Last week, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) began selling an impressive-looking low-cost device that lets its owners easily watch more online video on their TV sets. Google's Chromecast, an HDMI dongle with embedded Wi-Fi, quickly sold out at its main online retailers, so by the time I got around to ordering mine, the delay in shipping times had climbed to weeks.
This provided me with an opportunity to consider whether I really need a Chromecast. Turns out, I don't. At least not yet.
First, let me say that I think what Google is doing with Chromecast is very smart. I want to be able to choose what my TV displays from a touch-screen device, but I don't want to have to think about whether the device I'm holding in my hand happens to be compatible with my TV set. And I especially don't want those considerations to be a factor when I'm shopping for a new smartphone, tablet or PC. Chromecast seems like a step in the direction of interoperability--it works on an iPad with Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and YouTube, for instance--and that's good.
Furthermore, this type of functionality makes much more sense built into a low-cost device like a Chromecast than embedded in an expensive TV set. A device like a Chromecast could extend the life of a TV set--with a display that's still suitable but firmware that's not--for years. That's bad for TV-set makers, but good for consumers and anyone who wants to use the Internet to distribute video to the TV.
So, I consider myself a Chromecast fan. But I'm not going to buy one.
The device only supports two major video services out of the box: YouTube and Netflix. Yes, support for more services is on the way, but I'm willing to wait and see who else jumps on board before I order mine.
I already have a device connected to my TV that lets me watch Netflix, control YouTube and Vimeo videos with my laptop as well as access Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime (Nasdaq: AMZN) and other video services. It's called a TiVo.
Yes, it cost a lot more than $35, and I still pay TiVo a monthly fee to use it. But it also gets me much more than what the Chromecast offers today: the ability to record live broadcasts and watch them later. Even if that is a decidedly non-online-video activity, it's one I'm not willing to give up.
Maybe this is just sour-grapes reasoning on my part. My first reaction to hearing about the device was: "I want one of those." Only after the device was seemingly out of reach did I begin questioning that reaction.
I'm sure I'll cave eventually. If there's a race between TiVo and Chromecast to get the support of the most online content suppliers, I'd bet Google will win. And as support for Chromecast grows, its deficits as a device will shrink.