Making an old TV even smarter using Chromecast

Why doesn’t my DIY smart TV just work?

In late 2017 I wrote about my adventures with Raspberry Pi, OSMC and Kodi to make this TV “smart”:

However, since then, my desire to have a “hacky” solution had waned and was replaced with wanting to implement a more sustainable and smart-home-compatible solution. I needed a smart-stick that could give me all the features I now wanted on the same old TV.

So I chose Chromecast as the platform and the 3rd generation device as the one I would purchase. Here are my pros:

  1. Cheap (perhaps you are seeing a pattern here)
  2. Supports Google Home (Smart Home Platform, check)
  3. Connects with numerous third party services that I use (Spotify, Netflix, VLC, DSTv Now)
  4. Connects natively with Google Services that I use (Cast from Chrome, Google Photos, Youtube)
  5. Multiplatform (works with Android and iOS)

And these outweigh my cons:

  1. No native integration with iOS itself. So no “Siri cast to TV”, “Siri turn TV off” etc. Also no Screen Mirroring on iOS.
  2. No dedicated remote (Weak con, using mobile devices to control is not a big issue)
  3. No dedicated “interface”. You need a device to control the Chromecast because all it can do is stream content. (Weak con, using mobile devices to control is not a big an issue)

Shopping List (with costs @ 15/06/2020)

  1. Chromecast 3rd Gen – I didn’t get mine locally however Takealot usually has them on special for under R700. I’ll be buying another one from a local retailer soon.

Other Requirements

  1. A WiFi connection with Internet Access
  2. An iOS or Android Device (I used an iPhone X)

Connection and App Setup

Since Google does a great job of explaining the process, I’ll link to their docs here. My only issue was that since the Chromecast was Australian, it had an incompatible plug on it’s power supply so I used a USB port on the DSTv decoder for power. Don’t fall into the trap of using TV USB ports since you can’t get the Chromecast to turn on the TV if it’s not on itself! Since the decoder is on 24/7, there is no issue and the Chromecast seems adequately powered for the few months it’s been installed.

Post-Implementation Summary

The Chromecast has been working well with only minor complaints:

  1. Occasionally on iOS the Netflix app will disconnect and not be able control the stream. I’ll have to go into the Google Home app to pause or stop what’s playing. Not sure if that’s due to my WiFi, the Netflix app or iOS aggressively closing the Netflix app.
  2. There is no way to press a button to switch on and off the TV in the Google Home.  I have to say “Turn Lounge TV on” or off to do so.

Here’s a selection of positive experiences that the Chromecast has enabled for me:

  1. Being able to cast a Chrome Tab allowed me to easily sit in the lounge, cast a video tab to the TV and take notes in another tab on my laptop. I’ve used that for studying a few times.
  2. Casting Google Photos to the TV has enabled easily playing albums of family holidays or trips on a big screen. This is a great alternative to small devices or laptop screens.
  3. Watching offline video from Plex streamed from VLC on my iPad is a much better experience than DLNA to PS3 or having codec issues when connecting a USB drive directly to the TV.

My Smart Home Setup after this Implementation

(How I see the interplay between apps, cloud providers and controlled devices may not and, in some cases, definitely doesn’t accurately reflect reality. I just use it as a handy map.)

The Future

Now that the Chromecast has proven itself as a great streaming device, I’m going to get another one. It’s going to be the only device connected to a bedroom TV and it’ll allow DSTv (via DSTv Now) without cabling and another decoder.

Also, now that I have the Google Home App up and running, I can add the WeLink API to it and have the TVs and Lamps on one platform! That’s coming in my next post.

If you have any questions/would like to share your experience with Chromecast please leave a reply below. Thanks for reading!

Chromecast in Ambient mode

 

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