In the old days, you’d buy a big-back TV and an aerial. Then you’d climb onto the roof and try to position the antennae correctly. Different TV channels needed different angles, so you had to compromise on what to watch and how to set it. These days, we have flat screens, streaming apps, set-top boxes, and built-in connectivity. And today, we’ll discuss Chromecast vs Smart TV.
What is a Chromecast?
When you use a computer to connect to the internet, you can do it wirelessly, use a LAN cable, or use a streaming stick aka a dongle. These are portable plug-and-play devices that resemble large or oddly-shaped USB sticks. Plug the jack into your HDMI port for instant internet access. And you can plug these dongles into your TV as well … if your TV has compatible HDMI ports.
Some dongles give you a generic internet connection, allowing you to open any website you want. But others are branded, so they come with specific pre-loaded apps and work well with certain browsers. They include Chromecast, Roku, Amazon, and Apple. Chromecast is Google’s official streaming device. Older versions had micro-USB connectors. Newer ones have USB-C.
With some newer smartphones, you can find a mirror feature in the settings. It’s called casting or screen-cast, and it projects the images or video on your phone directly onto your TV screen. But if your phone or TV doesn’t have this feature, you can plug in a Chromecast and use it to connect to your smartphone or tablet. Then whatever appears on your phone appears on the TV.
Here comes the puzzling part. Earlier Chromecasts (Gen#1 to Gen #3) were strictly projection devices. They picked content from your phone, tablet, or laptop and mirrored them onto your TV screen via HDMI. But the 4K Chromecast works more like a conventional streaming stick. You can independently use apps via HDMI, with or without your phone as a content source.
To use older Chromecasts for mirroring, you need to download Google Home into your smartphone, laptop, or tablet then set up your Chromecast. You also need a power outlet, because the Chromecast plugs into the wall as well as the TV. It comes with an exclusive AC adapter, so don’t interchange with a generic power source or you might short-circuit the gadget.
Chromecast 4K vs Other Streaming Sticks
Chromecast 4K has a remote controller. So you can pair it with a phone or laptop to mirror the device onto the TV, or you can plug it in and use it independently without any intermediary gadgets. When used as a standalone streamer, you’ll use the remote control to navigate the various apps and services in the Chromecast. This makes Chromecast 4K a dual-purpose device.
Meanwhile, streaming sticks typically connect your TV to streaming services like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon. But because Chromecast is linked to Google Chrome, you can side-load apps and access any Google services, not just TV shows. Also, while streaming sticks only let you access your favorite streamers, Chromecast can use an intermediary device to cast the screen.
So the Roku or Amazon Fire Stick can plug into any HDMI port. But with your Chromecast, you can plug it into your TV then sync it with your laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet. That extra gadget serves as the content source before you cast any images or video feeds onto your TV screen. That said, 4K Chromecasts have HDMI jacks and built-in apps, just like streaming sticks.
What is a Smart TV?
A Smart TV is a TV screen with a built-in connection to the internet. Just like a computer, your Smart TV can wirelessly link to the internet, and some have a port at the back where you can attach an internet cable. So instead of picking up TV signals using a rooftop aerial, you can download shows, movies, and apps from the internet and watch whatever you like for free!
Smart TVs also have pre-loaded apps for some of the most common streaming services. These may include Netflix, Hulu, Showmax, Amazon, YouTube, and lots more. This way, you don’t have to start looking for URLs. You can just log into the app, type your password, and enjoy your favorite shows. Smart TVs might also have games built into the screen, as well as podcasts.
Here’s the catch – you can only use a Smart TV if you have an internet connection at home. You have to link it to your household WiFi for it to work. Otherwise, it’s just a normal TV and will need a set-top box or an external antenna. Also, while internet access on your Smart TV is free, you’re still paying for your home internet, and for the apps that you’re already subscribed to.
This means you need a paid account from Hulu, Netflix, or Disney + if you want to use these built-in apps. You’ll use existing logins to access the service. But for free apps like YouTube, you can watch them straight off the app or log into your Gmail account on the TV. Even then, YouTube isn’t exactly free, since you’re still paying for your high-speed home internet package.
Smart TVs with Google TV
If you have a Smart TV that directly connects to the web, then you don’t need a Chromecast. These TVs have pre-loaded apps and a built-in web browser. But if you want to specifically use Google Apps or the Chrome browser, you can buy a Smart TV that has Google TV built-in. It resolves the access issue, but since the Smart TV doesn’t move, you’ll lose the mobility benefit.
TV brands like Vizio have Google TV built into some of their Smart TVs. But unless the TV itself is 4K or higher, you won’t fully enjoy the viewing experience. It’ll be like watching a YouTube video at 480p or lower, so that’s something to keep in mind. It comes down to processing speed vs pixel density, which we’ll discuss a little later. So let’s compare Chromecast with Smart TVs.
Comparing Chromecast vs Smart TV
Should you buy a Smart TV or a Chromecast? Well, depending on the screen size, a Smart TV can cost thousands of dollars while a Chromecast barely hits $50. But a Gen #1 to Gen #3 Chromecast is essentially a middleman. It’s like a wireless cable connecting your smartphone, tablet, or computer to your TV screen. But Gen #4K has both casting and streaming capabilities.
This means you can use the apps already on the gadget, but you can also open websites on your phone or computer browser while the Chromecast is plugged into the TV. In essence, it expands your phone screen or tablet screen to the size of your TV. But a Smart TV has apps that come with the screen, and can’t always download extra software. Below are a few more differences.
Smart TVs can be quite heavy and are often wall-mounted. But even if it sits on a TV table, you can’t just toss it in the trunk and take it with you. You can access the internet, yes, but only in the TV’s permanent location. And you can’t share connectivity with multiple devices. But a Chromecast is small enough to fit in your purse or pocket so you can take it anywhere you like.
You can connect it to multiple TVs and devices so it’s essentially internet in your pocket. All you need is a viable internet connection that’s fast enough to handle your chosen streaming service. That said, if you want to use Chromecast to project your computer screen or smartphone onto the TV, you’d need to download the Google Home app first. It doesn’t play well with others.
Let’s talk resolution and density. Resolution describes the number of pixels on the screen and can be HD (1920 by 1080), 4K (3840 by 2160), or even 8K. But density – defined in PPI – describes the number of pixels per square inch. So a big 1080p Smart TV might be blurrier than a 1080p smartphone or computer since the same number of pixels are packed in a tighter space.
Think of it like a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of water vs a gallon of water. It’s the same amount of sweetness, but the bigger the container, the more the sugar gets diluted, so the drink will taste less sweet. This is why smartphones, tablets, and computers have sharper images than TVs. And if you often watch stuff on your phone or computer, your eyes are used to this level of clarity.
When you then use a Chromecast to push the image onto a bigger TV, the images will be blurry and annoying because the same pixels are spread over a larger area. For this reason, you can comfortably watch a Smart TV with HDTV (1080p) but if you’re using a Chromecast, the TV screen needs to be 4K or 8K if you want the same viewing experience. Or maybe a smaller TV size.
Ordinarily, you can connect your computer or tablet to your TV via an HDMI cable. You’d have to be sitting close enough for the cable to reach the TV. And the TV needs space to plug in the relevant cables, which can be tricky will wall-mounted TVs. But if you have a Chromecast, you can make the connection wirelessly from any part of the house that’s within your WiFi range.
You don’t have any cables to trip over and you’re not bogged down by the endless manual connectors. Plus, a Chromecast can connect to the TV via HDMI or USB, small enough to fit behind a wall-mounted TV. So if you have more than one screen, you could make the main one a Smart TV then just rotate your Chromecast between the other digital TVs. They just need HDMI.
The Final Word on Chromecast vs Smart TV
A Smart TV and Chromecast serve the same function – they load the internet onto your TV screen. But while they both have built-in apps, a Gen#4 Chromecast can use a separate source device like a phone, laptop, tablet, etc. so it can project this external content onto your TV.
Conversely, Smart TVs grab content straight from the web. Also, Smart TVs are stationary while a Chromecast is a portable pocket-sized device you can use on multiple TVs. And a Chromecast costs less than $100 while Smart TVs are in the high thousands, so check your credit card first!