[opendtv] Chromecast - Teardown and philosophy

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 28 Jul 2013 12:20:52 -0400

Recently Bert wrote the following about Google's new Chromecast device:

Chromcast is cool enough, and certainly the right price point, but why not just 
plug the PC into the TV via HDMI or RGB + audio? I suppose it's convenient for 
those who use laptops, and don't want to leave them plugged into the TV. Then 
again, the latter absolutely does not limit anyone on choice of browser, search 
engine, or anything else.


Well, you know, it all depends how you structure these systems in your head. In 
my head, all I see is that companies like Google and Apple are finding 
solutions for getting Internet content to your TV set, when the TV 
manufacturers could just as easily have been building this in on their own.


Obviously Bert continues to promote the notion that we should either be 
plugging a PC into our big screen TVs, or that manufacturers should integrate a 
PC into their TVs.

I, on the other hand, believe that the future of the TV in the family room will 
be driven by the proliferation of mobile devices and a simple device attached 
to the TV to integrate the big screen display with personal search and user 
interface control via mobile devices.

Both Apple TV and Chromecast represent the kind of TV interface device I have 
envisioned and written about for more than a decade.

Clearly, there is a huge area of overlap between the role that Bert's PC plays 
versus my Apple TV or a Chromecast dongle.

Using an HDMI port to deliver bits to a TV still requires a fair amount of 

- A communications chip to deliver the bitstream from the Internet to the 
processor that will decode the audio and video and deliver baseband digital 
audio and video signals to the TV. The trend here is to use a WiFi router in 
the home to connect devices to the Internet. While it is possible to connect a 
PC to an Internet router using a hardwired ethernet connection, it is clearly 
more consumer friendly to use a wireless network.

- A CPU/GPU chip to convert the most popular of compressed audio and video 
formats used by Internet OTT services to baseband digital signals the TV can 
understand. It is informative to note that virtually ALL new TVs can decode 
MPEG-2 video, but MPEG-2 is NOT used by any of the OTT services. It is equally 
important to note that compression codecs continue to evolve rapidly, so while 
CE manufacturers continue to support MPEG-2, we have seen at least three 
generations of compression technology evolve via the Internet.

- SDRAM to support the single chip processor, decoder buffers and operating 
system for the device.

- NAND Flash memory for stream buffering and User Interface graphics.

That all of this can be integrated into a simple dongle that can be plugged 
into an HDMI port and sell for $35, is a testament to the power of Moore's Law 
and the huge market for such a device. It should also be noted that this level 
of integration has also influenced PC designs - much of the cost of a PC today 
is related to the display, packaging, ports and User interface 

Connecting a PC to a TV eliminates the need for the display, but little else. 
Integrating it into the TV eliminates the packaging, but you still need the UI 
and ports.

The current reality is that Google is now offering two devices (the Nexsus 7 
tablet and Chromecast) that cost less than $300, including tax. Dedicating a PC 
to a TV would likely be far more expensive. Bert may argue that consumers could 
use an existing notebook PC; I would counter that they could use an existing 
tablet or smartphone. I would also counter that MULTIPLE viewers could use 
their tablets and smartphones to interact with the TV as is possible with both 
Apple TV and Chromecast. Such interactions may include playing games, sharing 
music and photographs, sharing video resident on these devices, etc.

And I would note that if more computing power is needed in the future, it will 
cost less than $100 for a new "dongle," whereas a PC integrated into a TV would 
become outdated, most likely leading to the need for an upgrade dongle.

Obviously none of this addresses the issues related to what content can be 
accessed by each category of devices. Bert claims that the PC is universal, 
despite the fact that much of what can be accessed requires a subscription, or 
verification of a subscription to an MVPD service. Clearly this debate will not 
be settled soon…

But the reality that one can extend the functionality of a TV with an HDMI 
input for less than $100 cannot be ignored. 

For those who are interested, the following link provides a very interesting 
look at the guts of a Chromecast dongle:


And for comparative purposes, here is a link to an ifixit tear down of an Apple 

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