How to Watch Women’s Hockey: Chromecast edition
So, at this point, I hope you know the CWHL streamed one game a week this past season, and all of those games are archived, free to watch, on the CWHL website. Also, all but the final of the Clarkson Cup will be streamed (and I am watching Toronto play Calgary while I write this), also for free. There’s also a decent handful of women’s hockey games to be found on Fast Hockey, if you poke around. (Generally, USA Hockey will have stuff up there.) And, you know, it’s fine to watch hockey on your laptop, but I’ve gotten totally spoiled by watching NHL hockey in HD on my giant-ass 50-inch TV, and it’s hard to have friends over to watch the hockey game when you all have to crowd around your laptop. So, my mind turned to how to get that stream on my TV.
There’s a couple of options here. If your laptop has a HDMI port, and your TV does too, that works pretty well! Buuutttt sometimes your laptop is like my laptop, and pitches a shit-fit over displaying on a screen that much bigger than the native one. It can also distort the video, depending on how the streaming video is encoded. So I started investigating other options among the various add-ons, and the cheapest I found was the Google Chromecast. It’s marketed at $35 US, and it’s pretty easy to get a hold of—you can buy it from Google directly, or, at least in the US, go to just about any major electronics retailer to pick one up. It has also been released in Canada and Europe. It’s a small dongle that plugs into a HDMI port on your TV, and needs to also be plugged into an outlet.
The Chromecast’s main claim to fame is that as long as you have Google’s Chrome browser, on just about any platform (including mobile and Linux-based systems), you can stream that browser tab to your TV. Since the CWHL stream works just fine in Chrome, I figured I’d try that out.
Setup was pretty easy—you plug the Chromecast into the HDMI port on your tv, plug the included USB power cable into the Chromecast and into an outlet, switch your TV input to the HDMI port, and get walked through a really simple set-up process on your laptop or mobile device. (I use Ubuntu on my home computer, and Google warned me that the setup process was not fully supported on my operating system, but I did it on my Android tablet instead, and it worked just fine.) You then have to install a Chrome plugin to be able to “cast” your browser to the Chromecast, but again, pretty simple. You end up with a “Cast to Chromecast” button on your browser bar.
Since I was doing this on a night without a live-streamed game, I pulled up an archived CWHL game, buffered it a bit, and then tried to cast the game to my TV. It worked, but the dual-streaming (on my laptop, and then to the TV) was much more laggy than normal. Unwatchably laggy. However, when I did have a picture, it was much better than the normal video quality on the CWHL stream; it was about what I would normally expect of an HD NHL game on cable. Sound quality was also great. However, that laggy-ness when streaming wasn’t gonna work for me. So I poked around a bit more.
Now, what I hadn’t realized before I started poking around for this, is that the CWHL archived game links are just links to the raw .MP4 file. So instead of just clicking and streaming the game, I right-clicked on the link, and saved it to my computer. It was a pretty big file, about 1.5 GB, which makes sense if it’s a roughly 2 hour HD file. Then I opened this file up in Chrome, and that streamed just fine. Emboldened by my success, I went on to try streaming on my iPhone and Android tablet.
Now, if you own an Android-based mobile device, you might have noticed that the CWHL games don’t stream well on them, because it’s a Flash-based player. However, you can still download the archived files and play them using a video app on your device. There are some Android apps that will stream to a Chromecast, too—I tried this using an app called Real Player Cloud, which aside from playing videos, also syncs videos across devices and a web player, like the Dropbox service does for files. It’s really nice because the service will also reformat the video on the fly for different video resolutions or devices. There’s an Android app, iOS, and a web player, and you get a couple of gigs free space—enough to throw up a CWHL game or two, but not very many.
On my iPhone, streaming the CWHL games has always worked great, if a bit small on the screen. Streaming the game and streaming it to my Chromecast was, again, too laggy to be worth it. Downloading the file and streaming it with Real Player Cloud, however, worked like a charm.
So, tl;dr, sadly, the Chromecast isn’t going to fulfill my dreams of streaming live CWHL games to my TV. However, it does work very well for streaming local files to my TV—and you can download CWHL games locally. I’d been planning on having some friends over to watch the Clarkson Cup games, so I’ll be using my Chromecast to do that later this week. Tech-wise, I felt it was pretty easy to set up, and aside from downloading new games, was mainly one-time set up.