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If you read this blog, then you know that Underground Woman and I are cut-the-cable enthusiasts.

Perhaps that’s putting it mildly. We believe that any personal finance makeover begins by eliminating the obscene expense of cable television. Everything you want to watch is available online, and at a fraction of the price. All you need is the intestinal fortitude to crush those technical bugbears.

Or you can read my cut-the-cable guide. In it, I recommend – with caveats – the Roku streaming player with US firmware (not the Canadian edition), to stream content from providers like US Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and Amazon Prime.

I say “with caveats” because setting up the Roku for US content streaming is a royal pain. Furthermore, Roku doesn’t allow you to stream from the full inventory of US content sites supported by DNS proxy services like Unblock-us.com. Finally, my aging Roku XD and HD players have developed the delightful tendency to seize up and reboot during Netflix streaming. I don’t know why this happens (yet), but it’s frustrating as hell – and the source of my renewed search for Roku alternatives.

Enter Chromecast, Google’s contribution to the nascent streaming player category. This shockingly inexpensive gadget isn’t available in Canada, per se, but you can still buy one on Amazon.ca from a handful of sketchy-looking, though well-reviewed, electronics vendors.

I have no idea where they get their inventory, or how long that supply will last before Google notices. For now, the markup is tolerable (barely) and several vendors allow Amazon to fulfill their orders. So it’s a secure purchase with free shipping and a very generous return policy.

UPDATE: Google has finally launched Chromecast in Canada. It is available from Google Play and Amazon.ca for $39.

Chromecast is not like Roku, Apple TV, or any of those other puck-shaped Streaming Mimis. It’s a dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and uses a USB power cable for juice. It does not come with “channels” and a remote. Rather, it streams media to your television that you might ordinarily view on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. This includes streaming from apps like Netflix or YouTube, photos or videos from device storage, or content from a Chrome browser tab.

The promise of this last feature is what really made my nipples hard. Ever since we cut the cable, two years ago this February, Underground Woman has had to watch the current season’s Survivor and The Good Wife on her laptop. Neither is available on Netflix or Hulu Plus, and there’s absolutely no way we’ll pay to watch them on Amazon Prime. Not when they’re free to stream from the CBS website.

In Chromecast, I thought I’d found Valhalla: an inexpensive alternative to my flakey Roku players that would, at long last, allow us to enjoy every morsel of our most cherished content in the comfy La-Z-Boy goodness of our family room.

Chromecast setup’s a breeze. You plug the thing into your TV, then download a configuration app to your Android or iOS mobile device. If you use Chrome on Windows, you can install a browser extension. The app/extension connects your device to Chromecast and installs an icon that you click to stream high definition content to your television. When it works, it works brilliantly.

When it works. For smartphones and tablets, you can stream only from a very short list of Chromecast-supported apps. As of this writing, there are 14.

Three (HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and Pandora) are available only in the US. I have tried everything I know to bypass Google Play’s country restrictions. Absolutely no dice. Play is locked up tighter than a nun’s ass.

UPDATE: I figured out a very easy workaround. I am now smugly self-satisfied.

Another three (YouTube, Play TV & Movies, and Play Music) come pre-installed with Android.

Plex, the personal media streamer, requires a paid subscription to unlock the Chromecast icon. (Fuck you, Plex.) And the remaining seven apps are, quite literally, absurd. Unless you’re into Korean dramas, “inspirational programming from Red Bull,” or neoconservative punditry by the friendly conspiracists at Washington Post. Wow.

The Netflix app works very well. If you subscribe to a DNS proxy service like Unblock-us.com, then you can use it to Chromecast from US Netflix. The results are superb.

Forget streaming from Chrome tabs. This is not a feature for mobile devices, and you need a state-of-the-art computer (third generation Intel Core i5 or higher) running on a state-of-the-art home wireless network (802.11AC), to stream content hobbled by so many latency issues that it’s virtually unwatchable.

Indeed, my browser popped up a Help notice when it sensed Chromecast was not performing with optimal glee.

Based on Google’s recommendations, I lowered the device bitrate to 420p and spent two full days over my Christmas break tweaking my wireless network. To no effect: the picture remains lossy and the sound is out of sync. Two days are all I’m prepared to invest in this venture.

So my search continues.

Chromecast, as you’re likely to read elsewhere, is a good idea whose time hasn’t quite arrived. It needs more apps to support it, and some sort of firmware overhaul to improve its delivery of tabbed content.

If you need only to stream Netflix and YouTube, Chromecast is an excellent value and I urge you to buy one today.

But if you’re in the mood to end your cable TV subscription, Roku is still your better option. For now.

  • BuDunne

    relevant, irreverent, funny, informative…all i want in a review…thanks much. I, too, am in Canada, I’m not ready to “cut-the-cable” (actually with a telco on Fibre right now), but have been trying to connect all the TV’s with all the computers (and other media) in my humble abode for over 3 years now…will def try one of these ChromeCast thingies just to use the Netflix (which I know I have to figure out how to get the US feed for), as long as the markup is not too much over the price I saw advertised during the Grammy broadcast last night (US$35)…I have tried a bunch of other “streamers” & brought many of them back, currently have an RCA unit that seems to only be available at Wal-Mart (which I can find very little info about anywhere) and a 2nd wireless router with a USB drive input

    • Patronized

      Out of morbid curiosity, what do you think of that RCA box?

  • unmodular man

    Thanks for helping me with questions i had on chromecast, love the way you write.

  • Paul Victoria

    What wireless device can I buy in Canada so that I can stream media to my Windows laptop and watch it on my TV?

    • Patronized

      The Chromecast does that, as described in my article.

  • mrgrieves

    Can Chromecast be used to stream content from your own library? Say movies or music stored on a NAS box?

    • Patronized

      Yes, Chromecast can do that. You will need to setup a Plex Media Server (https://plex.tv/downloads) and install the Plex app on your Android, iOS, or Windows device. The apps are free for Android and iOS but $4.99 for Windows. (I bought one to test on my Surface Pro: it works very well.) Then you’ll need a Plex Premium subscription ($3.99/month, $29.99/year, $74.99/lifetime) to unlock the Cast icon.

      • mrgrieves

        Thanks for the info! Hmmm.. paying a subscription fee to watch my own content from my own storage device on my own TV… not sure I can get behind that!

        • Patronized

          I don’t blame you. Plex’s pricing strategy is all over the map, which leads me to think they’re still looking for ways to monetize their business. For what you want to do, the Roku 3 is your best bet. It comes with a free Plex channel, so all you have to do is install and configure the Plex Media Server (also free) and you’re ready to start streaming. I have the same setup in my home.

        • andre

          you can also use realplayer. that’s what I use and it’s free!

  • annoyed

    I bought the chromecast and I must say, not the best. I was talked into by a guy a bestbuy who seemed very knowledgable. I got it home and quickly realized I dont have the equipment needed. Under ground man is spot on with his review. I had better succes with apple tv. Good luck to you all

  • zombian

    FYI chromecast support for plex is now free

    • Patronized

      And the angels jubilantly flapped their wings. I suspect Google may have had a hand in that decision. I can’t imagine they were pleased to learn that their Cast icon was imprisoned behind a subscription paywall.

  • JohnBoy

    Canadian buyer: Bought Chromecast to replace the long HDMI cable that connects my laptop to the TV. Installation was a breeze, but when I disconnected the HDMI cable, only the laptop sound could be heard, not my sound system. Any suggestions? Also prefer Firefox to Chrome. Do you have to use Chrome for the limited cast play? Ready to take advantage of the 14-day refund out of several hours of frustration.

    • Patronized

      I feel your pain, JohnBoy, but I have no idea how your home theatre system is configured. I therefore have no meaningful insights to share. The Chromecast extension works only with Chrome. I have read, however, that Mozilla is adding baked-in support for Chromecast but they haven’t announced when this will be available. For Chromecast help: https://support.google.com/chromecast/?hl=en#topic=3447927

  • doogie

    bought the chromecast in the US and installed it here in Canada. I use a DNS service to enable US Netflix. However, when I go to cast the US netflix, i get a message on my chromecast and tablet saying it can stream the title at this time. No problem when I change to Canada Netflix. Any thoughts?

  • Attatood

    If you like cut the cable apps, why are you not using xbmc for free?

  • Andy Davis

    I’ve had Chromecast up and running for a few weeks now – no problem casting Netflix. Utilizing the Unblocker and now I have Hulu Plus and Netflix running, not a hiccup. I had a VPN for a while and Netflix worked, but Hulu didn’t, now I’ve got them both working, and faster than with the VPN.

    This review is a year old as of the time of my post, I feel we have improvements that make this a better option now.

    • Patronized


    • diane field

      Andy are you looking at US netflix & Hulu – faster than with a vpn? do mean you don’t use the VPN anymore? I am able watch all on my ipad and pc now b/c I pay for vpn to get outside content and want see it on my living room TV set. now I’m going crazy trying to figure out ……should get chromecast, ATV or ?? and when I do….. do i buy US edition any advise for me ?

      • Andy Davis

        Diane, sorry for the delay getting back to you…
        I had US Netflix working with a full VPN for $10 a month, but yes, I’ve found a better option with the unblock-us for $5. I have found the data rate is faster and the implementation is a LOT easier (I had my router putting individual devices behind the VPN). I’m not familiar with the ATV Roku or Amazon Fire stick – BUT I believe the Chromecast is the most cost efficient solution, and its pretty simple (you do need to change the DNS setting on your network or on the individual devices depending on your tech ability and network set-up this could be hard or simple)… I’d advise to spend $30 on a Chromecast, demo unblock-us for a week and try US netflix on a demo…