For years I lived in a house that didn't have a proper TV aerial. Instead we utilised an indoor one in order to pick up three, maybe four if we were lucky, pretty poor signals in order to watch something. Consoles and DVD players provided us with more options, but the ability to watch live TV thanks to this little mechanic alien with its moveable antenna and rotating loop was either incredibly frustrating - as having to please it in order for the sweet release of being able to watch the channel we wanted - or a real improbability if the weather was anything other than a clear summer's day as our little friend cowered like an infant in a thunderstorm.

A basement flat then followed on my list of homes and a similar scenario arose; no external TV aerial. The exuberant cost of having an aerial installed above the three flats that are more vertically successful than ours quickly rendered that avenue inaccessible, and an indoor receiver just couldn't cut it. No matter where I tried it, nothing. Not even the faintest hope of signal. Every possible position, every corner of the room; it was like some sort of weird TV signal kamasutra.

Resigned to a life without airborne signalled TV, we were restricted to watching all of our TV via the internet. Not that this was the end of the world of course; whether this was via the BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, Netflix or one of the many other services now available, there's always something to watch.

However, there's nothing quite like just watching some random program because it's on when you've got half an hour to kill, or, more aptly in my case, watching Match of the Day live. These were all things that were done on either a tablet or desktop PC - depending on the requirement at that time - which was a perfectly adequate solution but felt like a missed opportunity given the home theatre setup in our living room. I live in a house far from short on technology yet Google's Chromecast, is one of the most useful gadgets I've bought in quite some time.


Money for new rope

Having exchanged my hard-earned (hush you at the back) cash for the newly UK-released device I wanted to know if it really was as easy as "Plug in, Connect, Enjoy." A device that claims to be "the easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV," I was expecting a silky smooth experience that allowed me to effortlessly stream content from different devices to my TV, truly connecting the vastness of the web to my living room. Thankfully, that's exactly what it does... for the most part.

The compact retail box comes with the Chromecast, a 2.83" HDMI dongle that plugs directly into your TV's HDMI slot, plus a USB power cable that plugs into a power adapter and a HDMI extender if you don't have a lot of space behind your TV.

With just a dongle and a power supply to connect it's simple enough so far, however, it was the syncing between the device and my network that had somewhat of an issue with. Having changed the TV to the correct channel and proceeded through a few basic steps I was impeded by a continuous animated loading icon.


Setup heaven, or setup hell?

I'll take a step back though. After plugging in Chromecast it needs to be connected to the local network in order to stream things across it. In order to do so, given that Chromecast comes with no sort of remote, you need to download an app either on your mobile phone (Android or iOS) or PC, and then you run through the device setup and connect it with your network. There's an input code display on-screen which you use to sync your devices to that particular Chromecast, having done so you enter your Wi-Fi password and off you go - or at least, that's the intended result.

It was here that I encountered some problems. Chromecast would just continue to attempt connection, never actually proceeding. After waiting several minutes in the vain hoping that something might happen I tried to reset the setup. Attempting the age-old "turn it off and on again" was the only way to begin once more otherwise the app and the dongle fell out of sync. Several hours of research followed before settings of my router had to be altered in order for it to finish its setup - which it subsequently did.

Not quite the plug in and connect hassle-free experience I was promised, but nonetheless, nothing overly taxing to fix - for me. That said, the know-how of investigating the problem, knowing the potential errors and then being able to fix them would certainly be out of the scope of possibility for many. Without clear instructions from Google as to how to quickly and easily diagnose such issues, Chromecast will present a potentially aggravating first experience.

Once everything is setup it's an absolute breeze to use, and, whilst the current crop of apps may be a tad underwhelming, the potential is tantalising. By installing a browser extension you can stream anything in your Google Chrome tab, whether that something akin to TVCatchup, ITV Player, or Vimeo to watch some delicious video content; or perhaps browse Facebook pictures, showcase a fancy looking website, or even use it to demonstrate something.


What you stream is completely up to you

What you can stream is up to you

Exactly what you would stream from your browser depends entirely on your scenario and will play a large part in your decision as to whether or not Chromecast would meet your needs - but I'll get onto that later. There is the ability to stream your entire desktop, though is remains, rightfully, tagged as 'experimental'. If such a feature can be ironed out then it offers up a whole new world of possibility.

Beyond directing your browser (note: single tab) session to a TV there a selection of apps that are compatible and can host streaming directly from within themselves. Netflix, YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, and Google Play Music are the main ones - though, as usual, our friends the other side of the Atlantic have a few more options available. It makes using your smartphone as a remote (as well as the streaming hub) for such apps an extremely appetising premise. Being able to queue up YouTube videos is so simple via a smartphone that it has become my preference over the vast video service options I have via consoles.

It's even currently possible to use a selection of third-party apps to increase your Chromecast's usage. For example, Spoticast allows the streaming of Spotify from your mobile to your TV - a feature even more useful if you have a surround system connected, or perhaps CastPad which allows you to turn your TV into a giant drawing pad.

The wonder of Chromecast lies in its extremely cheap valuation and beneficial services. Whether or not you would have use for a YouTube or Netflix streamer will strongly depend on whether you have a console, Smart TV or other form of video streaming box. If not, then you can't go wrong with such a tidy little package. If you do, then you need to decide on just how useful streaming a browser to your TV is for you. If, like me, you consume all of your TV via the internet, then suddenly being able to view TVCatchup whilst sitting in the more traditional TV viewing comfort that you'd come to expect is utterly irreplaceable.

Beyond a few setup challenges, there are few devices that are as simple to use, and this will provide a cheap and accessible option to many who would otherwise avoid such technology.

Chromecast being held up

Where the system lets itself down currently is the lack of app support. Yes, Netflix is massive, as is YouTube, but not having direct Vimeo support or that from Spotify is frustrating and limits the possibilities. Even (currently) requiring the use of Chrome for the browser is restrictive - though entirely understandable. Hopefully such a range of apps will increase over time - and quickly - but it's something to seriously consider ahead of purchase. The same cannot be said about performance. Without wanting to dive under the hood and critique the innards of a device that is essentially receiving and converting a signal, in the weeks that I have used Chromecast so far I've encountered not a single hitch. There is a noticeable delay between a browser tab and the output - but that's only a real issue if you intend to have both screens in your line of sight (which would be strange and defeat the point of Chromecast).


Is it worth the money?

We reach the inevitable conclusion and the question burning away is: should you buy one? It's undoubtedly great value for money considering its low price point, but be sure that you would have a use for it. If there's one particular feature you'd see yourself using on at least a semi-regular basis then I'd say certain splash out on one. If not, then perhaps just wait a little while.

Depending on your setup depends as to whether you'll be using a desktop (which may be located several rooms away), a laptop, or waiting for the mobile version of Chrome to update to utilise that feature set. As with everything, you should take this into consideration.

Chromecast is a device that could be exactly what you were looking for or something that just doesn't meet your current needs - and therein lies the potential for greatness or the potential for ruin in this little unit.