Review: Asus Chromebox great as streaming device

Mar 12, 2014 by Anick Jesdanun

Devices that let you watch Netflix and other streaming video services on a big TV screen are popular, but there are limits to what you can watch.

NBC, for instance, didn't make its Olympics apps compatible with Roku, Apple TV and Google's Chromecast. With HBO Go, Comcast subscribers can use Apple TV but not Roku, while it's the other way around for Charter's customers. And with all of these devices, you need an $8-a-month Hulu subscription to watch what you can get for free using desktop computers.

The Internet is the Internet. It shouldn't matter what gadget you're using. But content providers worry that if they make the video streaming experience too much like regular TV, they'll discourage people from watching old-fashioned commercial and pay TV.

So I'm pleased to find a legal way around these restrictions with a new device called the Chromebox.

AsusTek Computer Inc. will start selling it March 28 at a starting price of $179. A version with a faster processor and support for ultra-high-definition video, also known as 4K, will be available in April for $369. That model includes a and mouse; otherwise, the package is sold separately for $50.

To call the Chromebox a streaming device does it injustice. It's a full-powered desktop computer running Google's Chrome OS system. I'll get into the pros and cons of that later.

You can connect the Chromebox to a standard monitor just like any other desktop. Like other newer desktops, the Chromebox also has an HDMI port to connect to high-definition TVs. That makes it tempting to turn the Chromebox into a streaming device.

With most streaming devices, you need apps for individual services such as Netflix and HBO Go. If there's no app for that service, you can't watch it on the big screen for the most part. That's one of the big shortcomings with Google's Chromecast streaming device. Even though it's just $35, the list of services it supports is paltry.

By contrast, Chromebox works just like any other computer. As long as you can watch something in a Web browser, you can watch it on the big screen.

You can technically do that with any desktop computer if it has an HDMI port or if you get an adapter. Mac computers also have a feature called AirPlay to mirror the display through an Apple TV and your Wi-Fi network.

But those computers typically cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The Chromebox is just $80 more than a Roku 3 or an Apple TV, and it lets you watch —and do— much more.

I've managed to use the Chromebox to watch plenty of free Hulu offerings, replays of Olympics figure skating and some shows from ABC Family, a channel otherwise unavailable on streaming devices. Video is sometimes jerky and the audio sometimes out of sync, but that's something I get on other devices, too.

As I mentioned earlier, Chromebox is much more than a streaming device. Because it runs Google's Chrome OS, it comes with a Google's Chrome Web browser and numerous apps for Google services, including Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Hangouts chats. You can get apps for non-Google services, too, but not as many as you'd find for Windows and Mac computers.

Chrome OS is ideal for those who use a lot of Google services or can otherwise get what they need over a Web browser. That includes research for homework, checking Facebook and using Web-based email.

If you need professional apps such as Adobe's Photoshop or Microsoft's Office, look elsewhere. The tools available with Chrome OS are adequate for basic functions, but they aren't robust.

Another shortcoming of Chrome OS is its need for a constant Internet connection. Many apps don't work well or at all without that. That's more of a problem with Chrome OS laptops meant for use outside the home. You should never need to separate your Chromebox from the Internet.

Chromebox also has a new Chrome OS feature that lets you create supervised log-ins for your kids. You can choose to block certain sites or permit surfing of only pre-approved sites. You can also see a list of what your kid tried to visit.

Unlike parental control software from outside parties, Chrome OS doesn't try to impose a default list of approved or banned sites. It requires more work to configure, but it lets parents decide what's appropriate.

Chromebox works nicely as a secondary computer that family members share.

Besides the dual display ports, Chromebox has four USB 3.0 ports for printers and other peripherals, a slot for camera memory cards and an Ethernet port for wired Internet connections. It also has Wi-Fi, but not the newer, faster type known as 802.11ac.

My one complaint: You'll have to decide whether you want to use the Chromebox as a general-purpose computer or as a streaming device.

I recommend getting the wireless keyboard and mouse for streaming. Otherwise, the keyboard and mouse would be physically attached to the Chromebox, which sits closer to the TV than to you.

But that setup doesn't work well for general computing. I find text too small to read on a 42-inch (106-centimeter) TV that's 8 or 10 feet away. For general computing, you'll want a smaller screen and you'll want to be closer to it. But then it's no different from watching streaming video on a regular computer.

Of course, the Chromebox is cheap enough that you can buy two. But if you have to choose, consider this: There are plenty of other desktops for general computing, but few affordable enough to use just for .

Explore further: Gift Guide: Streaming players project video to TV

2.8 /5 (9 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Review: Chromecast streams media at a nice price

Jul 31, 2013

A new device from Google makes it easy to stream video from several popular services to a high-definition TV. Chromecast is tiny enough to dangle from a keychain when not in use, but it packs a big punch ...

Review: Internet-focused alternative in Chrome PCs

Jul 19, 2012

Two new computers running Google's Chrome operating system are looking to lure people to a browser-based environment. Both target light-duty computer users who don't need the full range of capabilities that ...

There's more than one way to connect

May 28, 2013

It's not enough these days to wonder what to watch on your TV; a growing question for many is how to watch. Just like any device in your life, TVs can now connect to the Internet. This lets you grab shows from the Internet ...

Recommended for you

Tim Cook puts personal touch on iPhone 6 launch

Sep 20, 2014

Apple chief Tim Cook personally kicked off sales of the iPhone 6, joining in "selfies" and shaking hands with customers Friday outside the company's store near his Silicon Valley home.

Montreal VR headset team turns to crowdfunding for Totem

Sep 18, 2014

A challenger in the virtual reality headset marketplace has launched a crowdfunding campaign to get the project off the ground. The headset is called Totem. The company behind Totem is Montreal-based Vrvana. ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Mar 12, 2014
It's a full-powered desktop computer running Google's Chrome OS system.


That's a contradiction in terms. ChromeOS is not a full powered desktop OS.

And neither is the machine a full powered desktop computer.

In fact that line is just bullshit.
markheim
not rated yet Mar 13, 2014
I'm sorry, I thought this was a science website. Not an ad website.
Bonia
Mar 13, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.