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08/06/2013

Will Google’s Chromecast spark cord cutting in Canada?

In among the various reviews of Google's new Chromecast device, most people missed one important fact: you can't actually buy or use it here. At least, not without some annoying workarounds. 

Screen Shot 2013-08-02 at 9.45.46 AMGoogle isn't yet selling the $35 unit, which plugs into the back of your TV, in Canada. It's a shame, because the consensus seems to be that this is a game-changing device. It's a tiny USB key-sized piece of hardware, that talks to your Apple or Android smartphone or tablet, or to the Chrome browser on your desktop. It shows whatever content you're looking at on those devices, on the big screen.

Many people won't necessarily want to shell out the $110 that Apple is charging for its Apple TV device, which in any case is locked down to the company's increasingly draconian ecosystem. But Google's device is not only cheap and easy to set up, and also open. It works with most major mobile platforms, and will show pretty much anything that you can display in your browser. Anyone who has tried to stream a video from, say, the CBC website using the Xbox’s horrendous built in browser will appreciate how useful that is.

However, in spite of reviewers testing out the device here, you can't buy it in Canada yet, at least officially. Instead, people have been heading to border towns to pick up online orders. They then have to use a software workaround to get the thing running on their devices. We suspect it may be difficult to get apps supporting Chromecast onto your phone if you are in Canada, and software workarounds may be needed for that as well. So, it's all doable today, but needs some tinkering, making it something still suitable only for the enthusiast market in Canada right now.

Hopefully, this will change soon. There’s nothing legally stopping the company from selling the device in Canada, as all it does is connect your TV directly to online streaming services via your Internet connection. Tech companies have a habit of launching in Canada's relatively miniscule market after rolling out their devcies and services south of the border.

When it does finally ship here officially, Google may have cracked a perennial problem for technology companies: how to get online TV into the living room. This is a big deal. Companies such as Apple and Microsoft have chipped away at this market, but I for one still find myself plugging in a clunky laptop with an annoying HDMI cable whenever I want to access something that isn’t baked into one of these online services. And there is still a big potential audience here.

Comscore says that 16% of all Canadians streaming all of their TV from online sources (they've already cut the cord). Another 35% watch both traditional TV and online video. Another 35% watch traditional TV only. This means that there are still a significant number of Canadians who are potential cord-cutters - people who may abandon their traditional cable TV packages altogether, in favor of Internet-only offerings.

Google's Chromecast represents one more potential tool enabling customers to do this, and it is the easiest to use so far. With Canadians who do use cable TV paying on average $165 a month for bundled packages that offer Internet, TV and phone, the potential for cost savings among cash-strapped Canadians is huge.

Will you use Chromecast? And would online streaming TV ever replace your cable package?

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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