We went all-in on Chromecast at home. We had a Chromecast Audio in every room, even the bathroom, with a set of speakers. We set up multiple groups like “Full House” and “Kitchen and Living Room” so we could have music playing wherever we were hanging out. We had a Chromecast in the living room and in the garage with the treadmill, so we could watch videos while working out. The living room Chromecast was our main source of video entertainment since we don’t have satellite or cable TV.
Our dream was to have music fill the house from Spotify, iTunes, or Soundcloud at the press of a button. To have Game of Thrones playing in the living room while a documentary played in the garage. The dream was not meant to be, however. We encountered little problems every time we used a Chromecast, such as our phones not seeing a particular Chromecast until we force-closed the app, disconnecting and reconnecting to the wifi, or unplugging and replugging the Chromecast.
It’s super frustrating when all you want to do is watch some TV or listen to music while you work and the technology flakes out. Why do all the other Chromecasts show up in the Spotify app except for the one I want? Why does the garage TV show up in Netflix but not the living room TV? Why is pausing Game of Thrones fraught with the risk of never being able to unpause because by the time you come back from the kitchen, the HBO Now app has forgotten it was Chromecasting, you have to reconnect, and then it loses your place in the show so you have to scrub back to it? Why did my song cut off in the middle because it disconnected, forcing me to stop what I’m doing to try and reconnect to the Chromecast Audio?
I’m a big Overwatch fan, and I love watching the Overwatch League. Shortly into stage 1 of season 1, I was all hyped to watch the evening’s games on the TV after work. However, the Twitch app on my iPhone would not detect the living room TV Chromecast. The usual technique of unplugging and replugging the Chromecast, force-closing the app, and reconnecting to wifi on my phone didn’t help. I also couldn’t detect the Chromecast from my computer, trying to cast from a Chrome browser tab to the TV. We ended up swapping the garage Chromecast with the living room Chromecast because my phone had no problem connecting to that Chromecast. By this point, I’d missed part of a game and was very annoyed. That’s when I ordered a Fire Stick on Amazon.
I have had no such problems with the Amazon Fire Stick; the user experience has been night and day. We plugged it into the living room TV and it just works in a way the Chromecast never did. I can pause a show and when I come back, it’s exactly where I left it. It hasn’t forgotten my place in the show, it hasn’t disconnected from the wifi, it hasn’t dumped me back to a home screen. When I reopen the Twitch app after a few days, it starts on the last channel I was watching, which is exactly what I want.
I prefer the control mechanism for the Fire Stick. To browse content, I do it on my big TV screen as opposed to my tiny phone screen. I like having a remote for controlling what’s on my TV instead of using my phone.
When I want to work on the couch, I have no trouble playing music on the living room speakers with the Fire Stick. The Spotify and SomaFM apps are great, and the macOS Spotify app lets me control what’s playing on the Fire Stick.
That’s what the experience should have been playing Spotify via Chromecast, but so often it was a struggle. My phone would lose its connection to the Chromecast while the music would continue playing, so I’d have to try and reconnect to regain control. Put your phone down for a minute, long enough for the display to turn off, and when you unlocked your phone again, Spotify would have forgotten it was casting. I don’t think it was a problem with any particular app either since I had this experience with Spotify, HBO Now, Netflix, and Twitch.
The Fire Stick shows TV shows that are available to me while I’m just browsing the menu, which is a nice feature that I didn’t even realize I wanted because the browsing experience for Chromecast is so lacking. With Chromecast, you pick an app and have to browse content in whatever way that app presents. The Fire Stick has a dashboard view that lists your apps, and it surfaces content as well. On Chromecast, the question is “what’s on Netflix” or “let’s see what HBO Now has”, as opposed to the general “what’s on TV” that the Fire Stick allows.
The Chromecast seemed to have problems with our home wifi. Sometimes after casting something and letting your phone lock, unlocking your phone would show the Chromecast icon doing the “searching” animation, trying to reconnect. It was a 50-50 shot whether it would successfully reconnect or fail. If it failed, usually you couldn’t just tap the icon and try to connect again, it would be in some screwy state requiring a force-quit of the app. For whatever reason, the Fire Stick has not had this problem; it stays connected to our wifi.
Perhaps the idea behind Chromecast–a simple device where the real brains are on your phone, computer, or tablet–isn’t a bad one, and it just suffers from a poor implementation, or is ahead of its time. I’m inclined to believe the Fire Stick just has a better idea to start with, though: make the device itself smart enough to keep track of what you’re watching or listening to, so it doesn’t need a separate phone, computer, or tablet to do its job. Amazon can focus on getting the experience right and have it work pretty much the same for every app, as opposed to Google who has to rely on everyone else building their Chromecast apps correctly. I like that the Fire Stick has one interface for controlling content, instead of relying on each individual app to let me control playback in a reasonable way.
Granted, there’s no Chromecast Audio equivalent for the Fire Stick. We only have the one Fire Stick so we can’t play music on the various speakers around the house without using Chromecast. But the experience has been so much better with the Fire Stick that I’d rather play music on just the living room speakers than hassle with Chromecast in the other rooms. We’ve been so pleased with the Fire Stick that I wish we’d just bought one of them initially instead of wasting so much time trying to make Chromecast work.
thoughts on Overwatch · Dec 18, 2016
Overwatch launched and immediately became super popular, but I wasn’t sure I would like it. I’d never gotten into Team Fortress 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive frustrated me, and my time playing DotA 2 and League of Legends was short-lived. Somehow, despite Overwatch being likened to all of these games, I love Overwatch alone.
upgrading to Jekyll 3 · Apr 10, 2016
I went down a 🐇 hole yesterday when I decided I wanted to try a new CSS framework. It started innocently enough, I found Siimple and figured I’d give it a try here. Siimple has SCSS files so I wanted to import them directly rather than used their minified distribution CSS. However, I got an error running Jekyll 2 when importing their SCSS. Though I filed an issue on their repo, I figured maybe it was a problem that would go away if I updated my Jekyll version. I used Chase’s handy gems-cli tool to grab the latest version of Jekyll to put in my Gemfile and, while I was at it, I updated nokogiri, kramdown, coderay, mini_magick, rake, and mechanize, too. I figure if you’re going to upgrade a gem, go big or go home, right?
Stardew Valley is wonderful · Apr 2, 2016
I kept hearing about Stardew Valley on Reddit as well as seeing friends on Steam playing it. It was priced at $15 with an extra $5 to get the soundtrack. I very rarely dislike video game soundtracks so of course I had to get the soundtrack, too. I wasn’t sure how well I’d like the actual game, but /r/girlgamers was talking about it and it sounded cute, with $15 being cheap enough that I was willing to give it a shot, especially to support an indie game. The few screenshots I’d seen put Minecraft in mind because of the item bar across the bottom of the screen, and there was a pickaxe. So whatever, I figured I’d try it.
making a Philips Hue home · Feb 14, 2016
Jon has done a great job getting our house wired up with Philips Hue lights. I’ve really enjoyed having them and with the right devices, they’re very convenient. I love the bits of color and how much control we have over brightness compared with regular bulbs that don’t have dimmer switches. I wouldn’t have known where to get started, so I wanted to write up the products we’ve bought and our experience with lights and devices.
Candyfair app · Nov 6, 2015
Halloween season came around and with it came big bags of candy at the office. Some candies disappeared faster than others, leading exclamations like “aww all the Twix are gone!” or “there’s nothing but stupid 3 Musketeers left” to be heard around the office. Summer remarked that we needed an app to tell us how best to divide the candy so that no one who didn’t want stupid 3 Musketeers would be forced to eat them, and the weirdos who actually like 3 Musketeers could revel in their abundance. Enter my next pet project.
Apple Music so far · Sep 6, 2015