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Netflix and Chromecast

Michael Brown   April 13 2015 04:36:22 AM
I signed up to the Aussie Netflix a couple of weeks ago.

To be honest, I’d expected to be completely under whelmed by the content available, especially knowing what was available in the U.S. Netflix store.  But while it’s still only a fraction of what our American cousins get, there’s still a lot of good stuff in there.

For example, we’ve just finished the second series of The Fall, and I’ve started again on Lost.  I was disappointed that there was no Breaking Bad, like the Americans have, but then I made an interesting discovery almost by accident.  It seems that Netflix serves up its content based upon where you are geographically located, rather than upon where you registered your Netflix account.

Let that sink in a minute...

If you take a trip to the U.S., and you have your Aussie iPad, with your Aussie dowloaded copy of the iOS Netflix app, which has your Aussie registered user name and password in it, then you’ll see U.S. Netflix content, not Australian.

Now if only there was some way to make your PC, tablet or phone think that you’re in the U.S. without you actually having to fly there….


I started off playing Netflix though my Home Theatre PC (HTPC).  This is a bit of beast that I put together about in 2010, principally in order to record that year’s Football World Cup.  (Our Foxtel box at the time was unable to record terrestrial stations, due to limitations of the wall wiring at the unit where we were then living.)

The HTPC has done its job... just about.  It’s been a nightmare to setup and keep going, which I put down to one thing: Microsoft Windows.  Windows 7’s Media Centre works well enough when it works at all, but there’s been far too many times when it just doesn't.  I’d try and watch something that I thought I’d recorded, only to be greeted by a blue screen, or a boot error or an update error - i.e., all things that we know and love (not much) about the world’s most “popular” operating system.

Trying to control Netflix through the HTPC is fiddly at best.  Apparently, there’s a Media Centre plugin for Netflix, which I’ve not tried.  I’ve been using it through a web browser, which is less than ideal on a TV screen.  Plus the HTPC is too big to go in our new entertainment cabinet, so its days are numbered anyway!

Which led me to get a Chromecast.  They’re currently $43 at Harvey Norman, but sadly the one in the CBD, at Martin Place, appears to closed down now.  I managed to get one a Dick Smith for $46 though.

So far, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive, although with major one downer that I’ll to later.

First, it’s a breeze to set up.  You plug it into a spare HDMI socket on your TV or preferably, your surround sound receiver if you have one (more on that later).  You’ll need to power it up via a USB charger via a supplied micro-USB cable.   I was able to plug the USB into my TV’s USB socket for power, and the supplied cable was still long enough to stretch to my receiver.  If you don’t have that option, there’s a wall-mounted USB charger supplied in the Chromecast box too.

Once plugged in, and with your TV set to the appropriate HDMI input, you setup your Chromecast via a PC, Mac, tablet or phone (Android or iOS).  You’ll need to download an app for whichever platform you’re using.  When you run that app (and I used the Mac version) it locates your Chromecast automatically.  I’m not sure how it manages this little trick, because you’re Chromecast isn’t on your network yet!!!   In fact, that’s the first thing your Chromecast setup app will ask you to do once it’s found your Chromecast: fill in your wifi user name and password to get your Chromecast on your network.

Remote Control (lack thereof!)
That’s about it for the setup.   So, how do you play stuff on it?  There’s no remote supplied for your Chromecast.  You’ll have to use your own device - PC, Mac, tablet or Phone - as the remote.  Don’t worry, that’s not as bad as it sounds!

I’ll explain how to do it for Netflix.  First, you need to download the Netflix app if you’re using a tablet or a phone.  If you’re using a PC or Mac then you need to download an extension for the Chrome browser (and only the Chrome browser will work) before navigating to the site.

Find the program you want to play and start playing it whatever device you’re using, then click on the Chromecast icon.

The program you started playing should then start showing on your TV screen rather than your controlling device.  You can pause, rewind fast forward your program on your device and that will control what happens on your TV screen through your Chromecast.

Chromecast's Internet Connection

At this point you might be thinking, as I did, about what happens if you were to switch your controlling device off.  I was using my iPhone for this, and the iPhone had some updates that it needed, one of which required a reboot.  I let this process go though, fully expecting the Chromecast program that was currently playing to stop at that point.  But it didn’t.  It just kept on playing.  “The Chromecast must have cached some content”, I thought.  But 20 minutes later, and with no further communication to it from my iPhone, the Chromecast was still playing the Netflix content!!!

It seems that the Chromecast has more to it than I originally thought.  Although it’s touted as a device that lets you “cast” content from your device to your TV, there’s more to it than that, at least for Netflix and other Chromecast-enabled services.  When you start playing Netflix content from your phone to your Chromecast, the latter actually makes its own direct connection to the internet to do the streaming.  The content doesn’t go through your phone.

All of which is great, because you’re then free to do whatever with your phone or tablet, without worrying that it’s going to break off your Chomecast/TV content!  You only need to return to the Netflix app on your phone when you want control it further - e.g pause it.  Be warned though, when you do return to Netflix on your phone, there is often a very long delay while it syncs to where your Chromecast has actually got to with your program.  You’ll see the progress bar for your program on the phone leap across to the new location when that sync has happened.  After that, you can pause rewind etc.

Which brings me to the one major downer.  Because the Chromecast makes its own connections to the internet for the like of Netflix, it does not work with VPNs.  If your VPN on your iPad, for example, is set to the U.S., and you try to play an episode of Breaking Bad, well sorry, that’s not going to work.  The Chromecast isn’t getting its content through your iPad's VPN, so it’s not going to able to see that U.S. content.  You may able to do something by changing your router’s DNS settings, but I’ve not tried that yet.

Surround Sound

Does the Chromecast do surround sound?  Does it ever!!  Not Dolby Digital, but its HD big brother, Dolby Digital Plus!

Here's what I see on my Denon receiver panel when I'm watching Lost through the Chromecast:

Dolby Digital Plus from the Chromecast

There's just something so sweet when that blue HD diode lights up!!

I didn't have a spare HDMI input on my receiver, unfortunately.  I had to unplug the HTPC for the time being.  I managed to pick up a remote HDMI switcher from Jaycar, which gives me another two inputs.  I can even control that as part of an Activity on my Harmony One universal remote, so I don't have to keep switching it manually.


1Carl tyler  04/13/2015 6:16:56 AM  Netflix and Chromecast

Forget the VPN, get Grab me at social connections and I'll also tell you what you need to do to get BBC iplayer to work on the chromecast with unblock-us.

2Carl Tyler  04/13/2015 8:30:45 AM  Netflix and Chromecast

Turns out I wrote a blog post about it...

{ Link }

3Michael Brown  04/13/2015 3:46:38 PM  Netflix and Chromecast

Thanks, Carl.

I was an unblock-us subscriber a couple of years ago. The service started out great, but then got slower and slower - as more people signed up to it, I guess - to the point where it became completely unusable for me. I would try to watch something on the BBC iPlayer, and it would spend more time paused, trying to cache some content, than it did playing it! I switched to Tunnelbear VPN and never looked back.

Until now, when I've just bought the Chromecast.

Perhaps unblock-us have beefed up their infrastructure now and are worth a revisit. Unless you can root your Chomecast, you have to do something at the router level, as described in your post.

I'll check into that, but another complication here is that for my Aussie ISP, Internode, Netflix content is unmetered - for Aussie Netflix only, of course! I'd need to ensure that any router changes that I might make wouldn't lose me that.

4Carl Tyler  04/13/2015 5:43:48 PM  Netflix and Chromecast

Were you using Unblockus VPN? Unblock us is just DNS, never had a performance issue with it, been a customer for a couple of years.

5Michael Brown  04/13/2015 10:23:21 PM  Netflix and Chromecast

It was the DNS thing, not a VPN.

I may check into it again if I can find a way to not have it interfere with my unmetered Aussie Netflix. From what I've read on the Whirpool forums, that's not going to be possible. At least, not without forever changing DNS settings back and forth, which would be a real pain.