Google Chromecast Gets New Design, Chromecast Audio Lets You Cast Music

If stick-style streaming media players are, well, too stick-like for your tastes, you may want to consider Google's second-generation Chromecast player. Announced today at the same $35 price as the previous iteration, the new Chromecast not only adopts a circular, disc-like design, it's offered in three colors—black, yellow, and coral—though it's unlikely that you'll ever see it once it's installed in a TV's HDMI input. One thing it doesn't have, though, is support for 4K video.

Perhaps the more interesting introduction, though, is a new audio product called, not surprisingly, Chromecast Audio. Also priced at $35, the similarly circular device is an add-on that basically turns any speaker (or receiver, TV, or car stereo) with a 3.5mm auxiliary input into a wireless speaker. Using your home Wi-Fi network, you can beam music from Cast-enabled apps—including Google Play, Pandora, and now Spotify—loaded on your phone, tablet, or a computer (via its Chrome browser). Later this year, Chromecast Audio will receive an update that will allow you to simultaneously sync two or more of the devices together to create a multi-room audio system, Sonos style.

The new Chromecast gets several improvements compared to the earlier model. For one, its Wi-Fi capability gets better thanks to both dual-band (2.4/5GHz) 802.11AC Wi-Fi and an "adaptive" three-antenna array the company says will improve reception. Chromecast now also has a "Fast Play" feature that uses pre-loading and smart caching of content to speed up the time before content and apps start playing.  

There's also a new Chromecast app with improved search and content discovery, including a "What's On" section that quickly shows which content can be beamed to your TV from the streaming video apps you've downloaded onto your device. Google has also beefed up its library of content with several new apps, including Showtime and soon, Sling TV.

At the press event, Google also said that developers are now able to easily render games for both smartphone screens and a larger TV display. Google says the smartphone is already a great game-playing device, and the built-in accelerometer and gyro enable it to act as a great game controller.

As always, we're looking forward to getting both of the new Chromecast devices into our labs for thorough testing, so keep checking back for our hands-on reviews.

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