AirPlay and Chromecast: the battle for your living room
It seems like forever ago when you'd be sitting at your couch watching something on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, and were left sitting there, wishing you could share it with everyone in the room. Apple has offered a solution for this since 2010 called AirPlay, and just yesterday Google introduced their own competitor, called Chromecast. Each system offers their own approach to delivering content to your TV, but at $35 the Chromecast is a compelling device -- however, it might not be enough to overlook Apple's offering.
Apple's AirPlay works by streaming content from your Mac, iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to an AirPlay-compatible device, like an Apple TV. Once you have this combination, you can stream local content from your iOS or OS X devices, and even AirPlay-compatible apps like Netflix, YouTube, Flipboard, HBO Go, Spotify, or MLB.tv. AirPlay also supports device mirroring, allowing you to project whatever's on your Apple device directly to the TV. There are also various AirPlay-compatible speakers or audio-video receivers from Denon, JBL, or iHome that allow you to stream music directly to them from your Apple device. AirPlay even has the ability to work with games, turning your iPad or iPhone into a controller.
Chromecast is a new device and streaming service from Google that works similarly to AirPlay. As of right now, there is only one way to use Chromecast, but Google is hopeful that other hardware partners will get on board with Chromecast. Like AirPlay, you send content to Chromecast from your smartphone, tablet, or Chrome browser. The difference in how it works is that right now Chromecast can only work with web, or cloud-based, content, whereas AirPlay can access local content on your device. As it stands today Chromecast is supported with Google Play Movies, TV, Music, Netflix, YouTube, and your Chrome browser tab; Pandora support is coming very soon. Keep in mind though, that Chromecast is less than 48 hours old, so by the time it ships we could see more services enabled to work with it.
Which one should you use
If you own Apple related devices already, it just makes sense to stick with AirPlay and pick up an Apple TV. Even though the Apple TV is $64 more than the Chromecast, it has a lot of native support built in. What this means is that from the Apple TV you can access content like HBO GO, Hulu+, Netflix, NHL Center Ice, MLB.tv, and more without needing to pick up your phone or tablet. Further, if you do have something on your iPad or iPhone that you want to show, and you're watching Netflix on your Apple TV, you can just stay on the same input.
Where the Chromecast becomes interesting is in its $35 entry point and its cross-platform compatibility. Since Google is big on making their services work on as many devices as possible, you can use it on Android, iOS, Windows, or even OSX. What is holding the Chromecast back is support, as it only works on a very few apps right now, but this shouldn't be a surprise because of how new it is. It's also still to be seen how restrictive it's going to be with delivering content via Chrome, like how Hulu+ is. Additionally, despite Google's claim that it just sticks in the back of your TV, it does require USB power which can look a bit messy if that is something you care about.
The Apple TV is still a good buy if you currently have Apple products living in your house, since the barrier to entry is only $99. If you don't own any Apple devices, but are interested in the ability to stream content from your phone, tablet, or Chrome browser then there is no reason you shouldn't pick up a Chromecast device. At $35 you can even pick three of them for a little more than the cost of a Apple TV. And that little bit before about limited app selection -- I wouldn't worry about that too much, since Google's platform reach is too big for developers to overlook.