Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Roku has made my Google Chromecast superfluous

Do you still need a Chromecast device?

I am a cord-cutter -- I use a Roku streaming device on my TV set and do not receive regular cable channels. (I have a trusty rabbit ears antenna for local over-the-air broadcasts, but that will not work for many people).

I also have a Google Chromecast, which I said I loved in a review a little over a year ago. But, a year later, it turns out there is nothing in the Chromecast app library that I want to see that is not also available on my Roku. In fact, I watch several Roku channels -- like PBS -- that are not currently available for the Chromecast. I guess Bill Clinton would say "it's the content, stupid."

But, I kept my Chromecast around for screencasting -- mirroring my computer or phone on the TV set -- until now.

It is now superfluous because Roku has released the beta version of Miracast screen mirroring for Windows 8.1 and selected Android devices.

As you see here, when I open the Screencast setting on my Android phone, I have two target destinations -- the Chromecast and the Roku streaming stick. (Both are connected to the same TV set).

I did an informal test of the two devices using the CBS All Access video streaming service. I watched episodes of "Big Bang Theory" using both devices, and did not notice a significant difference in quality. The video did occasional half-second stutters a few times and the audio would also drift out of synch from time to time, but the program was watchable on both the Roku and the Chromecast. I have no doubt that next generation hardware and improved video and compression algorithms will take care of those small glitches (as long as my ISP keeps the bits flowing smoothly).

Miracasting is only available on two Roku models -- the Roku 3 and the Streaming Stick -- and selected Windows 8.1 and Android devices, but no doubt wider support is coming. If you have a miracast-compatible device, you might as well unplug your Chromecast.

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Update 11/20/2014

A couple days ago, I got the Android Lollipop update for my Nexus 5 phone and CBS updated their All Access application, so I decided to retest the streaming video quality. I used this as an excuse for watching another episode of Big Bang Theory and (subjectively) noted that the video had smoothed out -- there were no stutters -- but the audio had deteriorated -- it was out of synch the entire time. I don't know whether this is attributable to Lollipop or the app or a combination of the two.

I ran this test twice -- once streaming to a Roku Streaming Stick and the other to a Chromecast -- and the subjective experience was the same.

I'm disappointed by this step in the wrong direction, but I faster hardware and better algorithms will smooth out video glitches and synch the audio.

One other cosmetic change -- the Lollipop screencast screen has changed to black on white: