07
Aug
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Chromecast is one of the slicker devices to come out of Google HQ in a while. After you're all set up, just tap a button on YouTube or Netflix, and BAM, whatever you were watching is now on your television. It's really awesome.

For the researchy-types like me, the Chromecast comes with two piece of software to dig through. The first is the physical device software, which, while it is sort-of Android based, it's only Android-based at the low level. While that has some interesting things going on like dev and beta channels, there aren't any APKs to decompile, so it's really not my department.

There's also the Android companion app, which is much more my style. It contains a few eyebrow-raising entries, which hopefully give us a look at the future of Chromecast.

More Backgrounds

2013-08-07-12.30

When the Chromecast isn't displaying any content, it drops into this "ready to cast" mode. Rather than display a boring "ready" message, the developers decided to make it look pretty by having it cycle through background pictures.

Internally this mode is referred to as "IMAX." I guess the Googlers have really big televisions.

It looks like the Chromecast devs have (or had) much bigger plans for Imax; there are several options for configuring the background.

   <string-array name="pref_content_source_descriptions">
       <item>Featured photos</item>
       <item>Photos from Google+ of particular themes</item>
       <item>Top news</item>
       <item>Google offers</item>
       <item>Recent photos</item>
   </string-array>
   <string-array name="pref_picture_theme_descriptions">
       <item>General photography</item>
       <item>Nature</item>
       <item>Seasons</item>
       <item>Water</item>
       <item>Animals</item>
       <item>Travel</item>
       <item>Food and Wine</item>
       <item>Space</item>
       <item>Sports</item>
       <item>Arts</item>
       <item>Vehicles</item>
   </string-array>

According to these (non-functional) settings values, you'd be able to pick "themes" of pictures pulled from Google+ for the Chromecast to cycle through. Presumably the Chromecast would continually update these, so you'd never get sick of the pictures on your TV.

New background images are nice, but the most interesting options are for "News," "Offers," and "Recent Photos." Having the Chromecast pump news or your personal images to the TV sounds really neat.

<string name="playpause_button_content_description">Set IMAX to auto-play or manual-control status</string>
<string name="previous_button_content_description">Show previous IMAX event on Chromecast</string>
<string name="next_button_content_description">Show next IMAX event on Chromecast</string>
<string name="imax_preference">Set preferences</string>
<string name="progress_message_start_imax">Connecting to %1$s to start IMAX session...</string>

Things start to get weird when you look at the Imax-related strings. The language here really clings onto the Imax metaphor, but it sounds like you would be able to control the background changes by manually hitting "next."

An Old Universal Remote Idea

One of the neatest tricks the Chromecast has (provided your TV is new enough) is the ability to turn on your TV and switch to the correct input when you press the cast button. This is all because of an HDMI feature called "Consumer Electronics Control (CEC)." Basically, the Chromecast can send remote control signals to your TV through the HDMI plug.

CEC can do much, much more than just hit power and cycle through inputs. If you check out the Wikipedia entry for CEC, you'll see it can basically do anything a remote can: play, pause, and rewind things, control volume, switch inputs, navigate menus, record things, and even do fancy things like displaying text. So theoretically, the Chromecast could control all your stuff.

<string name="dismiss_button_content_description">Dismiss the universal remote control</string>
<string name="unlock_button_content_description">Dismiss the universal remote control activity</string>

<string name="dismiss_dialog_title">Cast remote</string>
<string name="dismiss_dialog_question">Hide this remote until the next time you cast?</string>
<string name="dismiss_dialog_never_show">Never show this remote</string>

<string name="preference_remote_control_summary">Show the remote control on the lock screen</string>

It looks like the Googlers are well aware of the abilities of CEC, because at some point they've kicked around the idea of building a "universal" remote into the Chromecast app. Currently, while Chromecasting, you are able to play, pause, and seek with your phone, but it's important to realize that the individual apps handle that duty. The Chromecast app never directly controls your TV. This text suggests it would be able to automatically bring up a remote when casting starts.

remote

While the APK certainly doesn't contain enough buttons for a full universal remote, there are a few. As always, we have to ask the million dollar teardown question: "is this an abandoned feature, or an in-development feature?" Well, one look at the hideous art for these buttons should give you your answer. This all looks pretty old; like something a programmer whipped-together in his spare time. It never made it to the "professional design" stage.

I show you this just in the hopes that Google decides to bring this feature back. I mean, clearly the Chromecast can control your TV - it does it every time you cast something, so why not expose that to the user? A long-range Wi-Fi remote would be awesome! And, assuming the Chromecast supports most of the features of CEC, they could make it do so, so much more. It would be great to control the actual volume instead of the laggy Chromecast volume.

Simplicity is one of the Chromecast's best attributes, so if they do add any extra features like this, they'd have to be careful to not overcomplicate things. I guess we'll just have to wait and see how Google handles updates for its newest piece of hardware.

Ron Amadeo
Ron loves everything related to technology, design, and Google. He always wants to talk about "the big picture" and what's next for Android, and he's not afraid to get knee-deep in an APK for some details. Expect a good eye for detail, lots of research, and some lamenting about how something isn't designed well enough.
  • Daniel

    Awesome.

    APK Teardown is the best!

  • http://www.ScienceProUSA.com SciencePro

    Getting my Google+ photos on there would be awesome. Hope they implement that.

  • http://www.ronakg.com/ Ronak Gandhi

    More than controlling my TV with Chromecast App through CEC, I want to control the Chromecast playback with my normal remote. All that chromecast needs to do is understand the CEC codes (which are standard for common actions like play, pause, stop, forward etc) and apply those actions to running video. Even raspberrypi can do it, why not chromecast?

    • ItlnStln

      Yes! I love my Chromecast, but I have a Logitech Harmony remote that I use to control the volume on my receiver, HDMI inputs, and whatnot; and it's a real PITA using the Harmony for some things then remembering to pick up my tablet to jack with whatever I'm casting. I feel like a moron casting Netflix and pounding the pause button on my remote for seemingly forever when it finally clicks that I need to pause from my tablet.

    • David Becker

      Chromecast has no IR receiver as far as I know of so it would not be able to receive any commands from a standard IR blasting remote control.

      • http://www.ronakg.com/ Ronak Gandhi

        Chromecast doesn't need IR receiver. TV receives the IR signal and it can transfer that information to Chromecast via HDMI CEC. That's how raspberri pi works. It is connected to the TV via the HDMI cable only. But I can control the UI via normal TV remote because of the HDMI CEC spec.

        Quote from wikipedia - "HDMI-CEC is an extension of the HDMI display port interface that makes it possible to send control commands back and forth over an HDMI cable. The idea behind HDMI-CEC is to simplify the use of multiple devices connected to each other via HDMI. It can, for example, be used to control a DVD or Blu-ray player with your TV’s remote control, or even change the volume of your home theater receiver with that same remote."

        • Sootie

          Exactly, though if you have a pi and xbmc you would never need a chromecast anyway xbmc is so far superior to chromecast it makes it look silly

          • alexanderrk

            You realize chromecast and xbmc aren't exactly on the same level right?

          • Sootie

            Yes, but if you looking at a raspberry pi the price difference is only $20 ish so I think it is at least worth a comparison

  • garbagedick

    i'd love an option on chromecast to have it go back to the input you were on before you "chromecasted" content

  • George Varghese

    Yes for volume control. I really wish adjusting the volume in the app changed my receiver volume using CEC. My TV remote can do this. So the capability is definitely there.

  • PhineasJW

    The one feature I miss most is the ability to "disconnect" the Chromecast when I'm done, in a way that the TV automatically returns to the cable HDMI input.

    Without it, I still need to reach for my receiver/TV remote and manually select the proper HDMI. That's a flaw in an otherwise perfect use-model.

    • Mike Reid

      That's not a "flaw", it's a "feature".

      Google wants you to use all Chromecast, all the time.

      Google doesn't support SDCard, they support their cloud.

      Google doesn't support FM radio, they support their music services.

      • PhineasJW

        Yeah ... not buying that explanation.

        Chromecast is obviously very limited in what it does, which Google is clearly aware. It's not trying to replace your cable/satellite subscription.

        They provide a seamless way to get into it.

        If possible, there should be an equally easy way to get back to your previous content.

      • Matthew Fry

        1) Google doesn't support an SD card because it's freakin 35 dollars.
        2) Google doesn't support FM radio because see #1.
        3) Chromecast is obviously a Google product designed to access Google services. Nothing wrong with that.
        4) Google doesn't care if you watch cable.

  • freakism

    Google! Eat my TV. Go world wide with this fast!

  • Matthew Fry

    My Chromecast just shipped so I'm excited to see ... uh... I really don't know why I bought it but it'll be cool, probably.

    • enoch861

      Its cool.. But even I don't know why I bought it. And I got it on launch day! :D

  • https://plus.google.com/108596272537415356460/posts Jason Farrell

    Does the Chromecast know when the TV's been turned off, such that it'll automatically stop streaming from wherever and save bandwidth? I'll asume yes.

    • Simon Belmont

      It definitely knows if you plug your Chromecast into a USB port on your TV. When a TV is shut off, the USB ports are no longer powered, and thus the Chromecast is shut off, too.

      I actually prefer this scenario. 90% of the time when I want to cast something, the TV is already on anyway, and the Chromecast automatically switches the input source to itself.

      • John O’Connor

        The only advantage to using a power adapter that is plugged into the wall and not directly into a usb port is that many hdmi-cec enabled televisions will turn on the tv and switch inputs if a signal is sent to it. Mine have this capability which allows my xbox 360 and bluray player to turn on and switch to the correct input when turning on one of those peripheral devices.

        I still use the same method as you though so that I know the Chromecast is turned off.

        • Charles

          My TVs ports are always powered.. I don't mind having it on all the time because I find CEC useful.

  • KingRando

    I can't get Chromecast to automatically switch inputs on my Denon 1312

  • http://www.nerdshowandtell.com nerdshowandtell.com

    Chromecast time-out setting that power's off the TV (or AV Receiver) after a certain length of time. Then I'm happy.. right now I can power on all my TV's and it auto-switches to the chromecast.. But I still have to go around turning things off.. Not to mention if you accidentally selecting the wrong chromecast, I end up having to get out of bed and go turn off my AV receiver in the other room :P

    • enoch861

      When I cast something to my TV, everything turns on (TV and receiver). When I turn off the TV, the receiver turns off also. Pretty elegant solution. I just wish you could turn off the TV from the Chromecast as everyone else.

    • Simon Belmont

      I don't mind it not turning my TV off after using the Chromecast, because more often than not, I'm going back to watching normal TV anyway, (and not just have it power off immediately). It would be cool if there was a way to automatically switch the source back the TV after you're done with Chromecast, though.

      I just plug the Chromecast directly into the TV's USB port. That way the Chromecast actually isn't receiving power until you turn the TV on. In that scenario, there's no way to select the wrong Chromecast (I have two at the moment) because the only one available is the one with the TV that's already on. It also switches the input source automatically to the Chromecast when I cast something, which I love.

  • chosen_one1

    Or what would have been nice is why Chrome Cast is not active you can continue to watch regular tv in the background of the app. IF you are on your laptop and see something and want to push it to your screen .. boom .. finish watching ... chrome cast stays active but background becomes your regular tv which you can continue changing channel etc

  • XBIRDIE98

    If anyone is interested, the pictures currently used in the Chromecast are (a subset of) the Chrome OS wallpapers. (The solid color ones probably made no sense to include.)

    I know that François Beaufort (now a Chrome Developer Evangelist) published a way to get at these, via an internal file from Google's servers that tells Chrome OS what to fetch, many months ago, if anyone wants to use them as wallpapers on other devices. (He also made a chrome app to let you download them, but then removed the download feature: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/chrome-os-wallpapers/dkfibabkihblcenahmcdmfepojcejoan )

  • John O’Connor

    I'm hoping they work out some sort of control hierarchy for preferred devices. I let my grandmother try casting with her phone and she put it on Japanese Youtube videos but eventually took a nap and I could not use any other device to stop the "cast" from continuing other than her phone which happened to be locked (although I know her lock code) and also lost in the house somewhere before I could let my nephew cast from his tablet again.

    • Simon Belmont

      My solution for that was plugging my Chromecast directly into the USB port on my TV. That way if another device is casting and I can't stop it (like your scenario), I can just power the TV down and it'll shut the Chromecast off completely and sever the link to the device that was controlling the previous cast.

      It works well. Less cords behind the TV stand, too.

  • http://shanked.me/ Shank

    I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't in development - it sounds like a great selling point, but if TV production date means that older TVs can't use it, it can't really be marketed as a feature.

  • Simon Belmont

    I've been really pleased with my Chromecasts (I grabbed two) so far. I've found my normal routine to watching videos online actually already changed to accommodate the Chromecast, and it's had a positive impact in my consumption of media.

    I see a lot of potential with the Chromecast. I can't wait to see what Google does with them.

  • Peter

    anyone got a link to download the chromecast app? it's not yet available to download via play store in australia...

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