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Google Chromecast: Not the First Web-to-TV App, But Possibly the Easiest (and Cheapest)

Google’s plot to rule every piece of technology in American homes moved forward last week with the release of Chromecast, a two-inch dongle that allows computers and wireless devices to stream video to a TV over a wireless network. Think of it as Apple TV without the iTunes requirement. Or Roku without the hardware. Or PS3 without the clunky interface. Also, think of it as way cheaper than those three products, whose price tags dwarf the mere $35 you’ll pay for this one.

Here’s how Google’s new “miracle device” works: The dongle plugs into an HDMI port on your TV, and also a power source, so no batteries or charging required. Download the app on your laptop, tablet, or phone, and you’ll be ready to beam content directly to your TV. It currently comes with three apps — YouTube, Netflix and Google Play — but Google says others are on the way. More important, though, is Chromecast’s seamless integration with, well, Chrome. That means anything in your device’s browser can be sent to the TV, including video in Hulu’s player and high-res photos of Lana Del Rey that you’d like to investigate on a 55-inch HDTV.

Complainers are already pointing out that Chromecast doesn’t do anything we haven’t already seen done. The devices mentioned above, along with a handful of others, can stream content to a TV. But Chromecast’s advantage is doing it cheaper and easier. As The Atlantic points out, “when something works as easily as Chromecast does, the capability becomes more real. You think of it.”

So even though people can watch YouTube videos in the living room with Apple TV, they probably don’t. Who wants to power up a device, select the YouTube app, and search for the video? By using the device that’s already become a fifth appendage for most, Chromecast requires little effort, which is what people love most. And Chromecast’s easy remote set-up — all you need is the app and the wireless connection — allows multiple users to sling to the same TV. What use is that? Who knows. But that’s kind of the point. Once third-party developers get a hold of the technology, there’s no telling where they’ll take it.

So yes, Chromecast might not be doing anything revolutionary, but being easiest is often better than being first.