Has Google cracked TV with its Chromecast gizmo?

Aug 28, 2013

Chromecast, finally released a few weeks ago, is not Google's first attempt at a TV gizmo. Like Apple it has grappled with television and tried to fold it and the broadcasting model into its web, and so far the stand-alone TV set has struggled free.

But its latest attempt just might ('might' mind you) be the first generation of the thing that will work. It's simple, it's almost completely software-driven, it's cheap and it has that sort of 'ah-ha moment' about it.

Chromecast is a USB dongle that houses a chrome browser (or at least its relevant internal HTML5 engine) and a WiFi transceiver to feed it with streamed content. The user forks over US$35, plugs it into a TV set's USB socket, connects it via WiFi to a tablet/PC/smartphone having downloaded the relevant remote control and channel apps, and bingo. Content can be streamed straight from the Web onto the TV using the tablet/PC/smartphone as the remote control.

The essential thing to fasten on here is that the slave TV is NOT (essentially) a second screen (this seems to have foxed some early reviewers). The concept should be easy for SDN-initiated TelecomTV viewers: the smartphone operates at the control plane, orchestrating validation, setting up the flows and so on. The TV via WiFi operates at the data plane, just taking whatever is streamed to it and presenting it on its screen. In fact, once a stream is flowing, the initiating device (and its owner) can leave the set and its viewers to get on with it.

At present there is some controversy around whether you can stream 'local' content (from your device) direct. Google says it intends to enable this (the classic screen mirroring application - so users can launch video, graphics or whatever from their devices onto the TV) when it finishes off the SDK (software development kit), which brings us to the SDK.

There is one and Google sees this as the essential part of the puzzle - this will enable big media companies, TV channels and start-up persons working in garages, to bring their own content onto the TV, direct from the Web.. that's the idea.

As usual Google is playing up the openness aspect and just as predictably people are looking for signs of it not living up to its 'no evil' stance. But logic and past behaviour suggests that Google will try to be as open as it can be without bringing the emerging ecosystem to its knees.

This week, for instance, it launched its iOS version, so it expects at least some Apple users to leave their Apple TVs and come on over.

So far, true to the usual form, Google's Chromecast dongle has only been released in the US but it is scheduled for a ROW roll-out over the next months and early indications are that less than a month or so on-sale in the US, it's doing very well.

Now at this point we have to be careful - the art of the "sell-out" has become so rife that all reported sales numbers must be held at the end of a long stick and, with nostrils securely blocked with a strong bulldog clip, sprinkled copiously with salt. The suspicion is that it's now common practice to restrict early distribution at key outlets to create the impression that the units are flying off the shelf faster than anticipated.

Google hasn't said anything about Chromecast sales numbers but it certainly has sold out online. So what might this frenzy (or constructed frenzy) indicate? Doubts aside I think it MIGHT indicate that Google has finally found the magic gizmo.

And that means it's going to be interesting to see how this new assault on the TV set is going to be viewed at IBC. Hit or miss? Threat or opportunity?

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