After months of speculation, Google's Chromecast streaming stick is officially available to Australians, on sale in the Google Play store or over the counter in national retailers JB HiFi and Dick Smith. For $49, there's not much in the box -- it's doesn't come with a remote control, because it's not actually a media player. It's simply an HDMI-capable wireless bridge to your television, letting you stream internet video from gadgets around your home such as smartphones, tablets, notebooks and desktops.
Easy access to Netflix is the Chromecast's big selling point in the US, but Australians shouldn't look upon the Chromecast as a simple way to sneak in to the Holy Grail of streaming video services. Unfortunately, the workarounds to watch Netflix in Australia are just as convoluted as with the first-generation Chromecasts shipped from the US. Thankfully, local video services are taking a keen interest in the latest addition to the digital lounge room.
Foxtel's Presto subscription movie service is adding Chromecast support, arriving in July to coincide with the release of the Presto Android app. There's no official word on whether Chromecast support will come to the Foxtel Play subscription service, although it's looking unlikely at least in the short-term.
Meanwhile, Quickflix is in "the final stages of development and testing of a Chromecast app" and you should also expect it within the next month or so, as Quickflix's ambition has always been to be the first Australian streaming video service to officially support the Chromecast.
The ABC has also confirmed that smartphone and tablet apps for its iView Catch Up TV service will support the Chromecast "within the coming months". Telstra's Bigpond was also reportedly eyeing off the Chromecast although, unlike Foxtel and Quickflix, it hasn't made an official announcement to coincide with Google's Australian Chromecast launch.
While Australians will need to wait for Presto, Quickflix and iView to come to the party, there are several key services available in Australia which already support Chromecast streaming. Apart from the obligatory YouTube access, the most significant service for Australians is Google Play Music & TV -- available for both Android and iOS. The release of the Chromecast now offers the easiest way for Android users to stream Google Play content to their televisions, rather than relying on Miracast streaming or connecting via cables.
Other Chromecast-compatible video services such as Crackle, Red Bull TV and Vevo are hit and miss when it comes to quality of content -- Crackle looks tempting until you discover the painful way it inserts advertisements regardless of what's happening in the movie. The first time it drops a Snapple ad into the middle of a fight scene you'll decide to watch your movies elsewhere.
More tempting is the Chromecast's support for Plex, letting you stream content from Plex Media Server software running on your computer or Network Attached Storage drive. Australians frustrated by the dearth of Plex support in Australian home entertainment gear, and not tempted by the thought of importing a Roku, could find the Chromecast is the cheap and easy Plex client they've been looking for.
The Chromecast isn't just restricted to video. It also supports Google Play Music, Rdio and Pandora, opening up the option of hooking up the Chromecast to an HDMI-enabled amplifier for playing music and streaming it around the home.
The difficulty in getting US services like Netflix and HuluPlus running on the Chromecast is frustrating, but if that's your goal you'll get a lot less grief from an Apple TV or games console. For now the Chromecast offers a cheap and simple way for Australians to make the most of what they have, rather than an easy way to taste forbidden fruit.