Streaming Personal Content to TV is Getting Easier

Alan Bullock
Mar 6, 2014

When Google introduced its Chromecast streaming media player in the summer of 2013, it was unique in its simplicity: no user interface and no built-in apps. Instead, it plugged into a standard HDMI port, waiting for commands from devices on the same Wi-Fi network to retrieve online content for display on the HD screen to which it was attached. At launch, only a few major apps (Netflix and Google’s own YouTube, Google Play Movies, and Google Play Music) were enabled for “casting” content to the device. For a while, Google chose to limit Chromecast access to a few more high-profile apps, such as Pandora, Hulu Plus, and HBO GO. Even so, the $35 price tag made it easy to justify, if only to imagine what else might be possible in the future. (Admittedly, the free 3-month Netflix subscription offered to early buyers made it even easier.)

In December, ten more apps were Chromecast-enabled, just in time for the holidays. Not surprisingly, commercial content (movies, TV shows) was still the emphasis, but this group also included three apps (RealPlayer Cloud, Avia Media Player, and Plex) that would support casting personal photo and video content to the TV via Chromecast.

Finally, in early February, Google opened up access to the Google Cast SDK for other developers to add Chromecast support to their apps. Already, a number of apps have surfaced for viewing personal photos and videos stored in online locations such as Dropbox and Facebook, as well as on mobile devices and networked home computers. iOS options include Air Show, CastMe, Framebook, Photo Caster, and Pixocast; Android users can choose from Castaway, CastOnTV, Dayframe, Framebook, and others. They are a mix of free and paid apps, with some offering additional features as in-app purchases.

Chromecast was actually not the first stick-format media player to market. Back in 2012, Roku launched the Roku Streaming Stick. It required a Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) port, which provides a built-in power supply. While MHL is actually fairly common on newer televisions, manufacturers and retailers do not typically market it, and most consumers are not familiar with the term. Along with the fact that many consumers purchase streaming media players as a way to upgrade older TVs (yes, the ones without MHL ports) to Smart TVs, this, in my opinion, has limited the market for the Roku Streaming Stick.

This week, things got more interesting as Roku announced an HDMI version of the Streaming Stick. Without MHL, it requires a nearby USB port or an AC adapter for power. (Chromecast has the same requirement, by the way.) Roku has also lowered the price to $49.99, roughly half the $99 price of the original Streaming Stick, and on par with its lowest price set-top-box. This price includes a remote control as well as all of the hundreds of channels already available on all Roku devices.

Many of Roku’s channels already connect users with their personal content stored at various online services. Roku’s own iOS and Android apps will also stream photos and videos from those mobile devices, and the company indicates that casting content from Netflix and YouTube will soon be supported. In addition, Roku says that it is working on providing the ability to cast content from a computer to TV screen, something that Chromecast offers (currently still in beta mode) via a Chrome browser extension for Windows and Mac.

InfoTrends’ Opinion

This is all good news for consumers who want to view their photos and videos on the biggest and best screen in their homes. It also solidifies the role of mobile devices as the central hub for managing and viewing personal content, whether it is stored online, on a networked home computer, or locally on the device itself. The familiar user interface of a smartphone or tablet app will be much easier than navigating the menus of most Smart TVs, especially when trying to enter login credentials using a remote control. Best of all, at $35 and $50, the price points are low enough to not be an obstacle for most users. For me, the Roku adds a lot of value for just $15 more than the Chromecast. It’s a good thing that the HDMI switch I just bought has an extra port!


InfoTrends’ Connected Imaging Trends service studies devices, services, and technologies that enable consumers to view, share, store, and protect their personal photo and video files, virtually any time and anywhere. For more information, please contact Matt O’Keefe at or +1.781.616.2115.

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