December 24, 2013, 6:00 AM —
Source: AllCast app running on Galaxy Nexus
Yesterday a bunch of technology blogs all reported that AllCast for Android had come out of beta. The pitch is that AllCast will stream media from your Android device to your Apple TV, Roku, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One and some smart TVs (but curiously, not Google Chromecast, yet). With so many outlets mentioning this app (including but not limited to Engadget, Android Authority, TechCrunch and The Verge) I figured this must be a Big Deal.
So I decided to try it, and honestly came away somewhat disappointed, mostly due to my not understanding what AllCast was. In my mind, this was going to be a way to get Google Play Movies onto my Roku, but that's not what AllCast is. AllCast is about streaming your local (ie, on your Android device) content to a supported DLNA receiver.
My next bit of confusion was that I didn't understand what I needed to install on my receiver device to get AllCast to work. Turns out the answer is nothing. When it works AllCast just 'takes over' the device you're trying to stream to.
AllCast detected my Apple TV from both of my test devices (a Nexus 7 and an aging Galaxy Nexus), but only once was the Roku detected by the Nexus 7, and it never was by the Galaxy Nexus. Neither my PS3 or Xbox One was ever detected (my Xbox 360, sadly, is in The Closet of Forgotten Videogame Consoles so I couldn't test it). Thus far I haven't solved this problem. All four devices are connected to the home network via Ethernet. Allcast doesn't have much in the way of options to tweak so I'm just left scratching my head.
So let's look at AllCast and the Apple TV. When AllCast connects to your Apple TV, the app shows a screen full of thumbnails of all supported content on your Android device. On my Galaxy Nexus (the device that I have lots of photos and videos on) that screen populated very, very slowly. Now granted this phone is two years old (and with something like 1,500 assorted images and videos) and newer hardware might work better. I had little content to test with on the Nexus 7.
If you tap on an image in the AllCast app, the Apple TV UI will vanish and you'll see your photo on the TV. Tap another photo on the app and the TV will flash back to the Apple UI, and then switch to the new photo. It's functional but looks a little bit wonky. I couldn't find a way to set up a slideshow or anything like that.
In order to test video streaming, I decided to skip the AllCast browser and instead headed over to Android's Gallery app, where I picked a video and chose "Share to" and then chose AllCast. That actually worked quite well and I'd suggest using that method rather than the app's built-in browser.
As mentioned, Google Play movies and TV won't work with AllCast (there's no "Share to" option in the client app). When I tried to use the Share To function with YouTube I got an "unsupported media type" error on the Apple TV. It could be that some streaming services work and I just haven't found the right one yet.
Content in 'cloud drives' such as Skydrive did work, as long as I stuck to images or very short videos. When I tried to play a 4 minute 720P video from Skydrive (a shared clip from the Xbox One) either the Apple TV or AllCast timed out while loading the video and I got a blank screen. When I tried again, the video started loading from the beginning again.
And finally my last gripe: I couldn't get out of the AllCast screen on the Apple TV; the remote was unresponsive. I had to kill the app from my Android device in order to get back to the Apple TV UI. This isn't a huge deal as long as the person who was casting from their Android device doesn't go on a beer run or something. I'm sure restarting the Apple TV would've fixed things, in that case.
Bottom line: there's a free version of AllCast and a $5.00 Premium version. If you decide to try it out please don't be as rash as I was and jump right on the Premium version! Take the free version for a spin and see if it meets your needs. It doesn't meet mine, yet, but hopefully the developer will continue to refine the app until it's a bit more polished and feature-rich.
Also while I was researching this post I came across mention of Skifta which seems to offer better functionality (for example, it supports streaming from some Internet services via what it calls "Channels") without the cost of a Premium version. So you might want to check that out as well.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.