Google’s Chromecast allows you to launch videos and control them from your phone, cast your entire screen to your TV, and generally use a smartphone instead of a remote. You can do a lot of this with your Roku, too.
Start Watching Netflix or YouTube From Your Phone or Web Browser
The Roku supports DIAL—short for “Discovery and Launch”—a protocol jointly developed by Netflix and YouTube. It’s not just for the Roku, but it’s designed to work on a wide variety of devices. For example, modern smart TVs may also implement DIAL, allowing you to cast videos from Netflix and YouTube to the apps built into your smart TV. (Sadly, those built-in smart TV apps probably aren’t very good.)
In its original state, Google’s Chromecast actually used DIAL to cast videos, but now it uses a different protocol. To use DIAL, open the Netflix or YouTube apps on your smartphone or tablet, or visit the Netflix or YouTube websites on your web browser. Tap the same “Cast” button Chromecast users use, and you’ll see your Roku appear in the list of nearby devices. You don’t need to open the relevant app on your Roku first, either. As long as your Roku is on, it’ll appear in the list.
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You can do this on your computer if you’re using Google Chrome. Chrome’s built-in casting ability isn’t just for Google’s Chromecast—if you’re on a DIAL-compatible site like YouTube or Netflix, you can use the same Cast feature to start playing videos on your Roku.
Select your Roku and the video will be sent from your phone, tablet, or computer to the Roku. Basically, your phone or computer instructs the Roku to automatically launch the Netflix or YouTube app and start playing the video you chose. Use this to browse for and start playing videos from your phone.
Unfortunately, this protocol isn’t extremely widespread yet. While it’ll work well for Netflix and YouTube—some of the main channels you’d actually want to do this with—it doesn’t have the vast ecosystem of apps that support Chromecast.
Cast Your Entire Screen to Your Roku
Roku devices also support “Screen mirroring,” a feature that uses the open Miracast standard. Miracast is built into Windows 8.1, Windows phone, and Android 4.2+. Unfortunately, it does require special hardware support—you can’t just use any old PC that was upgraded to Windows 8.1, and you can’t just use any old phone that was upgraded to Android 4.2 or later.
If you do have the appropriate hardware, you can use this feature to wirelessly mirror your computer, smartphone, or tablet’s display on your TV. Just follow these instructions to get it up and running. This can work just like on a Chromecast, which also allows you to mirror your entire display.
Unfortunately, the screen mirroring feature is more limited than a Chromecast, which does more of this in software and doesn’t require fancy hardware. Chromecast mirroring will work on any old Windows PC, for example—even if it’s running Windows 7 and doesn’t have the fancy new Miracast-compatible hardware. It’ll also work with Macs, Chromebooks, and Linux PCs, while Miracast is still only for Windows and Android.
Use the Roku Smartphone App to Cast Local Videos From Your Phone
If you’d like to control your Roku from your smartphone, you can also do that. Download the official Roku app for iPhone or Android, then launch it. It should shortly discover your nearby Roku. You can then use the Roku app on your phone to control your Roku, launching channels, hitting pause or play, fast-forwarding through a video, and more.
It also offers a keyboard, allowing you to type characters onto your Roku via your smartphone’s touch keyboard—no need for the awkward process of typing on your TV with the Roku remote. The smartphone app also allows you to initiate a voice search on your Roku, something that would otherwise require the new Roku 3 with its voice-search-enabled remote.
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This isn’t anywhere near as essential as it is with the Chromecast, as you still have a physical remote for your Roku. But it’s a convenient alternative, and there are even useful features built in to the app for this—for example, you can “cast” videos, music, and photos located on your phone to your Roku, playing them on the TV.
Google’s Chromecast and the Roku are different. The Roku is designed for control with a traditional physical remote, while Google’s Chromecast is desigend for casting from a smartphone or PC. Unsurprisingly, the casting features are more all-encompassing and better developed on a Chromecast—but you can still cast all the YouTube and Netflix videos you want to your Roku.
Image Credit: Mike Mozart on Flickr
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