Chromecast was a huge hit for Google when it launched. The $35 little HDMI stick lets you stream content from your smartphone, tablet or browser directly onto your television. However, the functionality was a bit limited as the casting was only possible with a select number of Google apps like Chrome, YouTube, Google Movies, etc. To overcome this limitation, we had a number of Chromecast ‘clones’ that came on the scene, the most popular of which till today is EZCast.
This software platform supports various wireless protocols like DLNA and Miracast, which works in conjunction with EZCast compatible dongle and boxes. Today, we have one such HDMI dongle from Cubetek which is available through sites like Amazon and Snapdeal. Priced roughly the same as a Chromecast, is it really worth picking this over Google’s offering? Let’s find out.
Build and Features
The Cubetek EZCast HDMI streamer has similar dimensions to Chromecast. Think of it as an oversized pen dive with a HDMI connector at the end, instead of USB. The dongle plugs directly into an HDMI port of your TV and power through a microUSB port. You can plug the cable directly into the USB port on your TV or use the AC power adapter. We encountered quite a bit of inconvenience when using the USB port on the TV for power and it’s not able to provide a steady stream of power for the dongle and the built-in Wi-Fi chip. This was a problem on a couple of TVs we tested it on. After discussing this possible issue with Cubetek, they should be bundling the wall adapter along with the streamer to mitigate this.
The dongle just has a single LED light on it and that’s about it. It features 128MB of DDR3 RAM and supports protocols like DLNA, Airplay, EZCast and Miracast. There’s a built-in Realtek 8188EUS Wi-Fi b/g/n/ module as well. The dongle also supports various audio and video codecs like MP3/WMA/WAV/OGG/AAC/FLAC/3GP and image formats like JPEG/JPG/MBP/PNG/GIF and TIFF.
The Cubetek streamer works with Android 4.0 and above, iOS 6 and above, Mac 10.7 and above and Windows XP/7/8.
The initial setup was a bit a hassle but things have smoothened out a lot after a couple of firmware updates. We’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops just to set this up about a month back as it would simply refuse to latch on to any WI-Fi network, the app would crash frequently when you tried opening a web page, etc. However, things have improved greatly after a couple of updates. The great thing about the EZCast community is that updates come in almost every month, which either fix bugs in the app and dongle, or add more functionality.
The first time you power it on, it will broadcast an SSID to which you connect your phone to using the EZCast app. At the time of writing this review, there is no app for BlackBerry or Windows Phone devices. The Access Point is password protected which is displayed on the screen. Once connected, you can go ahead and setup the resolution (up to 1080p) for your TV, change the language, update firmware or connect to your home network. The last part is important if you want internet connectivity on your device while streaming.
Unlike Chromecast, here you connect to the streamer and then the streamer connects to your router. Once everything is setup, you’re ready to cast. You can stream photos, videos and music from within the app. This works very well, even when casting 1080p videos. There’s minimal lag and video playback is smooth. You can control the volume from the on screen display. Also, while the video or music is casting, you can carry out other functions without interrupting playback.
The ‘Camera’ function lets you turn your TV into a viewfinder, although I’m not sure why one would want to do this. Document lets you view documents on your phone. Cloud Video basically lets you stream videos from YouTube, Vimeo and many other video sites on your TV. Once again, the casting works quite flawlessly. Cloud Storage lets you access file from services like Dropbox, etc. The ‘Live’ feature lets you do live broadcast on Facebook, etc. Social is the most recent addition to the EZCast app which lets you connect to Facebook.
All the above features work using DLNA. The real fun comes when you switch to EZMirror. This uses Miracast, which is not supported for iOS devices. Through this, you can mirror or clone your phone/tablet or PC’s interface on the big screen. Setting it up is fairly straight forward as you simply turn on Wireless Display mode on your Android and connect to the dongle. The mirroring was very laggy initially but after the latest update, it works quite smoothly. We tried this on a bunch of phone such as the LG G Flex and a Lava Iris 504Q+ and it works without a hitch. The delay is quite minimal which is good. This is not the best method to share your videos or photos with friends as whatever you do on your phone will be visible on the TV. Also, video playback isn’t very smooth as even 720p video stutters slightly.
Verdict and Price in India
At Rs 3,000, the Cubetek EZCast HDMI streamer offers very good value considering its functionality. It takes the concept of Google’s Chromecast and expands on it, which is something we really liked. Do note that Google has opened its Cast SDK to developers as of February. This means Chromecast is now open source so it’s now supported by more third-party apps like Bubble UPnP as well as EZCast. We’re not sure if mirroring also works as that’s something we’ll have to test on our Chromecast.
Even though Cubetek streamer costs the same as a Chromecast, it is very tempting to just go with a product from an established brand. However, what makes the Cubetek EZCast streamer a worthy contender is it’s extended functionality, screen mirroring and the frequent updates which improves performance greatly and further expands the functionality.