Even if you've seen Google's holiday season ads for the Chromecast, unless you're really keeping up with technology, you're probably wondering what the heck it is.
Physically it looks like a slightly oversized USB thumb drive. In reality, it's a tiny computer which plugs into your TV set and allows you to watch internet streaming content such as YouTube or Netflix videos. At the moment, the number of compatible content sources is limited to YouTube, Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Pandora music, but hopefully more is to come as it catches on.
Currently it disappointingly does not support streaming local videos like DVD's from your own computer. I'm guessing this is due to copyright protection restrictions placed on Google by the movie industry, but I'm hoping more capability will be added later.
The connection to the TV is an HDMI connector. For power, a cable is plugged into the Chromecast (not shown in the Chromecast photo) and plugged into a USB port. This USB power source can be a wall charger like a cell phone charger, or the Chromecast can be plugged into a USB port on the TV itself.
The internet connection must be via wi-fi. If you don't already have a wi-fi network, you must set one up to use this device.
This is not the first device of this type, but is certainly a breakthrough in price ($35), and compactness.
To set it up, you first download an application into your computer, tablet, or phone. This allows you to provide the Chromecast with the name of your network and the password, and only needs to be done once.
To use the Chromecast, you start the video stream on your phone/tablet/computer, then click on a control to send it to the TV via Chromecast. You then use the phone/tablet/computer as a remote control for the program, but otherwise Chromecast fetches the video stream directly from the internet source via your wi-fi network.