Google announces Chromecast, a dongle to stream online videos to your TV

Google (s GOOG) just announced Chromecast, a TV dongle that lets you stream online videos straight from your phone, tablet or laptop to your TV. Chromecast is based on a stripped-down version of Chrome OS, and interoperable with a multitude of devices. “We will not force you to have the same operating system on all of your devices,” Google executive Mario Queiroz said during the announcement Wednesday.

The Chromecast dongle is plugged into the HDMI port of a TV, and can then be auto-discovered by apps like the YouTube app on a mobile device. Users can then send videos straight to their TV, change the volume and compile collaborative playlists to queue up videos with the help of their mobile devices that are then displayed on the TV. This is essentially the same functionality that’s been available on for Google TV devices owners for some time, but without the whole Google TV UI.

Chromecast plays back content from the cloud, so users are able to change to a different app or even turn off their mobile device while playback of the selected content on the TV continues. Users can even switch between different control devices, with remote control capabilities being synchronized between different remote devices like an iPad or a laptop.

Chromecast works with both Android and iOS devices as well as laptops running Chrome, and can be used from within multiple apps, including YouTube, Google Play Movies and Netflix. It’s also supported within Google Play Music and Pandora for music playback. Users can even start streaming photo slideshows straight from within Chrome.

Google will make the same functionality available to other app developers through a Google Cast SDK. Also, the Chromecast dongle is just a first device to make this available, but Google wants to bring the same functionality available to partner devices.

The Chromecast dongle will sell for $35, according to the Google Play store, which states that it is shipping within 1-2 days. New and existing Netflix members both get three free months of the service as part of the Chromecast purchase, which brings the effective cost of Chromecast for a Netflix household down to $11.

First details about Chromecast had leaked Tuesday, when the folks at Droid-Life spotted the term listed on Google support pages that are meant to list devices compatible with Google Play services. Some users also discovered that updates to the Google Play Music and Google Play Movies apps started showing play on TV buttons.

This post was updated at 1:25pm with more details on how Chromecast works.