Google has introduced a cheaper rival product to the Apple TV set-top box with Chromecast, a small portable device that streams video and music from people's computers and mobile devices to their televisions.
The product, which will retail for US$35, will be available in the U.S. now from Amazon, BestBuy.com and Google's Play Store. It will also be available from brick-and-mortar Best Buy stores starting Sunday, Google executives announced Wednesday during a meeting with the media in San Francisco. Google is working to bring the device to other countries as quickly as possible, executives said.
More than 200 billion videos are watched online each month globally, said Sundar Pichai, head of Android, Chrome and apps at Google, who hosted the event. But it is difficult to watch those videos on a television, Pichai said, adding, "we want to make this better."
Chromecast is a Wi-Fi-enabled, 2-inch dongle that plugs into a television's HDMI port. Once it is plugged in, various types of video and music content can be pushed to the television from users' smartphones, tablets or desktop computers, through a new button now appearing at YouTube and Netflix.
Specifically, Chromecast will stream content from Netflix, YouTube, Google Play movies and TV, Google Play Music, and individual Web tabs from within Google's Chrome browser. Connectivity with other applications and services such as Pandora is in the works, Google said.
Within those applications, a new "cast" button will appear in the interface. Clicking on it will give users the option to stream the content to the television that is connected to Chromecast.
The device is compatible with both Android- and iOS-based mobile devices as well as the Chrome browser for Windows, Mac and Chromebook Pixel laptop computers.
Apple TV, meanwhile, retails for $99, and works similarly by letting users view on their TV screens different types of content from various devices via an HDMI cable.
But at $35, Chromecast is affordable enough to connect up every TV in people's homes, said Mario Queiroz, VP of product management at Google.
Chromecast's low price "is a big deal," agreed Greg Sterling, senior analyst with Opus Research.
Compared to Apple, Chromecast has the potential to usher in a larger ecosystem of applications and services, but Google will need to work hard to educate people about its capabilities, Sterling said.
Still, for now at least, "if you have an Apple TV, you won't see a need for this," Sterling argued.
Google is indeed hoping that third-party developers will take interest in Chromecast and build products on top of it. Alongside the product's launch, Google also rolled out Google Cast SDK, a platform that will enable developers to stream their apps to users' televisions.
Through the platform, developers don't need to build an entirely new app; they just need to make a few modifications, said Queiroz.
"Over time we expect the [Chromecast] technology to be embedded into a range of devices from our partners," Queiroz said.
Following the unveiling, there was some chatter among attendees over whether Chromecast would succeed, or fail like the company's previous attempt at a media streaming device with the Nexus Q, which was announced at last year's Google I/O conference but never got off the ground.
But Opus' Sterling called Chromecast at the very least an "interesting, clever and cheap product."