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Google's Chromecast: My Favorite Gadget of 2013

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It came out of nowhere, surpassed expectations, was light on the wallet, and still shows incredible promise.

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I've had a terrible run with media centers.

Back in 2008, I purchased an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) TV with the hopes that hacking it, slapping a copy of Boxee on it, and connecting an external 2TB hard drive would be the ultimate home entertainment experience. Sadly, the underpowered device could barely run video over 720p or for a day of normal use without being restarted. It was a $200 piece of shiny junk that aggravated me consistently for a year.

Then came rumors of Boxee releasing a stand-alone device that could handle almost any type of media you could throw at it. With extensive app support and a remote sporting a full QWERTY keyboard, the Boxee Box lured me into the risky proposition of becoming an early adopter. Long story short, it was glitchy, consistently broken, and wholly abandoned by a company that turned its back on its biggest fans. It was another $200 piece of shiny, oblong junk that aggravates me to this day.

Spurned twice with no decent option aside from a home theater PC costing another $300 or more, I became jaded to the idea that Apple, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), or Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) could save TV any time soon.

It wasn't two months later that Google came out of nowhere and unveiled its Chromecast, an HDMI dongle that completely trounced the disaster that was Google TV. At $35, the device was light on the features but could be controlled by a litany of devices and was dead simple to operate. It seemed like Google was able to "crack that code" that Steve Jobs attested he had years ago.

But then came a long waiting period. Despite being a best-seller for Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), there wasn't anything in the way of updates to the device. YouTube and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) remained its biggest and, in a way, its only draw. Added to that fact, Google quietly closed a workaround that allowed developer Koushik Dutta to cast local media to the Chromecast. And considering it had yet to release a software development kit (SDK), it appeared that Google was stepping back from further Chromecast development.

Then came a flurry of updates: Hulu Plus, Pandora (NYSE:P), and a 10-app fell swoop that included Songza, Plex, and various other ways to beam local media to the Chromecast. There was also the two-day hackathon that invited a bevy of programmers -- including the aforementioned Dutta -- to work on software supporting the streaming stick in preparation for the release of the SDK. On top of that, companies like Aereo, Vimeo, Crackle, and countless others have said they are working on Chromecast apps of their own.

The stars were aligning and Google was slowly stealing the media center spotlight -- with a $35 device that nobody was prepared for. In the coming year, after Google releases the SDK, we can expect greater support, more apps, and Chromecast icons disseminated onto video screens across the web, securing the HDMI stick as a major player in the cord-cutting process.

And it has pleased this media center cynic enough to begin heading down the path to cut the cord and finally part with Charter's (NASDAQ:CHTR) exorbitant monthly fees. For that, it's become my absolute favorite gadget of 2013.

See also:

Apple Inc.'s China Deal May Not Be a Slam Dunk

The iPhone's China Problem, and Apple's American Opportunity

How Amazon and eBay Stole Christmas
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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