Casting, Google Cast or Chromecast represents one of the greatest steps in recent consumer technology. The ability to fling content from a phone or mobile device to a big-screen TV and control it from the palm of your hand is simple, but great.
For us it’s better than pressure-sensitive displays or auto-tuning headphones, better than wearables and smartwatches, better than connected heating. Why? Because it’s simple done well and it’s all about entertainment.
That’s why the Chromecast is such a breakthrough device but also why it’s so misunderstood: it has no dedicated remote, it offers no user interface, it just puts things on your TV effortlessly. It’s the simplicity that people often don’t get, because it does so much by doing so little and that sends people into a flap.
The Chromecast Ultra is an easy and logical upgrade over the standard Chromecast, adding the ability to cast in 4K Ultra HD with luscious HDR (high dynamic range) if you’ve got one of the latest and greatest TVs. Sadly, Ultra is also probably irrelevant, but we’ll get to that…
Chromecast Ultra review: Pucky but invisible design
- 58mm diameter x 14mm; 47g weight
- HDMI male out, Micro USB power in
- Mains power required for 4K content
We won’t dwell on design too much, because the Chromecast Ultra adopts the format of Chromecast 2: a disc featuring a Micro-USB power input, attached to a short cable with HDMI. The HDMI plugs into your TV’s spare port, while power is derived from the mains.
The two parts are magnetic so that you can tuck the device out of sight behind your TV, discreetly. There’s no need for space in your AV cupboard, you don’t need it sitting within view of an IR remote or anything else. Chromecast Ultra is basically invisible.
Well, it is and it isn’t. The Ultra needs power to operate and so you’ll need to feed that USB connection via the mains, so you’ll have an extra cable to think about. It is a 2m cable, though, so should reach a wall-mounted TV.
- Google Chromecast Ultra vs Roku Premiere+: What’s the difference?
This is a slight change from previous Chromecasts that could be powered from a USB socket on the rear of your TV (if it delivered necessary power). Now, if you connect to those lower-powered sockets, the Ultra won’t allow you to stream in Ultra HD/4K and it will give you an on-screen notification to tell you to connect to the supplied power pack. Basically you have to do as you’re told or the Ultra won’t be ultra.
Chromecast Ultra review: Simple setup
- Wi-Fi to 802.11ac
- Wired Ethernet connection option
- Supports Android (4.1+), iOS (8.0+), Mac OS X (10.9+), Windows (7+)
Setup is as easy as plugging in the HDMI to the rear of your TV (or your receiver or other device if it supports 4K passthrough) and connecting to the power. That is all you need to physically do for Chromecast Ultra to get running and the rest is handled through the app.
Naturally, you’ll need to have a TV that supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR to be able to view such content. If you want to watch Dolby Vision content (if you can find any), you’ll also have to make sure your display supports that – currently that’s LG OLED and some Vizio TVs only.
- What is HDR, what TVs support HDR, and what HDR content can I watch?
It’s also important to check the settings on your TV to ensure the HDMI input you have selected has the Ultra HD settings turned on. This is normally in the settings menu of your TV and has lots of different names, like Ultra HD Colour, for example. Although Chromecast Ultra will work without changing this setting, you might find you’re not actually watching 4K content unless you change the TV settings, or that there’s some banding or discolouration.
With that all sorted, next it’s time to connect the Chromecast Ultra to your network. There are two options for this. The first is through Wi-Fi, which can be setup through the app – now called Home – to scan for your devices and identify your Ultra and ensure you’re connecting to the right device.
Of course, streaming 4K HDR content via Wi-Fi might not work for everyone depending on where your TV is in the house and where your router sits. If your Chromecast Ultra is in your underground den, you might prefer a wired option, which is new for this version of Chromecast.
On the power supply you’ll find an Ethernet socket on the side of the wall plug, meaning you can connect it to a wired network via cable. This has to be done at the start of the setup process and the Ultra will then seamlessly connect to the network without you having to do anything.
We connected it to a Homeplug device and found no problems at all, so if you don’t want to add another Wi-Fi device then Ultra gives you that option, which is a huge advantage in this new version.
- Google Chromecast: How to set up Chromecast and get started
Depending on your TV, there’s also the option force 50Hz to suit the UK market. If you’re using an older TV that doesn’t support different standards across both 50Hz and 60Hz (the latter for the US market), you might find some judder on some content. This option in the Home app can potentially fix it.
Chromecast Ultra review: Watching glorious 4K content
- 3840 x 2160 (4K) maximum resolution
- HDR support, including Dolby Vision
- Surround sound support
Chromecast forms a bridge between your TV and the internet, where the source of your 4K lives on a server. Using Chromecast Ultra is exactly the same as other casting devices. On your phone, you open the service you want to watch – e.g., Netflix or YouTube – and hit the cast button usually in the top right-hand corner of the app. You then find the content you want to watch on your phone and hit play and it starts playing on your TV.
The phone is simply the controller and you’ll get playback functions like pause or forward and rewind on your phone to control the cast content. You’ll be able to use your phone to search for other content or read emails or share selfies on Instagram, because it’s the Chromecast that’s doing all the work.
The important thing to understand is that your phone isn’t sending that data to your TV. All it does is command the Chromecast Ultra to collect that content from the online source. It then finds the best quality it can and streams it for you. So, for example, you can’t watch Luke Cage in 4K on your smartphone, but when Chromecast collects it, that’s what you’ll get (as long as you have a subscription to the 4K service with Netflix).
Netflix is the best example of Chromecast Ultra working to its best abilities because once you’ve hit the cast button and connected to Ultra, the Netflix app then shows the quality available, Ultra HD or HDR, for example.
Other sources aren’t so clear. On YouTube, for example, you can change the quality of the video playback on your phone, but you’re basically trusting Chromecast Ultra to get the best quality that YouTube will supply.
Chromecast Ultra review: Quality and performance
Fire up Marco Polo on Netflix and you’re getting the best, with crisp 4K resolution for loads of detail and dramatic contrast thanks to its HDR delivery on Netflix. While there’s a range of Ultra HD programming, HDR is a little scarce, with only the very newest titles offering this latest format.
Playback starts with a low quality stream and ramps it up using a variable bitrate system, depending on the feed you’re taking it from. The aim is to get content playing quickly with no buffering and you’ll notice that it clicks into being really sharp and clear after a short moment. For us, it’s typically about 15 seconds or so, but this will be governed by your home network among other things.
One of the obvious downsides is that the Chromecast Ultra always outputs a 2160p PCM signal, regardless of the stream it is receiving. You might be watching a blocky 640 x 480 stream, but it will still be telling the TV that it’s 2160p. There’s no consistent way of getting the information of what you’re actually watching, unlike native TV apps, which are normally supported by an info button on your TV’s remote.
The one exception is HDR. When you start playing an HDR source, most HDR TVs will give you a notification that you’re watching an HDR source and switch the display settings accordingly. For Netflix, the switch to HDR is instant, for YouTube the video needs to get going before the HDR stream arrives. This is then confirmed by the TV, but also shown if you hit pause, when the video title and quality will be shown (4K HDR, for example).
Although YouTube is often seen as a deposit for homemade videos, some of the HDR content available is stunning, although it’s only been officially supported since late 2016. When you do stumble on a YouTube HDR video in 4K, the results are incredible. But be warned: there are a lot of videos titled as HDR that aren’t in HDR, just straight 4K.
- YouTube HDR video: Everything you need to know about YouTube’s latest feature
Chromecast also supports surround sound, but you’re dependent on the source again and what comes with the stream and for your TV or sound system to then do the decoding.
Chromecast Ultra review: Apps and services
At the time of writing there’s a range of 4K sources available on Chromecast Ultra, but the two mentioned – Netflix and YouTube – are the biggest players in 4K Ultra HD at the moment.
Google Play will also offer Ultra HD content, but we’re yet to see that appear in the UK, although it has launched in the US and Canada, with 125 titles on offer. We expect this will open up an easy rental or purchase option for those wanting Ultra HD titles with minimal fuss.
The other major source of 4K content is Amazon Video. Amazon doesn’t support Google’s casting system which is a shame, but then Amazon is pushing its own Fire TV devices as an alternative.
Services like All4, BBC iPlayer and Now TV all support Chromecast Ultra, albeit not at this “ultra” higher quality – so the experience is no different to the existing devices, except it’s perhaps a touch faster than before (again, we think a lot is defined by your network when casting). There’s support in a lot of other apps too, like Vimeo.
Chromecast Ultra also supports audio, appearing as a supported device for Spotify, so you can easily send music to your TV (with album art) to play through your home cinema system. It’s also supports Google Play Music, again allowing you play that content easily, as well as other music platforms.
Aside from those obvious media streaming applications, there’s the point-to-point support that allows you send from a phone or browser to your TV. Apps like Google Photos support casting to your TV, so you can watch home movies or browse photos, swiping through your collection on your phone and having them appear on your phone, which is very cool.
Then there’s mirroring for your Android device as well as casting from a Chrome browser. This will mirror directly on your TV so is a little more intensive on your network, but can be used to essentially get anything from your PC to your TV.
There’s also wide support for Chromecast from embedded video in websites, so if you land on Zero Punctuation, for example, you can cast that video from within the website to watch it on your TV.
Chromecast Ultra review: Why it might all be irrelevant
So far this has been a tale of simplicity, great performance and flexibility. That’s no different to existing Chromecast devices, but there’s a small barrier to Chromecast Ultra at the moment: that you’ve bought a 4K Ultra HD TV which can already do most of this stuff.
Most recent Ultra HD TVs are smart TVs and many of them offer the big apps we’ve been talking about already. That means for something like Netflix, you probably already have access to 4K through your TV’s existing app.
There’s added complication and that’s the DIAL casting protocol that Netflix also supports which allows you to control the TV app through your phone anyway. If you are signed into Netflix on your Smart TV, hitting the cast button will usually offer the TV as a casting destination and the experience is the same, but without the Chromecast. YouTube also offers a similar system, with the ability to control the Smart TV app through your phone, because it knows who you are from your Google account.
That renders Chromecast Ultra irrelevant for the majority of 4K watching that we do via Netflix, because the TV already offers the same service. And we suspect most people will be in the same position.
Of course, if you bought a 4K TV that’s a little older or isn’t “smart” (i.e., it’s from lower down a manufacturer’s range) then Chromecast Ultra is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways to unlock a full range of streaming content (Amazon being the main omission).
There’s one exception in this debate and that’s about app updating. Smart TV manufacturers aren’t hugely speedy to update apps, but smartphone apps often are. Currently, testing the Ultra with a 2016 LG OLED B6, it doesn’t support HDR through its native YouTube app, but Chromecast Ultra does, so is the better choice.
Chromecast Ultra is an easy and predictable upgrade for Google and a device that makes complete sense by supporting the latest formats for video streaming to your TV. However, unlike the previous two Chromecast devices that plugged a gap in your TV’s skills, the Chromecast Ultra is likely to step on the toes of features that your TV already offers. And that, for many, will render it unnecessary.
So, although we’d recommend the Chromecast Ultra without hesitation, we’re yet to find anyone with a TV that can’t already do the vast majority of the things this device offers. That sees it slide from a must-have device, to one that needs to rapidly increase its skill set and expand its offering to appeal to its target Ultra HD audience.
That said, navigating content on your phone (be that iPhone or Android) is often much faster than your TV and the appeal of having the latest apps with wider support for Chromecast Ultra could tip the balance in its favour over your TV.
Think carefully about Chromecast Ultra. It’s a wonderful device, the greatest caster yet, making it perfect for the one per cent who might find use for it. For the other 99, however, chances are you simply won’t need it in your life.
Chromecast Ultra: The alternatives to consider
Google Chromecast 2
If you don’t need 4K content then the 1080p-max Chromecast is the perfect choice, plus it’s half the price. It also doesn’t need mains power if your TV has powered USB delivery.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
If Amazon Video is your thing (which Netflix can’t provide) then Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is the obvious choice. It doesn’t handle 4K, though, so if you’re all about Ultra HD then you’ll want to look to the 4K Fire TV Box.
After quietly launching in the Netherlands last month, Apple’s standalone support app is now finally available in the US. Serving as iOS users’ one-stop-shop for Apple product problem solving, the app offers a wealth of product information and advice on how to resolve common issues. If you find yourself with a more serious problem, the app can also be used to contact support technicians and even to schedule repair appointments with the Apple Store or an approved third party.
While the Support app will appear as a welcome surprise to US Apple users, those in other territories will have to wait a little longer. Without specifying exact dates or regions, the tech giant states that the app will be available in other countries “in the coming weeks.”
Source: App Store
With an onslaught of products coming at CES 2017 in January, LG has decided to pre-announce its latest 4K HDR monitor. The 32-inch, IPS panel-equipped 32UD99 supports the HDR10 standard that delivers 10-bit (over a billion) colors and a wide color gamut covering 95 percent of the DCI-P3 standard. That, plus the True Color Pro settings, delivers “professional-grade picture quality” and “color reproduction accuracy unmatched in the industry,” LG says. Depending on the price, it will be a tempting option for graphics artists, video editors and colorists.
LG also points out that the monitor will be ideal for new MacBook Pro owners, since Apple isn’t making its own displays anymore. It supports 4K HDR with a single USB-C cable that can simultaneously charge your laptop and can also act as a USB hub. (It likely comes with HDMI and DisplayPort inputs as well, though LG didn’t say.) The company is also targeting color-sensitive gamers, saying it’ll play well with new consoles that support HDR and or 4K, including the Playstation 4 Pro and the Xbox One S.
That said, the monitor is not really about sheer gaming performance. For the latter, LG will also show off the 34UC99, a 34-inch model with AMD FreeSync tech that eliminators judder and tearing, 1ms refresh times, dynamic action sync, and other gaming-oriented features. We’ll get a better look at both models in January, and hopefully learn the prices — if it’s low enough, the 32-inch model could sway a lot of folks looking for accurate color reproduction.
When JAXA’s Kounotori (white stork) 6 left for the ISS, it was carrying a small parachute called “Exo-Brake” with it. Exo-Brake was designed to give small satellites and payloads a way to return back to Earth without getting destroyed in the process, and NASA will put it to the test in 2017. The contraption looks like a small, cross-shaped parachute that deploys from the rear end of the payload to increase the drag during the de-orbit phase.
To make sure the payload lands where it can be retrieved, a ground team will control Exo-Brake’s movements by relying on a real-time simulation of its orbital trajectory and adjusting its system of mechanical struts and flexible cord. NASA already tested an older version of the parachute back in 2013, but that one couldn’t be controlled like this new model can.
Exo-Brake is part of a larger experiment called Technology Education (TechEdSat-5), which also includes testing an avionics board that uses Intel’s Edison microprocessor. If the de-orbit device successfully ferries the TechEdSat-5 satellite back to Earth, then its design could be used as a building block for larger systems that can carry payloads to Mars and other celestial bodies.
[Image credit: NASA Ames/Dominic Hart]
US President-elect Donald Trump has been crafting a Strategic and Policy Forum to ask business leaders for advice on economic decisions, but it has mostly drawn from conventional corporate heavyweights like General Motors, JPMorgan Chase and IBM. However, he’s shaking things up a bit today: the future leader has announced that Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick will join the Forum. Trump sees them as broadening the reach of his advisor group, adding “innovative and vibrant” companies that will help create jobs “from Silicon Valley to the heartland.”
This doesn’t mean that either executive is a cheerleader for Trump. As recently as November, Musk said that Trump was “not the right guy” for the presidency. Kalanick, meanwhile, joked that he would move to China if Trump won. As with the imminent tech CEO meeting with Trump, this is likely about making sure their voices are heard in a White House that isn’t necessarily sympathetic to their views. Musk, for instance, wants a quick move toward clean energy and electric cars — a stark contrast with a Trump camp bent on protecting the fossil fuel industry and denying evidence of human-made climate change.
This isn’t to say the Forum additions aren’t raising eyebrows. If you’ll recall, Musk worked with Trump transition team member Peter Thiel when the two were leaders at PayPal. It’s been over a decade since Musk and Thiel were so closely linked, but it’s hard to ignore the connection. And Kalanick may well be happy with Trump’s choice of Elaine Chao as the head of the Department of Transportation. Chao isn’t a fan of federal-level regulation or worker’s rights groups, which suits a ridesharing company that sometimes skirts the law and fights tooth and nail to avoid treating its drivers as employees. Even though they have clear objections to Trump, they also have some skin in the game.
Source: Electrek, CNBC Now (Twitter)
Not content with just stuffing Cortana into your home appliances, Microsoft now wants you to have real conversations with needy Skype bots. In a bid to make those awkward chatbot encounters feel more natural, next year will see the company granting third parties access to its Skype calling API. With this, Microsoft partners like StubHub and Expedia will be able to give their bots a voice, offering users an alternative to text chat.
Aside from being more engaging conversationalists, these talking bots will also be able to use video, audio and GIFs in Skype chat windows.
While Microsoft’s push to make scripted interactions less painful is certainly admirable, and makes sense given the trend towards more natural voice controls, these Skype chatbots will have something to prove. In an age where all we want is to achieve our daily tasks as quickly as possible, the last thing we want to do is actually talk to anyone — and for many, that still includes relatively helpful robots.
Source: Skype Blog
I need a good replacement for @evernote. Preferably one that lets me import existing notes & works on desktop, iOS and Android. What is it?
— mat honan (@mat) December 14, 2016
According to the company’s policy update notice, “Only employees who are fulfilling one of the customer or business needs… will be able to access your data.” The number of employees that can access user data is strictly limited, all of whom undergo background checks.
If you don’t want to participate, you’re free to opt out of the machine learning service by unchecking the “Allow Evernote to use business data to improve my experience” on the admin console. That said, even if you opt out of the company reading your notes for this purpose, you can’t opt out of them reading your notes for any of a myriad of others — like if you give the company explicit consent, for data and credit card processing service providers contracted by Evernote, for government search warrants or if the company thinks you’ve violated its terms of service. If opting out isn’t enough, you can encrypt your notes (though, ugh, individually) to prevent anyone without the encryption key from viewing their contents.
Via: Evernote (policy update blog)
Earlier this week, Microsoft announced that Dolby Atmos surround sound support was coming to the Xbox One — but only for Blu-ray playback, and only for those enrolled in the console’s preview program. Today, though, the company says that it’ll soon offer full Dolby Atmos support for games on both the Xbox One and in Windows 10.
For best performance, you’ll need a pretty serious high-end speaker setup that supports Atmos. But Microsoft notes that you can use “virtually any pair of headphones” to get a similar experience. And Atmos isn’t limited to games — Microsoft also notes that it’ll work with films as well, assuming the movie’s audio was mixed with Atmos in mind. As for when this will launch, the company is only saying next year — but if you’ve invested in a high-end audio setup and own an Xbox One, just know that things are about to get a lot better.
The holidays are a time to forget about your fitness goals and indulge. And what better to stuff your face with than, well, your face? Candy Mechanics is in the business of personalised chocolate, but the company’s latest service takes that idea one step further: chocolate people. Or rather, chocolate heads, known as Lolpops. All you need is a smartphone or tablet to film a 30-second, close-up video of someone’s mug from all angles (Candy Mechanics’ website talks you through the process). Upload that video, and fancy Autodesk software builds a 3D model from the footage that’s then used to create chocolate heads on sticks.
Candy Mechanics offered a similar service for a limited time last year, setting up shop in London’s Selfridges store for six weeks. Back then, though, the process involved a 3D scanner, and a 3D printer that would make chocolate molds customers could take away to craft their own Lolpops. It was much more time-consuming than the new process, whereby a machine carves the heads out of chocolate “blanks.” (Confectionary-specific 3D printers aren’t quite up to scratch yet, it would seem.)
While the new Lolpops are available to anyone in the UK with a phone, they are still a “limited edition” product. Candy Mechanics is only accepting 500 orders before Christmas, and with a pack of three setting you back £20 (edible gold finish included), they aren’t the cheapest novelty item. Still, there’s nothing quite like a personalised gift — though if you fancy picking up a set for the chocolate lover in your life, best start coming up with excuses for needing a 30-second close-up video of them if you don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Source: Candy Mechanics
Google has listed its annual “Year in Search” results, highlighting the most popular searches performed by people throughout 2016. As is usually the case, Apple-related search inquiries topped a few of the charts over the last twelve months, with Apple winning four total spots in the Consumer Tech category: the iPhone 7 topped the list ahead of the Freedom 251, iPhone SE, iPhone 6s, Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy S7, iPhone 7 Plus, Galaxy Note7, Nintendo Switch, and Samsung J7.
Last December, the iPhone 6s ranked #1 in the same category, with the Apple Watch coming in at a high point at #3. Apple’s wearable was nowhere to be seen in the top Google tech searches in 2016, despite Apple launching the new Series 1 and Series 2 versions of the device.
In the Overall searches category, Pokémon Go came in first place in 2016 thanks to the height of its popularity and player base earlier in the summer, and the game’s continued updates and additions throughout the fall. iPhone 7 ranked second behind Pokémon Go, and was the only Apple-related item to be listed in the section this year. Other popular search terms in 2016 were for Deadpool, the Olympics, Slither.io, Prince, David Bowie, and more.
Check out the rest of Google’s Year in Search rankings here to discover the most popularly searched movies, news, tv shows, musicians, and more this past year.
Related Roundup: iPhone 7
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