google-centric (Netflix is the lone exception so far), the fact that you can also use it with iPhones and any laptop with the Chrome browser installed is a nice, unprecedented bonus.
Maybe the biggest perk for the Chromecast is its price, ringing up at just US$35. Google was originally throwing in three free months of Netflix, which almost paid for the device in itself, but Google has since withdrawn the offer for new orders. Apparently sales have been brisk enough that the promotion was no longer necessary.
Chromecast supports a maximum of 1080p output. It's compatible with Android 2.3 and up, iOS 6, Windows 7 and higher, and Mac OS X 10.7 and higher. It's available for order now at the source link below, but ship times have been pushed back to 3-4 weeks.
Product page: GoogleView gallery - 4 images