The Chromecast is Google's most successful hardware device and one of the best ways to stream movies and shows to any television; they can make a dumb TV a little smarter. One reason is the price — starting around $35 you'll get everything you need to cast local content or stream media except the smartphone you probably already have in your pocket. They are the perfect way to start cutting the cord.

But a "real" Chromecast is a very different beast than a "fake" Chromecast. Unfortunately we've recently seen some of those fakes being sold as authentic at major online retailers. And they can be so well done that unless you read the very fine print you wouldn't know until you set things up.

Google Cast (the actual protocol Chromecast uses to stream media) is free for anyone to use. It works the same way with content streaming initiated from a phone or computer and devices using the free Google Cast protocol will appear in the same target list as an authentic Chromecast will. But licensing matters and without Google name along for the ride you won't be able to cast certain services like Netflix or Hulu. If that's what you're looking for, great! You can find plenty of well-built devices that use the Google Cast service and plug into any screen with an HDMI port and they usually are a bit cheaper than a "real" Chromecast. Just make sure you know what you're getting:

  • You'll see something about not being suitable for Netflix and Hulu in the tiny print at the end of a product listing when you're looking at a knockoff.
  • You'll see words like CustomCast or Google Cast or even CCast being used instead of Chromecast.
  • You'll see customer feedback filled with angry buyers.
  • You can't buy a genuine Chromecast at Amazon.

Don't depend on the packaging or any logos, look at the details. In North America not having the right details when selling a product is a big no-no and even people who are willing to sell bootleg Chromecasts aren't willing to fight with the FTC about it.