My wife and I have an extensive video library containing footage of our trips with the kids; visits to Disney, family holidays and wilderness outings. Some of these are in AVI, MOV and other formats.
For some time I've been burning DVDs of these recordings to play on our Blu-ray/DVD player; it was just infrequent enough to make it a handy short-term solution but inconvenient enough to finally merit a better option. After all, technology is there to make our lives easier and when you work in the field it behooves you to stay on the cutting edge (although that edge can hurt sometimes, as you'll see).
I should state up front our multimedia needs are neither complex nor demanding. We don't do Netflix or streaming audio/video; our DVR unit and rented DVDs from Redbox (or borrowed discs from the library) is more our territory.
My Panasonic Viera TV has a USB/SD card option which can supposedly load video files. However, I never got this to work. If I plugged in either type of storage medium I was told the TV couldn't read it, no matter what was on it. Not ready for prime time, I guess.
I adhere to the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Stupid) so what I was looking for was something to take content played on my Windows 7 laptop and pipe it to my Panasonic Viera TV. No muss, no fuss. I'm not a fan of the idea of streaming anything across my wireless network because, simply put, I know how unreliable wireless can be when it comes to heavy-duty content, and I wasn't thrilled about the notion of watching a movie that cuts out just as John McClane utters the phrase "Yippee-Kay."
My first reaction was to pick up an HDMI cable and a mini-HDMI adapter that could plug into my laptop. Amazon has a 25-foot HDMI cable for $6.99 and the mini-HDMI adapter for $2.22. Then I came across an article about Google Chromecast and thought it looked intriguing.
What is Google Chromecast?
Chromecast is basically an HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV (which must have an available HDMI port, of course). It receives power via a USB cable which also plugs into your TV or by an attached power adapter you plug into the wall. You then set up the Chromecast on your wireless network and use a Google app or browser extension to play content from Chrome, Google Play, YouTube or other sources on your desktop/laptop/smartphone/tablet. It requires a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network operating at 802.11 b/g/n and costs $35. No wires required so if you want to "cast" content from a system in the other room you don't have to lug it over and hook it up.
A friend of mine, Alex, heard I was interested in the device so he told me it worked great for him and graciously offered to loan it to me. Since I trust his judgment I took it home, hooked it up and tried it out.
How I did it
First I then plugged the Chromecast into my TV HDMI port, plugged in the power adapter, and set my TV to the appropriate HDMI input.
The Chromecast screen appeared and it told me the device couldn't connect to Alex's wireless network. This made sense since it was already programmed to his network. I reset it to factory defaults by holding down the button for 30 seconds and then it showed me a screen stating "Set me up. On your laptop or phone go to google.com/chromecast/setup. My setup name is Chromecast4046." You see, the Chromecast sets up its own temporary wireless access point so you can connect to and configure it from a device with wireless connectivity.
My laptop was on the floor next to the TV cabinet, so I went to the requested URL and observed the following screen:
I installed the app and the Cast browser extension as well for good measure. The app then tried valiantly to connect to the Chromecast device, but repeatedly failed saying it couldn't find it. I tried numerous times then finally put the laptop right next to the TV and tried again. That time it worked; the device was detected and I was given the message "Now let's connect Chromecast4046 to your wireless network." I think the heavy wood cabinet blocked the signal.
I proceeded to let the Chromecast find my wireless network and entered the authentication settings, but it kept failing with the error that my wireless network couldn't be found. Hmm.
Now, my Verizon FIOS wireless router is about 40 feet away from the TV, and it's in the basement, so I considered the possibility that the signal was too weak. However, the laptop reported four bars, we have a desktop PC in the TV room hooked into the network via a wireless adapter which works fine, and my wife and kids routinely use their iPads all over the house without any real signal strain. Perhaps the type of encryption I was using (64-bit WEP; I live in a quiet neighborhood though once this article gets published I guess I will need to beef it up to 128-bit!) was the problem, but WEP has been around for years so I wouldn't think the Chromecast would have any issue with it, and I was sure Alex used this or something stronger at his house as well.
Needless to say, it was time to check the Chromecast Help Page.
The Help Page provides support for setting up Chromecast from an array of devices such as Android phones/tablets, Windows systems and iOS/OSX products. I chose the "Windows computer; Windows 7 & higher" option and confirmed I had followed the recommended steps.
Further down the page I read the notice: "Please note: Your Wi-Fi network configuration may prevent you from setting up Chromecast successfully. If you are having trouble connecting Chromecast to your Wi-Fi network, please see our Chromecast Router Compatibility list here. If you're still having trouble, please visit our Chromecast troubleshooter here."
I checked the Router Compatibility list to see if my Verizon-provided Actiontec MI424WR router was listed. It was present with the recommended workaround that "Interferes with UDP messages being broadcast and received. To troubleshoot, navigate to Router Settings > Advanced > (click continue) > Disable IGMP proxy." Further research online suggested I should also conduct these steps on my router:
- Disable AP isolation
- Disable Client isolation
- Enable UPNP (Universal Plug and Play)
I logged into my router then examined all menus but sadly enough there was no reference to any of these settings, nor in the manual which I consulted. It seems direct access to these may have been removed by a firmware update.
However, persistence paid off! Further reading confirmed that Client Isolation and AP Isolation are already disabled on my router model, so I thought perhaps UPNP was the issue. Thanks to further searches I found a handy secret link to check my Universal Plug and Play settings and found them enabled as per the recommendations:
(for the Actiontec MI424WR router with the default IP of 192.168.1.1 I used the URL of http://192.168.1.1/index.cgi?active_page=900 - obviously if the IP address has changed replace "192.168.1.1" with the new IP address).
So, I was down to figuring out if the IGMP proxy was disabled. I found under the Routing section that IGMP itself is enabled, but couldn't verify whether the proxy function was on or off until I stumbled across a page with another secret link (http://192.168.1.1/index.cgi?active_page=6059) to configure the IGMP proxy option:
Aha! IGMP Proxy was Enabled! I set it to Disabled, clicked Apply, rebooted the router then tried Chromecast again. Same issue, unfortunately.
I suspected the router was to blame, but since I wasn't going to get another router just yet I put this concept on hold and checked the Chromecast troubleshooter page.
The troubleshooting page presents a handy interface which you can fill out in quiz fashion to describe what's happening. In my case I clicked "Setup." This added further options to the screen:
I chose "I can't connect to the Wi-Fi network that I'm selecting."
The list of possibilities was comprehensive and detailed which shows Google has put a great deal of thought into the troubleshooting process, something I appreciated. I knew I didn't have MAC Address filtering or a VPN in place so I clicked "I'm not sure why I can't connect to my WiFi network." That yielded the following result:
These are good tips but I knew I was using a 2.4 GHz network (besides, Chromecast DID see my network; it just couldn't connect to it) which was not hidden. I already went over the options listed at the bottom so there was nothing new here. It seemed I had exhausted the Troubleshooter.
I checked the Google Chromecast forum and read up on Chromecast reviews on Amazon for further advice and found some ideas regarding rebooting my wireless router, changing my wireless security passphrase to something shorter, clearing Google Chrome cache/cookies, installing the latest version of Java, fiddling with the wireless channels and a few other long shots which didn't pay off.
One element to my advantage: I knew the Chromecast device worked since Alex reported no issues with it; that was a comforting change from the usual "Maybe this thing is just plain broken" fear that always looms behind any troubleshooting project.
I engaged Verizon support via Twitter and provided them with some basics about the issue, but the trail went cold after two replies. It's been my experience that large-scale vendors will try to assist you if you comment on problems with their products on Twitter, but their attention span is limited. If they can't fix you up in two or three replies they blow away like tumbleweeds.
I elected to search Google for my router model and the word "Chromecast" and found information indicating the router isn't supported with Chromecast but some people have gotten this to work. Another forum thread on the topic featured a commenter who said "I stumbled on a solution that did work... in my router's firewall settings under Advanced Filtering I added a rule for Wireless Access Points with the setting Accept instead of Reject, and now all is good."
I tried this and got nowhere. I also came across a suggestion to try connecting to the Chromecast from my Android rather than my laptop to get it set up. My Droid was out of town on loan, so that was out of the question.
That was about enough for me; I concluded somehow my setup wasn't fit to work with Chromecast. The good news is that I found that I could load certain AVI files onto a USB drive and plug them into my Sony Blu-ray player (which, as I said, weren't recognized by my TV) and then these were read successfully. Not always, however... days later, the same Blu-ray player dutifully informed me nothing was on the USB drive, even though it had the same multimedia content. I proceeded to tear out what remained of my hair.
I'm going for the HDMI cable/adapter options to make my life simple and predictable, proving there is always an answer. As Abraham Van Helsing said in "Dracula", "we will have to pass through the bitter water before we reach the sweet."
I'm recounting this story not to say that "All this multimedia stuff is bollocks," (as much as I'd like to) but rather that we're still facing a vast array of challenges in getting things to work in this modern era. It shouldn't be this hard. When I was twelve years old I played all the content I wanted by inserting my Betamax tapes into my VCR and watching them over and over - of course I had to bike to the video store if I wanted to watch anything good, and movies were expensive to rent back then on my allowance!
Thirty years later, we've come a long way in digital quality, portability and the selection of devices to play our content on (this article wouldn't have been written if we just watched our movies and shows on laptops and tablets in my house since those just plain work). But it requires a heck of a lot more patience, persistence and skill. Frankly, as an IT pro I'm in awe of anyone outside "the craft" who can brute force this stuff to work properly.
I do think I could have gotten the Chromecast working if I had set up a separate wireless network on a different router piggy-backed onto my main router. Perhaps I needed my router to be closer to my TV as well. The idea of configuring Chromecast from another device like my Droid would probably have been successful too. So, it's important to keep in mind that if something doesn't work out of the box you need to put your thinking cap on and consult with everyone you can to find alternate solutions.
Technology is making our lives easier - once we figure out how to tame it. And so if you plan to try out a Chromecast I highly recommend the following:
- Verify your router is on the Chromecast compatibility list.
- Search for Chromecast and your router model online before you get started so you can be aware of any pitfalls.
- If you have problems setting up Chromecast from one device try another.
- Try turning off wireless encryption temporarily to see if you can get Chromecast set up, then re-enable it afterwards.
- If your Wi-Fi won't work try hooking up an additional cheap router (or swapping yours out temporarily).
- Don't expect vendor support to play the Lone Ranger. They might help, but if you want this to work learn all you can. In my case I didn't bother to make an official support call to Verizon since I didn't have any expectation of bona fide assistance from them given what I read (and what I experienced on Twitter).
- Find a workaround if you can. I personally assign no value to streaming content since there are too many parts and breakdown points in my view, so the HDMI cable fix will suit me just fine. Another friend of mine heard this tale and told me "I just hook my Droid up to my TV and play stuff directly from it!"
- I'll leave you with a quote by lifestyle coach Barbara Sher which I think nicely sums up anyone's given technical prowess: "The amount of good luck coming your way depends on your willingness to act!"
If you're interested in wirelessly connecting your conference room using Chromecast, a previous article on TechRepublic covers this topic.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.