The following article was updated on 24th March 2014 following a statement from BT Sport about Chromecast support.
Having made its debut in the United States last year, Chromecast is now available in the UK. At launch, the number of services that support Google’s digital media player is somewhat limited, although there are a number of exciting developments in the pipeline.
Given the BBC iPlayer is the most well known and widely available internet-based video service in the UK, it is almost unthinkable that it would not be available on Chromecast from launch.
But whilst eyebrows would have been raised if iPlayer support had been omitted, many people already have access to the services by other means. For some time, iPlayer has been included in devices such as low-cost TVs, Blu-ray players and games consoles.
Neither the BBC nor Google could really have risked iPlayer not supporting Chromecast. The former needs to ensure their services are available on a platform that potentially could grow very quickly, whilst the latter needs to have the UK’s most recognisable video on-demand service available from day one.
Initially, the BBC will support Chromecast via its Android app (as well as the iOS equivalent), although desktop browser playback will be offered at a later date.
There are no dedicated sport apps available for Chromecast at the time of its UK launch, although work is underway to put that right.
The BBC have confirmed that they are currently working to add Chromecast support to their BBC Sport app. Viewers will be able to watch premium live content such as Formula 1 races and – from next season – FA Cup football.
A range of additional interactive Red Button streams, that are no longer widely accessible on traditional linear TV, are also available via the BBC Sport app.
Nowhere shows off the potential of the BBC’s Red Button streams better than Wimbledon. Whilst no definitive date has been given for the addition of Chromecast support to the BBC Sport app, it is likely that the corporation aims to complete development in time for this year’s tournament, which gets underway on 23 June.
Sky Go/NOW TV
Sky currently offer two separate internet TV services. Sky Go is an extra service available to Sky subscribers, whilst NOW TV is a separate offering targeted at those who are not customers of the company’s satellite TV service.
Currently, Sky have no plans to add Chromecast support to Sky Go, and that situation is unlikely to change in the immediate future. The company already prevents subscribers from watching Sky Go via TV – blocking HDMI output on its Android app. Therefore, the prospects of Chromecast support on Sky Go are somewhat remote.
There is better news for customers of NOW TV, however. Speaking to Pocket Lint, a spokesperson for the service indicated that Chromecast support may arrive at some point in the future:
“We are always looking at potential distribution platforms for NOW TV including Chromecast.”
Whilst NOW TV appear fairly noncommittal at the moment, it is nonetheless encouraging to hear that Chromecast is at least on their radar.
NOW TV offers streaming of both on-demand content and live TV channels, with a wide range of sport, movies and entertainment available.
There is a potential conflict, though, that may delay NOW TV’s Chromecast release. Sky is an investor in Roku, which produces a range of products that compete against Chromecast.
NOW TV even offer a Roku-based box for £9.99 that includes access to more catch-up services than Chromecast currently offers.
Yet a significant reason for Sky’s investment in Roku is that it provides an opportunity to increase NOW TV’s distribution. Therefore, if Chromecast is a success in the UK, it will be difficult to ignore a platform that could potentially dramatically increase NOW TV’s customer base.
An Android Central forum user has spotted some encouraging signs in the BT Sport Android app, indicating that Chromecast support may be coming soon. Equally promising is the fact that BT have reacted quickly, clarifying their position with regards to Google’s new digital media player.
“Only a handful of apps currently allow customers with Google Chromecast to cast to their TV,” the company stated. “We keep a close eye on technology trends and are keen to ensure that the BT Sport App is compatible with any device that becomes really popular.”
Whilst the statement is a long way from a firm commitment to offering Chromecast support in the BT Sport app, it is encouraging that the company has at least acknowledged potential customer interest at an early stage.
Chromecast offers the facility to stream content from a tab in the desktop version of Chrome. However, Chromecast does not support Silverlight, which is used for BT Sport’s web-based player.
Whilst some users have reported limited success attempting to cast a tab, it is not possible to play video in full screen mode using the BT Sport online player.
Google Play Movies & TV/Google Play Music
Unsurprisingly enough, Google’s own movie, TV and music services are supported by Chromecast. Google Play Movies & TV allows customers to rent and buy content, whilst Google Play Music offers the choice of purchasing tracks outright or paying a monthly subscription fee.
Having launched in the UK back in January 2012, Netflix has made impressive progress. The service is already available on a wide range of platforms, including Android, iOS, Chrome OS, Windows Phone, Windows 8 and many more.
Given that Netflix has worked hard to make sure that its service is well supported, it is no surprise that Chromecast has been added to its list of platforms.
Amazon Instant Video
The most comparable service to Netflix that is available in the UK is Amazon’s Prime Instant Video. In many respects, the online shopping giant had a head start, having purchased LOVEFiLM – the forerunner to Prime Instant Video – in January 2011, having already been a major shareholder in the company.
Netflix and Prime Instant Video have developed very different distribution models. Whilst Netflix is available across a huge range of platforms, Prime Instant Video is very tightly integrated with Amazon’s Kindle product line.
There is not currently even a Prime Instant Video app available for Android. As Amazon is focussing on developing its own platform, it is unlikely that Chromecast support will be offered anytime soon. A more probable scenario is that Amazon will release a product of its own in order to take on Chromecast.
Streaming media files
As well as watching video streams using services such as BBC iPlayer and Netflix, it is also possible to access local media files using Chromecast. The most simple way of achieving this is to use the ‘Cast this Tab’ feature in the desktop version of Chrome, as the browser is capable of playing back a variety of video and audio files directly.
Currently, though, casting a tab does not work particularly well. Video quality in particular can be poor, with users frequently suffering dropped frames.
A better solution is to use a third party media player service, such as Plex or RealPlayer Cloud. Both options support Chromecast and offer a basic service free of charge, although paid plans are also available.
Other catch-up services
None of the UK’s other major catch-up TV services support Chromecast directly. There has also been no word as to whether ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5 will be adding support at a later date.
There are Android apps available for both ITV Player and 4oD, so there is at least hope that these will be updated to work with Chromecast. The situation with Demand 5 is less clear, though, as the service does not support Android at present.
As ITV Player, 4oD and Demand 5 all rely on Flash rather than Silverlight, there is a desktop workaround. Using Chrome browser’s Cast this Tab button, it is possible to watch all three catch-up services. As already mention, however, this feature does not work particularly well, so native support would be preferable.
Other video services
In addition to the services that have been outlined, there are a number of other Android apps that offer Chromecast support. This list is likely to grow significantly in the future.
YouTube – Well known video sharing service.
Red Bull TV – A selection of sport, music and lifestyle programming.
VEVO – A vast collection of music videos.