What Is Chromecast and How Does It Work?

Chromecast What Is And How To Use

You may have heard about Google Chromecast dongles, the Chromecast built-in feature on TVs, and casting on phones and computers. What is all this? This guide answers many questions, including what Chromecast is, how it works, and how to set it up.

Tip: if you’re looking to stream on a budget, try these budget-friendly multistreaming platforms.

What Is Chromecast?

Google Chromecast used to be a family of streaming devices that you could use to stream content from your phone or computer to a big screen, like a TV or monitor. The devices connected to the HDMI port of your TV and made it into a smart device. Essentially, a Chromecast acted as a bridge between your phone and TV. However, things have changed over time.

Chromecast now refers to both hardware and software. To put it in perspective, we need to go back in time.

How Google Chromecast Changed Over Time

Google launched its first hardware Chromecast dongle in 2013, followed by Chromecast 2 in 2015, and Chromecast third-gen in 2018. These three dongles didn’t have any on-screen interface, built-in apps, or remote. They only provided the Google Cast technology that lets you cast videos and images to your regular TV from an external source, such as a phone or computer.

Chromecast Dongle

You would put the Chromecast dongle in the HDMI port of your TV, plug it into a power supply, and connect it to a Wi-Fi network via the Google Home app on your phone. This allowed you to cast content from supported apps to the TV. The content was controlled by the source device. At this stage, Chromecast devices weren’t similar to rivals like the Fire TV Stick or Roku.

Google introduced an updated model known as Chromecast Ultra in 2016, which worked just like the first three generations but offered the ability to cast 4K videos and supported Ethernet in addition to Wi-Fi.

FYI: if you’re having troubles casting, learn how to reset your Chromecast.

Things changed in 2020 when Google launched the Chromecast with Google TV. This model added a user interface with built-in apps. It also provided a remote that could control those apps. It made the Chromecast dongle similar to other streaming devices, like the Fire TV Stick and Roku. The new streaming device had its own apps but also offered the cast functionality to cast content from a phone or computer.

Chromecast Google Tv
Image source: Google

Now there is Chromecast built-in, the Chromecast technology or software built in to a wide variety of devices, like smart TVs and Wi-Fi-connected speakers. You don’t need any external dongles for such devices. Press the Cast button on your phone or computer, and the content will start streaming on the device that includes Chromecast built-in.

In a nutshell, Chromecast has been both hardware and software installed on your phone, TV, or computer. However, throughout the rest of this guide, Chromecast refers to the hardware dongle.

How Does Chromecast Work

Chromecast works in two ways. In the first method, if you are casting something from a streaming app like YouTube, HBO, etc., you are telling the Chromecast device to fetch the same content from the Internet and play it on the TV. The content isn’t playing on your phone – it’s just a source or medium to tell Chromecast what to play. Thanks to this, you can do other things on your phone without affecting what’s playing on the big screen. You will, however, need your phone to control what’s playing on the screen.

Chromecast Cast To Tv

In the second method, you mirror your phone or cast a tab or the entire desktop. If you do this, the content is coming from the phone or PC. Chromecast is just mirroring it to the big display, so anything you do on your phone or in the browser will show up on the TV.

Before Using a Chromecast

Chromecast dongles ship with an HDMI connector and power cable. To make the Chromecast streaming device work, you need to plug it into the HDMI port of your TV or monitor and connect the power cable either to a wall socket or the USB socket of your TV.

Chromecast Hdmi

Chromecast devices do not have a separate app of their own. You will need to download the Google Home app to your Android device or iPhone. It’s the same app that you use to set up and control other Google products, like Google Home speakers and smart home features.

Finally, your phone or TV and the Chromecast device must be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.

Devices and Apps You Can Use With Chromecast

You can cast photos and videos from all Android phones and tablets as well as iPhones and iPads. Similarly, you can cast from a Windows computer, MacBook, and Chromebooks using the Chrome browser.

Most of the popular streaming apps support casting, including YouTube, HBO Max, Hulu, Disney +, Netflix, Google Photos, Apple Photos, etc.

If you use Chromecast with Google TV, most of these apps will be present on the streaming device itself.

Tip: learn how to connect a Chromebook to a TV.

Using a Chromecast Device

To use a Chromecast dongle, you must first connect it to a Wi-Fi network, then cast from a phone or computer to a TV. Let’s examine the steps in detail.

Connect Chromecast to Wi-Fi Network

  1. Connect the Chromecast device to a power source and plug it into one of the HDMI ports of your TV.
  2. Change the source of your TV to the HDMI port where you connected the Chromecast dongle.
Chromecast Setup Screen
  1. Install and open the Google Home app (Android | iOS) on your phone.
  2. Log in to your Google account on the Google Home app.
  3. Tap on the “(+) Add” icon and select “Set up device” from the menu.
Chromecast Setup Tv
  1. Select “New device” and follow the on-screen instructions to connect Chromecast to your Wi-Fi network. Make sure you connect it to the same Wi-Fi network that you use on your phone.
Chromecast Setup Add Devuce 1

Tip: learn how to fix your Chromecast not connecting to Wi-Fi.

How to Cast from a Phone or Tablet to Chromecast

After you have successfully connected the Wi-Fi to the Chromecast, it’s ready for casting. Follow these steps to cast from your Android device, iPhone, or iPad:

  1. Open the streaming app of your choice on your phone or tablet.
  2. Play a video from the app, then tap on the “Cast” icon at the top. Select your Chromecast from the list.
Chromecast Cast To Tv

The content will start streaming on the TV. You can minimize the app on your phone and do other things while the content continues to play on the TV.

If you don’t need to see the Cast icon in your preferred app, you can cast your phone to Chromecast in another way. Go to “Settings -> Connected devices.” Look for “Cast” or “Screen mirror.” Tap on it and choose your Chromecast from the list.

Chromecast Cast From Settings

Good to know: want to do even more with your device? Learn how to sideload apps on Chromecast.

How to Cast from a Computer to Chromecast

  1. Open the Google Chrome browser on your PC.
  2. Click on the three-dot icon at the top and select “Cast” from the menu.
Chromecast Cast Computer
  1. Select your Chromecast device from the list.
  2. Click on “Sources” and choose whether you want to cast a tab or screen. If you want to cast a local media file, select “Cast screen” and start playing the file that you want to show on the TV.
Chromecast Cast Computer Tab

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you use Chromecast without Wi-Fi?

You can’t use Chromecast without Wi-Fi. You will need an Internet connection to use it. However, there are some workarounds to use Chromecast without your own Wi-Fi network, such as a portable router, mobile hotspot, etc.

Is there a monthly fee to use Chromecast?

No. You don’t need to pay any monthly subscription fee for the Chromecast device. However, since Chromecast uses Wi-Fi, data charges will apply to anything that you watch. Moreover, you will also have to pay monthly subscription fees for apps like Amazon, Netflix, etc.

Do I need a Chromecast if I have a smart TV?

Not really. Smart TVs have preinstalled apps, and you can install other apps. They also have Chromecast built-in technology, so there is no need for a Chromecast device unless your smart TV doesn’t support the cast feature.

Will Chromecast work on any TV?

Yes, Chromecast devices can be plugged into both smart and non-smart TVs using the HDMI port. This makes the HDMI port more integral than whether the TV is “smart.”

Can you cast local content from your phone to Chromecast?

Yes, you can cast local content by mirroring your phone or using DLNA apps. When you mirror your phone, everything that shows up on your phone’s screen will appear on the TV.

Screenshots and images by Mehvish Mushtaq.

Mehvish Mushtaq
Mehvish Mushtaq

Mehvish is a tech lover from Kashmir. With a degree in computer engineering, she's always been happy to help anyone who finds technology challenging. She's been writing about technology for over six years, and her favorite topics include how-to guides, explainers, tips and tricks for Android, iOS/iPadOS, Windows, social media, and web apps.

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