Out of your stream to the shared screen, it’s holiday magic Chromecasting Keyboard Cat

December 30, 2013

“Cannot stop chromecasting,” something I tweeted over the holidays, was deep in that awe state of state of the art. My brother, the computer engineer, had given his wife Google Chromecast for Christmas. (For argument’s sake, let’s assume this was only part of her present). Upon learning this I insisted their family flat-screen be dismounted to locate the HDMI input. Suddenly it was a top priority for everyone to see Keyboard Cat (and I know what you’re thinking, it is crazy that some people still haven’t seen it).

My brother beat me to the first cast with Double Rainbow (classic!) My mother found neither of them funny (classic!). But we kept rolling through them. We had five smartphones (three iPhones, one Samsung Galaxy and one Droid Motorola Razr) pointed at that $35 device. I was freaking out. It didn’t matter what we played next, it was not about who found the funnier clip, it didn’t even matter what we casted, it was the fact that we were all sitting around the family TV again. Personal devices in hand, communal experience reborn.


(Screenshot from Chromecast-connected Droid Motorola Razr/Ryan Tolbert)

Chromecast is a media player built by Google. It’s tiny, less than three inches, and plugs into your HDTV. It streams audio and video over WiFi, from the devices you connect with it. But it’s not the only enabler for instant screen sharing. Apple has Airplay or you can always use a hard-wired HDMI cable into to your TV. More of these ‘enablers’ like Chromecast will spring up and your TV will eventually be natively outfitted. The devices in your hand will cast on the mirrors in your bathroom, or car or fridge. Viral videos, must-see experiences will be shared in real life, not just in your personal streams.

And it’s not just your phone. I also used the free Chromecast browser plugin which lets you display anything in your Web browser. I casted an Amazon Instant Video (The Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp as, err, Johnny Depp, natch). It worked well. A few WiFi hiccups, buffering — likely because we had over 15 devices connected to one network — but nothing I haven’t experienced using the Netflix app or Hulu streaming, etc. on my Playstation, for instance.

A few weeks ago I wrote some predictions for future-of-news site Nieman Lab. One of my thoughts was around the television becoming the new family desktop. I suggested that news organizations consider this in their thinking about new experiences and how they aim their digital storytelling efforts. How many media organizations’ YouTube Channels do you go to as a destination? I thought so. But there is an opportunity to create something with this new small screen, going ‘big and shared.’

Remember that clip of the winning moment in the Iron Bowl (Yes, I’m out of my depth, I know little about sports, but this is about the moment and the Internet). My social streams exploded when the winning touchdown was scored. I tried to read a few stories about it to understand what had happened. I was lost. But I easily found the video and easily got the story. I watched it over and over. Then I walked around to everyone in my house and showed them on my tiny phone screen. I eventually opened it on a tablet and gathered folks around to watch it again.

The whole time I kept thinking how much better it would be on my television (and also how weird it was that I was that into a sports video). Chromecasting, and its cousins that do the same thing, is a technology and a product meeting a real need. Out of your stream and on to the shared screen is the future of now. So cool.

The author is the executive producer and senior editor for digital news at The Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Matt McFarland | December 30, 2013