On Tuesday, Google announced that it has sold over 20 million Chromecasts the past few years and now hopes to sell more by launching an improved second generation HDMI streaming dongle alongside a streaming audio-only version. The company introduced the new Chromecast and the Chromecast Audio at its big media event alongside new Nexus phones and a new Pixel convertible tablet.
The new, circular Chromecast is even smaller and more compact than the first generation and for some reason it comes in new colors – lemonade and coral – despite the fact that it should always be hidden out of sight behind your TV.
Besides the snappy new look, the improvements in Chromecast 2.0 are basically incremental on the hardware side. Google's Chromecast head Mario Queiroz talked about improved antennas, better WiFi connectivity and showed a few graphs demonstrating the new Chromecast's ability to deliver higher throughput, even from a weak WiFi signal. That was about it.
The more interesting piece of new Chromecast hardware is the new Chromecast Audio, which is similar in concept and look to its namesake, but instead plugs into your existing home speakers via 3.5 mm, RCA or optical ports. Like the original Chromecast with video, the idea here is to take whatever audio you control via your phone or tablet and "throw" it to a Chromecast Audio-connected speaker via WiFi.
Get a sense of how both pieces of new hardware work in the below promotional video:
Chromecast and Chromecast Audio enabled apps enclude Google Play Music, Pandora, TuneIn and most notably, Spotify, which has long been lacking the Chromecast support that was finally announced at the Google event. Like with the video Chromecast, the audio dongle supports guest access so there's the potential for new DJ battles, including from connected Android Wear devices.
For apps that aren't Chromecast compatible, Chromecast Audio can also simply mirror whatever audio is playing on a connected device. It connects pretty simply once everything is powered up and there's also the ability to play the same audio simultaneously on multiple Chromecast Audio-connected speakers, possibly creating a poor man's solution to the multiple-room wireless audio system a la Sonos.
In addition to the Spotify news, Google announced that Showtime programming is launching on the video Chromecast today and Sling TV is coming in the next few weeks, with support for NBA and NHL apps in the near future as well.
A new and updated pair of apps for Chromecast Audio and Chromecast, respectively, were a big focus of the presentation. The revamped Chromecast app focuses on content discovery, acting as a sort of TV Guide for the available programming from the Cast-friendly apps installed on your device. There's also new programming search functions and playback controls, which guests can also control, built right into the app.
The new app also pre-loads apps onto a connected Chromecast as soon as that app is open on the mobile device and Google says it is also working on a content pre-loading function that will attempt to predict what you want to watch and start to cache it before you even press play to reduce initial buffering.
Google is also apparently excited about Chromecast's potential for gaming, providing an extended central display for games that can then use the connected phone as a controller or second screen for gaming. A demonstration of Angry Birds Go on stage was particularly compelling in displaying the casual group gaming potential.
Both Chromecast and Chromecast Audio are available for online purchase today from the Google Play store for US$35 each.
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