Third-generation Chromecast review: 1080p is the new baseline

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Google announced a bunch of products at its 2018 hardware event, but it wasn’t all that surprising — just about everything leaked out in the weeks leading up to the event.

We even saw a device leak out that wasn’t even shown on stage. A few weeks before the event, Best Buy started accidentally selling the third-generation Chromecast. After the event wrapped up, the new Chromecast appeared on the Google Store and a few other retailers’ websites. Now that it’s shipping and we’ve had some time to use it, here is our 2018 Google Chromecast review.

The hardware

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Looking at the new Chromecast, the design of the player hasn’t changed much compared to the outgoing model. The body of the device is still a puck-like shape that includes an attached HDMI cable. Additionally, Google decided to keep the streaming player’s MicroUSB port used to power the device instead of upgrading to USB Type-C. There’s still a small button for manually resetting it, and a LED light that indicates the Chromecast’s state.

There are minor changes, but they’re almost all on the surface layer. While the newer hardware is slightly thicker to accommodate the updated internals, it’s not a difference most people will notice. Besides that, the glossy finish on the body of the Chromecast has been swapped out for a matte texture, and the Chrome logo that was stamped onto the device has been replaced with Google’s “G” icon. 

Another minute change that doesn’t affect the device at all is the removal of the Chrome logo from the included AC wall adaptor.

The software

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Compared to the second-gen Chromecast, there are two software changes: support for multi-room audio and the ability to playback content at 1080p 60fps. The first change is fantastic if you’re someone like me who owns multiple Google Assistant speakers and/or Chromecast Audio devices and like to simultaneously play music in every room of my house. With the feature becoming available on the Chromecast, you’ll be able to add your TVs into your audio group. 

Unfortunately, this feature is not yet live so we couldn’t test it, but it should be available later this year. 

The most prominent change is support for 1080p 60fps playback. Believe it for not, the last Chromecast was announced over three years ago and has been limited to 720p this entire time. In a world in which more content is moving towards 4k, it seems pretty astonishing that Google’s baseline streaming device only now supports Full HD. 

Other than those two additions, the third-gen Chromecast works identically to all of its predecessors. Once it’s set up, the device’s home screen will slowly move between various photos and points of interest and playback controls still remain on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Editor’s Pick

Here’s how it works: once you’ve found something you want to watch either online or within an app, tap on the cast icon, choose which Chromecast you want to watch the content on, and the video should appear on screen within a couple of seconds.

Remember, even though you selected the video on whatever device you have with you, that content isn’t being sent to the Chromecast directly. By telling the video to cast, you’re directing the Chromecast to pull the video from that location.

So, should you buy it?

Google’s Chromecast is a product that you either love or you hate. For people like me who always have an electronic device nearby, the ease of use is a clear benefit. At any point, I can look down at my phone, find something I want to watch, and send it to my TV. But for some people, the extra step of casting content from one device to the other adds complication to the television-watching experience.

So if you do prefer to have something with a remote that allows you to scroll through and select something to watch, then you should check out the Nvidia Shield TV or another Android TV-powered set-top box. With these, you can download video apps and games while also retaining the ability to cast content to your big screen from other devices just like with a Chromecast. 

Read next: Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL hands-on

If you already own the second-gen Chromecast, the decision to get the new model is a bit tricky. You’re getting a modest video quality upgrade going from 720p to 1080p, but as I mentioned previously, a lot of content out there is already moving towards 4k. So, in a way, you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage going forward. 

Fortunately, Google does make the Chromecast Ultra which supports 4k playback. Unfortunately, it costs $70, which is double the cost of the third-gen Chromecast. This plus the fact that competitors like Roku have streaming devices that can handle 4k content for as low as $40 makes the decision even more complicated. 

If you’re interested in picking up the third-gen Chromecast for yourself, you can do so by clicking on one of the buttons below. While the streaming device is available from the Google Store in both chalk and charcoal for $35, Best Buy and Walmart currently appear to only sell the charcoal variant. But as I’ve already mentioned to several people, the colorway shouldn’t matter too much as the Chromecast will be plugged into the back of your TV and you’ll never see it again. 

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