4 nifty things your Chromecast can do

Exploit the full potential of your $35 device.

chromecast backdrop
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

Google Chromecast has taken center stage in our living room. It’s the only device that’s plugged into our TV and it takes care of all our entertainment needs.

With Chromcast, Google has changed the way we interact with our TVs, turning mobile devices into smart remotes. Chromecast also told the industry that we don't need 'smart TVs' anymore. A $35 device will convert a basic HDMI enabled TV into a smart TV with a much bigger and open app ecosystem. With Chromecast, every single app that’s on my device is essentially available on my TV.

Here are some of the nifty things you can do with your brand new Chromecast.

Control your Chromecast with your TV remote

Google has quietly added support for TV remotes to the Chromecast device. If you have an HDMI TV (which supports HDMI CE features), you can now control your Chromecast playback with the remote. Google is supposedly using HDMI-CEC protocol to send signals to Chromecast via the TV remote.

To take advantage of the feature, go to your TV menu and enable the CES feature.

Not all apps can take advantage of the new feature, however. According to a Reddit thread, the apps that work with this function include YouTube, Netflix, ESPN, Play Music, HBO Go, BBC iPlayer, and TuneIn Radio.

Use your TV as a giant photo frame

You are not watching TV all the time, but that doesn't mean you have to let it sit idle. Chromecast has a nifty, lesser known feature that allows you to turn it into a beautiful photo frame. Instead of showing stock images as screensavers, you can configure it to show your images.

However, you have to be careful before you enable the feature. The images I want to display on my Chromecast are family pictures that I don't want to publish publicly on Google Plus.

To make a private folder on Google Plus, go to Photos and then select the 'Upload photos' option. Upload the images that you want to add to the folder and name the album by clicking on 'Add to album' option. For ease of use I gave it the name 'Backdrop'. Skip tagging. When it asks to 'share' the album make sure that the "To: " field is empty and hit 'Skip'. The album will be created without being shared with anyone. In the future you can simply upload more pictures to the same folder.

Now open the Chromecast app on your mobile device (it’s supported on both Android and iOS) and click on 'Backdrop'. Then click on the 'gear' icon on the right and select the ‘Your Photos’ option. By default it may be turned off, just turn it on. There you will see all the Google Photos albums. Select the album that you want to use as the backdrop and you are all set. Your 55” TV will now be displaying your images. You can disable the feature anytime by simply turning off the ‘Your Photos’ option on your device.

Stream local content to Chromecast

The ability to stream local content (the multimedia files stored on your hard drive) was one of the most requested features. Google initially refused to add such a feature, as it worked on getting content providers on board. Then they opened the APIs to allow third party developers to offer such functions. Google still doesn't offer any local-playback support for its own apps such as Google Music.

Now there are many ways to stream local content to your Chromecast, one of the easiest solutions would be to use the Plex Media Server. Download and install the server on the PC where you have all of your multimedia files. Then configure the server and add libraries for music, movies or TV shows that will be streamed from the PC. Once all the libraries are created install the Plex app on your smartphone. It will automatically detect the Plex Server running on your PC. Select the ‘cast’ icon and your content will start streaming from your PC to your Chromecast.

Use it to play games

The latest Android phones come with a built-in mirroring feature, which means you can 'stream' the content of your phone to your Chromecast without any cables and wires. Depending on your device, the function called 'Cast Screen' can be found in the settings options. Once you click on it you will see the name of the connected Chromecast. Click on it and it will establish a connection between the device and Chromecast. Your TV screen will now start ‘mirroring’ the display on your mobile device. Now open the game you want to play and there you go: you have a 55" inch screen to play the game and your Android device will act as the game controller or remote.

Let us know if you found any other cool Chromecast features.

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