Chromecast Not So Great for Network Television Streaming

Mari Silbey —  August 26, 2013

Chromecast set-up 3

I spent more time playing with Chromecast this weekend while also contemplating the ongoing CBS blackout for Time Warner subscribers. At the moment, CBS is also blocking access to its shows on CBS.com for TWC subs. However, there is some legal argument that the network shouldn’t be able to discriminate against a specific set of viewers online. If that notion ever gains traction, then online access could be a viable alternative to watching CBS on cable.

Which led me to test out streaming from the CBS website. With Chromecast.

The good news is that casting the CBS stream to your TV is extremely easy. Switch TV inputs, open up CBS in your Chrome browser, click the Google Cast button, and you’re good to go. The bad news is that the video quality is atrocious. I’m not a pixel snob, but I was on the verge of getting nauseous trying to watch the disjointed playback.

In theory, using Chromecast to watch network television is an appealing cable alternative. But there are several practical drawbacks. There’s not a lot of linear content available. Where there is linear content, it looks like broadcasters want to put it behind a pay wall. And finally, the streaming quality is bad enough to make you long for an adjustable antenna.

Bottom line: Want to watch YouTube with Chromecast? It looks great. Want to stream CBS to your TV? Don’t bother.

19 responses to Chromecast Not So Great for Network Television Streaming

  1. I am pretty sure you are doing it wrong, no offense. In the chromecast settings on chrome there is a setting that needs to be unchecked, but I cant remember exactly what the setting is, but will look later. Its not under options I know that. After I unchecked that everything streams great!

  2. vw- I’m open to any and all suggestions. I’ll also continue experimenting…

  3. I agree with your assessment, Mari, and I believe it might have something to do with your wireless router. As far as I can tell streaming any local content from your computer (i.e. Chrome tab) goes from your computer, to your wifi router, then to the chromecast. It basically congests the network. Can you try “plugging in” your computer to ethernet, and/or moving your wireless access point closer to the chromecast and seeing if that makes it any better?

  4. “In the chromecast settings on chrome there is a setting that needs to be unchecked, but I cant remember exactly what the setting is”

    I believe you’re thinking of the “Make Chromecast Video Look Awful” setting. Uncheck the box, and that should take care of things. However, it is somewhat odd that they’ve enabled it by default.

  5. “As far as I can tell streaming any local content from your computer (i.e. Chrome tab) goes from your computer, to your wifi router, then to the chromecast. It basically congests the network.”

    FWIW, given that I have a quite robust 5ghz WiFi network, I long avoided running ethernet to my teevee. However, once I did so, I noticed something interesting.

    File xfers between a WiFi laptop and the Mac Mini that serves as my HTPC sped up not by the 2x I was expecting, but instead by approximately 3.5x. As Keanu Reeves would’ve said, “Whoa!”

    So, yes, the insanity of multi-hopping video signals to your lean-back will not only screw with PQ, but will do so in a far worse fashion than the straight linear degradation one would expect.

    However, I don’t think even an inconvenient fully wired setup will solve Mari’s problem. There’s a transcode hit to be dealt with, which is why all these video-in-the-middle schemes are destined to always produce lousy PQ.

    Mari, have you considered trying watching CBS directly via your cable box connected to your lean-back via HDMI? It’ll likely produce better results…

  6. “As far as I can tell streaming any local content from your computer (i.e. Chrome tab) goes from your computer, to your wifi router, then to the chromecast.”

    Even worse that you are laying out. You left out the third hop. It goes router -> computer -> router -> Chromecast. So, given my 3.5x slower experience with a two hop, a three hop is probably something like 12x slower

  7. George, may as well just run a 15′ HDMI cable from the laptop to the TV and skip the Chromecast entirely. Not to mention the content isn’t supposed to be streaming locally – the whole point of DIAL is to remotely control the Chromecast, which receives content direct via the cloud.

  8. I cut the Fios cord alomost two years ago. We some of our content OTT from Amazon Prime and Netflix. We get our broadcast network programming over the air with a TiVo Premiere. The wife and children have learned that learned to “look around” for what they want to watch.

    If Chromecast and Google TV don’t do network TV, what is the simplest way to to get channels like FX and HGTV, which are NOT on Hulu, into the living room and up on my big screen.

  9. Hold on a sec…

    I thought that the whole point of Chromecast was to tell it where to get the video so it shouldn’t be hitting your computer at all but the Chromecast dongle should be going straight out to the network to get the video.

  10. “I thought that the whole point of Chromecast was to tell it where to get the video so it shouldn’t be hitting your computer at all but the Chromecast dongle should be going straight out to the network to get the video.”

    It’s a floor wax and a desert topping!

    There’s DIAL, and there’s transcode-a-browser-tab.

    (I remember when I first ran Plex on iOS to control my HTPC, and I was like Keanu Reeves going, “Whoa!” I was looking at the DIAL-like future, and I saw that it was good. Of course, I had a wee physical remote too in order to create a full DIAL-like happiness, unlike the less-good Chromecast…)

  11. Frameworks frameworks frameworks. This is a great device. Hopefully Google can work out enough deals with partners so that we can go to apps, such as NFL, CBS, etc and have Chromecast do the heavy lifting. Mirroring is not the long-term answer, but works in a pinch.

  12. Agreed. Tab mirroring will work in a pinch if it works for you when you try it. And it may get better over time. But it isn’t the long term solution.

    The long term solution is DIAL support for all your apps. Something we know is coming for Plex and HBO Go and Hulu Plus, and we *hope* is coming for CBS, SyFy, ESPN etc etc (and especially Amazon Prime). Given the seemingly large numbers of ChromeCasts that are shipping, the fact that the UI remains in the media companies’ hands, etc I think its reasonable to assume we’ll see support over time from most of these guys. But you’ll have to wait and see.

  13. “However, there is some legal argument that the network shouldn’t be able to discriminate against a specific set of viewers online.”

    While I think your legal argument is balderdash, in any case, thank god that the Viacom/CBS split happened. If TWC subs had been unable to watch the Miley Cyrus video, I think we might have seen a violent revolution in our streets.

  14. “The long term solution is DIAL support for all your apps. Something we know is coming for Plex and HBO Go and Hulu Plus”

    Let’s not forget TiVo S4. DIAL-like behavior was a biggie for TiVo S4 recordings.

    “Given the seemingly large numbers of ChromeCasts that are shipping, the fact that the UI remains in the media companies’ hands, etc I think its reasonable to assume we’ll see support over time from most of these guys. But you’ll have to wait and see.”

    I’m lukewarm on how big a pickup DIAL-like functionality will really reach. If you really want a DIAL-like world, then that Netflix, (et al), client is going to have to sniff out exactly what box is connected to your lean-back, and then do DIAL. Do we really anticipate that Netflix will sniff out if you’ve got a Chromecast, Roku, AppleTV, TiVo, Smart TV, or whatever connected, or will mobile platforms exclusivity and exclusive ‘channel’ deals balkanize DIAL in practice?

    Like I say, I’m lukewarm in predicting whether this will really pan out across the board…

  15. Chromecast kinda backs up the idea that networks can discriminate against ‘Non-paying’ streams. if Chromecast takes off then why would a significant number of people not just cut the cord and stream the shows for free.

  16. Thanks for the article- this was the one reason I was interested in buying a Chromecast (was for cbs.com) since I have a smart tv that accesses the other stuff by itself. Thanks to your article I know better now and won’t waste the $35.

  17. Thanks for the article…lots of very techie (to me) comments that follow. Wondering if there has been any improvement on the CBS visual front. I’m considering buying Chromecast for CBS & PBS… so hope the kinks have been worked out and it’s worth it.

    Anyone?

  18. Nope, still doesn’t work.

  19. It’s designed to be controlled primarily, from smart device like a phone or tablet. The unit actually accesses the content over WIFI from your ISP when using compatible apps.
    The casting feature is a different thing all together and any device that actually casts content from a source is going to use at least double the bandwidth.
    Just remember there are two different things going on with this device. It can cast content from a source and it can use a smart device as a controller to access content from an app that’s compatible.