Google’s Chromecast streaming media stick was introduced more than two years ago, but the device is still wildly popular: the Chromecast has served up more than 1.5 billion stream requests from 17 million users, Google announced at this year’s I/O Developer Conference in San Francisco. Now, leaked documents posted by 9to5Google suggest that the Chromecast will be getting a makeover, and a lot more features, by the end of the month.
The second-generation Chromecast, rumored to be launching at a Google event on September 29th, will look a lot different than the current model. Today’s Chromecast is shaped more or less like a USB drive (though with an HDMI connector), with a bulge on one end where it can plug into power. The (blurry) leaked photos show a new Chromecast shaped more like a hockey puck, with a stem – presumably for a video connector – protruding from it.
The new Chromecast will support “improved Wi-Fi,” 9to5Google reports. That could mean the device will simply have better implementation for the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, which allows for speedy streaming. What’s more likely, however, is that the second-generation Chromecast will support Wi-Fi connections on the 5 GHz band using the 802.11ac standard.
Quick background: most Wi-Fi connections use the 2.4 GHz channel to send data between connected devices. But as more and more people have set up Wi-Fi networks in their homes, the 2.4 GHz band has gotten increasingly crowded. (If you live in an apartment building, you can probably see a long list of all your neighbors’ Wi-Fi networks when you go to connect to your own.)
The 5 GHz channel doesn’t have as much interference, and it also offers more spectrum for sending data. The result is faster Wi-Fi, at least for those devices that support the newer standard. Up until now, the Chromecast could only connect on the 2.4 GHz channel, but if Google updates it with 802.11ac support, it’ll be able to connect on the 5 GHz channel – meaning less buffering and fewer interruptions when you’re streaming.
9to5Google reports that the new Chromecast will also have some new software features, such as the ability to show updates from Facebook or Twitter on the device’s home screen, and the ability to plug a speaker directly into the Chromecast for streaming audio. There’s also a rumor that both the new Chromecast and the current Chromecast will get Spotify support by the end of the month, so users won’t be limited to streaming only from Pandora or Google Play Music.