If you think Chromecast is cheap and revolutionary, you’ve not been paying attention for the past 12 months
When Google revealed Chromecast, in a brilliantly orchestrated marketing announce, the “usual suspects” of technology blogs were all extremely enthusiastic. Head over to mainstream blogs’ technical reviews if you need to be convinced. If you read what these guys have to write, the Chromecast is a tiny revolution at an insanely low cost. They go in length to compare it to “the competition” (sic), namely the Roku and the Apple TV.
And that’s my main problem with these reviews, made by people who pretend to be authoritative in the field of gadgets, but apparently have only ever heard of Roku and Apple when it comes to stuff you can plug to your TV.
If you step back a bit, and look at the pure performance and hardware of the Chromecast, it has basically the same CPU/GPU Power as an MK802 III or any of its clones, but 4 times less RAM, no SD card support, no additional USB port, and a limited OS (you can’t turn your Chromecast into an FTP server or a bittorrent client without hacking it, but you can do that and much more with the mk802 dongles). From a pure hardware perspective, the Chromecast is a subpar mk802 III. And yes, you can find the MK802 III for $35 on Amazon today. It’s not even out of stock!
So if you look at the hardware only, the Chromecast is actually expensive compared to its real competition. Not the Roku and the Apple TV which are grossly overpriced, but other dongles running Android, which have been available on the market for more than a year now. Most reviews I’ve read have ignored the massive market of Chinese dongles in their comparison, which is surprising for sites that are supposed to know everything about the market of… gadgets.
But don’t get me wrong. The MK802 III and its clones don’t compare to the Chromecast on all levels. Although they offer more raw power and flexibility for the same price as the Chromecast, they also have their drawbacks. The companies behind these product offer close to no support, lemons happen regularly because of the lack of quality control, etc… These gadgets are not for your grandmother, while Chromecast could end up in any home given its simplicity. But I’ve personally been the happy owner of an MK802 III for more than half a year now, and I know the Chromecast as it is today would not fulfill my needs. But that’s because I’m technical savvy.
The real revolution offered by the Chromecast is, of course, DIAL. The protocol which allows apps to interact smoothly with the device is the one thing that everybody had been waiting for, and that is the genius of Google to have implemented such a great and simple interface. But I don’t really see what would prevent a seasoned Android developer from adding that protocol to the existing dongles. Make the MK802 III identify itself as a Chromecast, have a few scripts running to catch the right intents that will trigger youtube, netflix, or others, and you’re good to go. It’s work, of course, but it sounds like a reasonable project, assuming the DIAL protocol is known.
Bottom line is, from a hardware point of view, Chromecast is actually expensive and definitely not revolutionary. Its protocol and the interface that come with it, on the other hand, are.