How to watch your own videos on Chromecast
Google’s Chromecast device less
Q. Can I play movie and music files from my computer to a Chromecast? Would that let me work around the Chromecast not being able to get on hotel WiFi?
A. Yes, you can. Although Google markets this $35 pod as a way to stream video, audio and images from Internet sites and apps to whatever TV it’s plugged into — and its help pages don’t describe any other use — the Chromecast can also play many files on your computer, phone or tablet.
On a computer, the rule is that if Google’s Chrome browser can open a file and you have the Google Cast extension installed, a nearby Chromecast will play that file — assuming your laptop’s processor can handle the work required to encode and stream media, which shouldn’t be an issue on most newer machines.
The only major omissions among Chrome’s supported media formats are Apple’s proprietary QuickTime and anything wrapped up with “digital rights management” restrictions, such as movies or TV shows bought or rented off online stores such as Apple’s iTunes.
To find out for sure, go to Chrome’s File menu, select “Open…”, pick a file and, once it’s loaded in the browser, click the cast icon at the top right of its toolbar. The only failures I saw involved QuickTime files, identifiable by the .mov extension at the end of their names.
Sometime soon, you should get a more straightforward option that’s also free. The upcoming 3.0 version of the open-source VLC video player, recommended here before for such tasks as playing random video formats and DVDs purchased overseas, will add Chromecast support.
On a phone or tablet, you need to install an app that can stream stored files to a Chromecast. The hard part there may be choosing one among the many available for Android and iOS; Google’s site lists dozens of music and photo/video apps, although it doesn’t break down which ones specifically stream local files versus connecting you to a music, photo or video site.
I tried the free Android version of Plex, an app that Roku users have long relied on to enjoy their music, videos and photo files on Roku players that, like the Chromecast, are sold primarily as Internet-media devices. It worked fine, although one video I’d taken with my phone played sideways.
The ability to play your own media files through a Chromecast can become especially handy if you, like this reader, want to enjoy them while traveling.
A Chromecast can’t connect to most hotel WiFi networks because they don’t use standard WiFi passwords and instead require you to log in through a Web page that the Chromecast can’t read. But if you turn on your phone’s mobile-hotspot feature — also called “tethering” — the Chromecast can connect to that.
And by playing a file stored on your laptop (which will also need to be on your phone’s WiFi signal) or the phone itself, you won’t burn up your wireless plan’s data quota as you would by streaming from a Web site.
But because a Chromecast can’t switch between saved WiFi networks, you’ll have to set it up from scratch each time you move it from your home network to your phone’s and vice versa.
And because using a phone as a mobile hotspot turns off its usual WiFi, you can’t use your phone to change the Chromecast’s settings. Instead, you’ll need to have Google’s Chromecast app — available for Android, iOS, Chromebooks, Windows 7 or newer, and Mac OS X 10.7 or newer — installed on a second device that is first logged onto the phone’s hotspot.
Tip: “Guest mode” lets visitors play DJ on your Chromecast but stay off your network
What if you’re having people over and want to let them play songs or videos through your Chromecast but don’t want to hand over your WiFi password? With the “guest mode” Google added in December, you don’t have to.
With this on — you can enable or disable it using Google’s Chromecast apps — the Chromecast will broadcast its own WiFi signal. When your guests open a cast-aware app on an Android or iOS device with WiFi on, they should see that app report that there’s a nearby Chromecast available.
Selecting it should set off an automated confirmation process in which the Chromecast plays some inaudible tones through the TV’s speakers that the app then hears. If that doesn’t work, you only need to enter the four-digit PIN shown on the screen.