A couple of weeks ago, Google surprisingly released a new device at a product announcement that was supposed to be dominated by the new Nexus 7 tablet. Toward the end of the launch event, the presenter held up a very small 2" stick, similar to a USB flash drive. With that simple act, the future of home TV watching was drastically changed.
The device, called Chromecast, is a small HDMI dongle that runs on a very basic version of Android. It plugs into an HDMI port on your TV, then gets powered through USB (either with the included AC adapter or using a USB port on your TV). The set-up uses either a web browser or mobile app get the device connected to Wi-Fi and onto your network. This entire process takes a mere 3 minutes. When completed, the device simply scrolls through several high-resolution backgrounds and says "Ready To Cast".
Out of the box, the device supports streaming from a few apps and Windows/Mac Chrome browser. The supported apps are Google Play Movies/Music, Netflix, and YouTube, with several more including Hulu and HBO GO reportedly on the way. Using a device running Mac, Windows, Android or iOS, you simply open one of the supported apps, search for the content you want to watch, then select the option to send it to Chromecast. Your device then begins controlling the Chromecast, which pulls the video directly off of the Internet, therefore freeing up your device. Even though your device isn't streaming the video directly, you are still able to pause/fwd/stop and fully control the playback. Also, the playback is synced on all supported devices on your network, so you can start playback on an Android phone, then stop or change media using your iPad.
I purchased a few Chromecasts and will post my overall opinion soon. Also, one of the biggest selling points of the Chromecast is definitely the price: only $35.