Chromecast with Google TV Review

Google do some things well, and some other things not so well – those get abandoned reasonably quickly for the most part. One of the areas they’ve excelled at in recent times, is leveraging their Android platform to provide a decent Smart TV experience. So much so, that most TVs these days come with Google TV built into it, and a nice big Google Play button on the TV remote.

In a move that will probably frustrate most TV manufacturers, Google has added this same Google TV experience into their latest Chromecast devices. For $99AU, you can buy a Chromecast with Google TV device and plug it into a HDMI port of your TV, and plug the other end into the wall via USB charger to make any TV, smart.

To reiterate – this can now be a standalone device for streaming media, that doesn’t need your phone or anything else to kick it off.

Personally I’ve been plugging old laptops into TVs and using wireless keyboards to provide a similar experience. In some ways, it’s much nicer to have a full version of Windows available along with a keyboard to be able to alternate between media watching device and computer monitor, but using a keyboard is still a clunky experience for sitting on a couch and just wanting to watch some Netflix.

Coming in three colours (which have fancy names, but they’re white, pale blue and pale pink), I started with a pale blue. The device is still quite small and thin and has the hard wired HDMI cable at one end, and the USB-C port at the other – cable and power point plug were included.

If I buy more, I’ll get one of each colour, because the remote that comes with it is also coloured meaning you know which remote goes with which TV.

It’s a smaller remote that takes 2xAAA batteries (which also came with the device), but I wouldn’t say it’s too small or too light. The top part is a 4 way directional pad with selection button in the middle, with back, Google Assitant, home, mute, YouTube, Netflix, Power and Input toggle buttons available.

The side of the remote also has a volume up/down, and as part of the initial setup you choose your TV and press buttons to make sure it’s working as desinged. My TV brand wasn’t listed (FFalcon), but since it’s an updated name for TCL, I chose that and it worked.

One weird message I had when setting up was this: “This Chromecast was manufactured for a different country, and may not be compatible with your Wi-Fi network.” I bought this directly from Google, and others also had the same message. I’m guessing it was built for the USA which has different Wi-Fi requirements, but it hopefully won’t be an issue here (even though Google couldn’t get Wi-Fi right on their Nest Mini device).

Back on the remote, once I’d finished setting up and started to play around I found the throw distance of the remote for IR functions (such as volume) to the TV was quite poor. Within about 1.5m it worked perfectly, and beyond that it just didn’t work. Maybe it’s just my TV, but it was frustrating. For volume, you do have the choice of having the buttons control the TV volume or the Chromecast device volume, so if you were solely using the TV with that it would make sense to increase the TV’s volume and change to that – but if you have other devices you switch to, they’ll of course come out a lot louder. I ended up using the TV remote for volume instead.

The display looks as you’d expect, a list of apps, with TV show suggestions and access to the Google TV app store. You can add/install a bunch of other apps, including SteamLink which will let you stream games from your PC. Combine that with a bluetooth paired controller to the Chromecast device, and you’ve got an easy gaming setup straight out of your big TV.

I don’t need all the other fluff that Google provide, and surprisingly they’ve added an option where you can turn it off and just be in ‘app mode’. You still see a TV show suggestion (including Disney shows, despite uninstalling the app and restarting the unit), but it’s much cleaner:

I tried out Plex and it worked perfectly!

It’s cheap for what it provides, and it runs really fast. It supports 4K, HDR (which was the first time I saw my TV tell me it was running in HDR 10 mode) and Dolby Vision. It’s noticeably faster to use than the Google TV built into my 2017 Sony OLED TV, which also doesn’t seem to have HDR support for YouTube.

Should you buy this device?

If you want to have streaming apps on a TV that doesn’t have them, YES. If you have inbuilt apps but they’re slow and clunky to use, YES. For the price, it’s an easy investment into having a better viewing experience on any TV. If we start travelling around the world again, this would also be a great device to take with you to turn any hotel room TV with a HDMI port you can get to, into your personal streaming device. However, if your TV already has all the working apps you want for streaming content, this won’t give you anything new.

Home Network Setup – Ubiquiti Upgrade

Only a few months ago, I wrote up the current state of my home network setup. Since then, Ubiquiti have been kind enough to provide me some devices to upgrade my network.

This is what they sent me after some discussions on what would work:

UniFi NanoHD Access Point – to replace the UniFi AP AC LR.

UniFi In-Wall HD Access Point – to replace a 2 port wall point.

UniFi Switch PoE 8 (150W) – to run off the UDM and provide PoE to these new devices.

UniFi Switch Flex – to replace one of the downstream switches I had.

First, the UniFi Switch PoE 8 (150W)

I had my youngest son inspect the PoE switch before opening:

It looks like your standard switch from the front and back, and I patched a few things through it on my desk to make sure it all worked as expected:

As with all these devices, plugging in and using the Unifi Network dashboard which automatically detects them, to simply adopt it and be a managed device, was the simplest thing to do without any hiccups.

I needed the PoE switch in place first to then power the other devices I had, and not needing a power cable for them all both freed up a few power points and made everything cleaner.

I then moved the switch into the cupboard with my UDM, Intel NUC and Synology Diskstation… but after further changes, the cables were tidied up and the UDM relocated elsewhere.

The UniFi Switch Flex is quite a small unit, a 5 port PoE powered device. Very useful for a TV cabinet to provide more devices a wired connection

There was very little to do on this one again, plug it in downstream of the PoE switch, adopt it, and it’s up and running. It has a wall mount option but I didn’t need that for my use case, it was going in the TV cabinet.

The UniFi In-Wall HD Access Point was the most interesting of the devices; going into an existing wall point as a 5 port switch (one port in the back for the patch cable going to the wall point, and 4 available coming out) as well as being an AP.

For this I had a friend help who could actually do recabling work, since the laws in Australia for this sort of thing are particularly strict:

I was unlucky that I didn’t have enough room for the wall plate that came with the device – so my friend made the same sized hole in a standard wall plate, which then had the In-Wall HD AP attached to it.

Look at the end result! This removed the requirement for the UniFi AP AC LR that was stuck to the wall, and one of the switches I had:

I ended up deciding to put the UniFi NanoHD Access Point at the other end of the house while moving the UDM. Again, I needed my wiring specialist friend to sort this one out for me.

Near the bedrooms and in front of the toilet, where there’s probably a lot of Wi-Fi use, there’s now a professional looking AP on the ceiling, wired back to the cabinet and the 8 port PoE switch. Looks great and doubles as a night light towards the toilet!

After all that, I updated my topology diagram and removed the Wi-Fi devices to make it a bit easier to read:

Old Topology
New Topology

And here’s the updated floorplan with heat map:

2G Coverage
5G Coverage

With all networking devices being Ubiquiti, I get much better visibility end to end on what’s happening across the entire network, as well as updates and configuration all controlled via the single Unifi Network Portal.

Here’s what the topology looks like from the Dream Machine:

I’m very happy with the upgrades and the extra visibility I now get across my network. If I was starting from scratch, I’d strongly consider deploying a UniFi In-Wall HD Access Point at every wallpoint because they’re relatively cheap and provide a lot of flexibility for both network points and wireless coverage.

The Flex switch is also handy, but wouldn’t work off an In-Wall HD Access Point as they’re not PoE out, otherwise they’re very small and easy to keep out of the way.

The 8 Port PoE Switch 150w provides PoE that I didn’t have – if I’d bought a UDM Pro instead of a UDM I’d have it coming out of that and not need this, but I’m very happy with this setup and the reduction in cables it’s brought. Worth noting that the switch runs quite warm – it’s fanless though and designed to dissipate heat through it’s casing, which can be a bit concerning if you’re not used to it :) Working as designed…

Finally the UniFi NanoHD Access Point is physically a little bit smaller than the UniFi AC LR AP – they have different specs including throughput speeds, but the NanoHD is a better fit for my use case inside my house.

The entire Ubiquiti ecosystem for me is still rather set and forget; unless I’m actually making a change, or getting an alert that something’s down (children tend to play with cables!) then it does it’s job. If I do want to know what’s going on, or the coverage/throughput of a device for some reason, it’s all pretty easy to find out.

Flush DNS in Windows

How to Flush DNS in Windows

  1. Click on the ‘Start’ button
  2. Type ‘Cmd’ and press Enter
  3. In the Command Prompt window, type ‘ipconfig /flushdns’ and press Enter
  4. If successful, you will see the results “Windows IP Configuration Successfully flushed the DNS Resolver Cache.”

Applies To: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7

The ‘ipconfig‘ command has been around since very early versions of Windows and is used to show details of network connections. The /flushdns switch will clear any DNS records currently remembered, which means any name resolution will be freshly looked up from your DNS server rather than using cached records.

How To Check What Version of Windows You Have

What Version Of Windows Do I Have?

Check with one easy command!

  1. Right click ‘Start’ and choose ‘Run’
  2. Type ‘winver’ and press ‘OK’
  3. A window will show up showing the main version of Windows you are on (such as Windows 10), followed by the version and build details.

Applies To: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP

The ‘winver’ command goes all the way back to even before the Windows for Workgroups 3.11 days, and was a GUI version of the ‘ver’ command.

As you can see above, the version (2004), OS build (19041.572), and edition (Pro) are all listed.

How To Update Microsoft Edge

How To Check For Updates on Microsoft Edge

  1. Click the Ellipsis (…) in the top right corner
  2. Under ‘Help and Feedback’ click ‘About Microsoft Edge’
  3. The page that shows up will tell you if you’re on the latest version, or give you an update link to click on.

Applies To: Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows 7

Microsoft Edge (Chromium version) should just update by itself. If there’s an update ready to go, you may see an arrow over the top right hand corner ellipsis, which just means you need to restart the browser when you want the update to apply.

New versions (known as builds) are released frequently – on a 6 week cycle for features, and security updates as required.

If you’re still on the old Microsoft Edge (known as Microsoft Edge Legacy), then check Windows Update as this will automatically upgrade you to the new Edge.