Using the Google chromecast to stream Irish TV

We decided to move an older good quality TV to a room without a terrestrial aerial connection, and since we now have a good internet connection, we installed a "google chromecast with TV" device to enable various streaming services. This is a relatively cheap option (around €70) to extend the life and functionality of a TV.

There were actually a few reasons to use the chromecast:

  • The TV while older has a good quality screen and speakers, and the chromecast will extend its life well.
  • Youtube is no longer supported on the older TV, so now it's re-enabled.
  • Netflix support is being phased out on this TV, so this extends it.
  • Terrestrial TV spectrum is being deprecated in favour of 5G etc., so enabling streaming for local terrestrial stations is more generally and increasingly accessible.
  • We can cast from an Oculus Quest 2 which we recently bought, which is useful to allow others to see the current virtual experience.
  • The functionality of the TV is extended with various streaming services and games
google chromecast with remote

Using iBox to stream local Irish TV

I used the iBox service to provide Irish and UK TV channels. The standard iBox android app available on the play store is for use on phones and generally devices with a touch interface. It's not even presented for installation on the chromecast. Therefore one needs to sideload the iBox app to the chromecast. Details of the process are easily found online, but in summary the process is: Running the app mostly worked, but there were various issues. Luckily we were able to address all of them:

If you would prefer to not side load this app, you can also use kodi to stream ibox tv, which can be installed from the official play store. Note however that you will not get the guide with kodi, and also lose the ability to play content from the previous week.

I'm very happy with the iBox service, and avail of the "essentials" set of 10 channels for €3/month. It doesn't include BBC 2, which isn't ideal, but otherwise those channels are the only ones I'm interested in. Another useful (and free) function from iBox is providing all programs from those channels for the previous week, so you can play anything you miss.

Other streaming options for Irish TV seem to be from the broadband providers, for which you need a broadband subscription from to be able to view.
Eir for example have partnered with Apple TV, and that device supports youtube and netflix etc. as well as the basic free to air channels. However that would cost nearly 7 times more at €20/month, and interestingly doesn't include ITV or Channel 5. Note Eir provides an android app that theoretically could be sideloaded to the chromecast. However it also needs a mouse emulation app I think to operate, so isn't really a practial option.
Vodafone have a separate TV box also, but their offering is even more expensive at €30/month on top of the broadband subscription.

Note if you were interested in the Sky channels, these can be accessed through the Now TV app (on either the chromecast or Apple TV), but of course that would be an extra subscription.

Features of the chromecast with google TV

The chromecast is a very versatile and configurable 4K device, which does a good job in amalgamating the many disparate video services available. As an example of configurability, I was able to display extra WiFi info in the network status like RSSI etc. by enabling developer mode (by clicking the version 7 times), and then setting the extra WiFi info option. This was useful when tuning / positioning the device for our network.

It's really neat the way the remote integrates with both the device and the TV. This means only the single chromecast remote is needed the vast majority of the time. Power and volume buttons control the TV directly (through HDMI CEC), while the other buttons are both minimal and very functional.

The remote also has a button to provide access to google assistant, which really is quite useful, and a much quicker way to both start apps and content from various services, but also to make general queries or control other devices in your home.

We've also paired a game controller to the chromecast, which can be used to play various games installed from the play store.

All in all a very functional device for a reasonable price.

Refresh rate / frame rate judder

There is a judder or stuttering in play back sometimes, which is worth detailing, as it's the main problem with the system that I've experienced.

This is a common problem due to aliasing between the native frame rate of the video source, and the display rate over the HDMI port. The chromecast auto sets the HDMI port refresh rate to 60Hz, which is quite often OK, but noticeably conflicts with the rate from the ibox.ie irish TV streaming service. The result is very noticeable stalls as frames are duplicated to match the display refresh rate. Also some content on netflix is encoded at a similar rate (like "The Crown" for example), and also experiences similar juddering, when trying to display at 60Hz.

The solution is to manually set the refresh rate on the HDMI port to 50Hz in advanced display settings on the chromecast. This works for most but not all content. Some movies on netflix (like "Oblivion"), require the display to be set to 60Hz to avoid the juddering. Having to do this manually for some movies only after noticing the stalls is very annoying.

Note the frame rate can be manually set to only 23.976Hz, 25Hz, 29.97Hz, 50Hz, and 59.94Hz. These are presented as nearest whole integer values, but are in fact the more precise rates. So true 24Hz and 60Hz are not actually supported by the device.

There is no automatic refresh rate switching implemented on the chromecast, which I've seen referenced elsewhere that is supported on some Roku devices for example. You would think for an app as ubiquitous as netflix, and a device as integrated as this chromecast, that they would auto set the refresh rate appropriately for the content. There are hacks that work on some systems where you can have a separate refresh rate app to notice the source rate and set the display rate appropriately, but that does not work on this device at present. Also note that Plex and Kodi do not support automatic refresh rate switching on this device either. See avs details for more info on frame rate matching, which seems may be supported on android 11 (this system is currently android 10), and if the apps are updated to support the new APIs.
© Oct 31 2020