Would you like to surf the Internet on your HDTV? Would you like a system that boots up in 10 seconds, and can't get a virus? Would you like to have your system updated automatically, without your having to do any maintenance? One that can't get "accidentally" messed up by deleting a file or putting it in the wrong place?
And would you like all of this to cost less than $200 total, and not require any subscription fees other than the Internet connection you already pay?
Meet the Chromebox!
The Chromebox is essentially a Chromebook, except it's in a set-top box instead of in a laptop computer. You can plug it into modern computer monitor and use it as a desktop computer. Or, you can plug it into an HDTV, and use it for all that WebTV should have been!
I've had a Chromebox hooked to my living room TV for about six months, and I love it. I use it for web surfing and game playing in the living room, and for watching Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube. It provides me with nice music via Pandora and Songza, and podcasts via Stitcher. And since I have a PC with Chrome and also a Chromebook, with Chrome's sync settings if I add a favorite or a web app to one of them, all of them (including the Chromebox) get it, too.
Surfing on the Big Screen
Chrome's settings allow you to zoom the page larger (as all modern web browsers do), but zooming reduces the resolution and the amount of content that can be displayed on the screen. I tried that, but what I like better is that I can select a larger font size in the settings that makes it easy for me to read web pages from across the room.
The Chromebox also has "accessibility" features in its "Advanced Settings" area. They include a high-contrast mode, an on-screen keyboard if you'd rather just surf with a mouse, and a bigger cursor (pointer). I like to use the bigger pointer for surfing in the living room.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The Chromebox doesn't come with a keyboard or pointing device, so you have to add your own. If I were connecting it to a monitor in order to use it as a desktop computer, I'd use a keyboard and mouse, either wired or wireless.
List Price: $39.99
Currently at Amazon: $30.00
But I'm connecting to my TV in the living room so I can surf from my couch or lounge chair. That's not a good place to use a mouse. But there's an inexpensive Logitech wireless keyboard that has a trackpad built in, which is perfect. The Chromebook itself has a trackpad built into it, so the Chromebox fully supports the trackpad.
I also could use a Bluetooth keyboard, but I find the wireless Logitech keyboard with a USB receiver to be much more reliable. I never have to "pair" it and it doesn't require any settings in the Chromebox to use it.
A LOT Better than MSNTV2, WebTV, or typical computer
|The Chromebox in my living room, shown by the arrow.|
As a living room unit for using with TV, I love the Chromebox. I had been using a MacMini with my TV before the Chromebox, and I still use it as my iTunes music server and my DVD player. But the MacMini is always in need of updates to the software that take a long time to download and install, with a number of reboots in between.
This morning, I found a note "restart to update" on the Chromebox settings. I did, and fifteen seconds later was back online with the new update, which was already downloaded and just waiting to be installed. Clicking that "restart" link is all of the maintenance that should ever be needed.
I can't begin to tell you how much better this is than the WebTV and MSNTV2 used to be. Like those, the Chromebox can't get a virus and does everything within a browser. But the Chrome browser can go anywhere, to any website (including those with Flash). It can play video and stream sound.
The Chrome Web App store adds even more. Facebook, IRC Chat, Instant Messanging? Your mail at Yahoo, or Outlook, or AOL? Netflix, Pandora, Songza, Stitcher? There's a web app for those, along with Google's word processing, spreadsheet, maps, and much more. Almost everything you want for your Chromebook (well, everything I want, anyway) is free.
And don't even get me started on how much better this is than GoogleTV. We had high hopes for that platform, but Google never really decided what it was -- a TV enhancement or an Internet device? The Chromebox is clearly for the Internet, and it does it very, very well.
The One Missing Piece
List Price: $24.99
Currently at Amazon: $19.84
List Price: $24.99
Currently at Amazon: $20.44
If I have any criticism of the Chromebox and Chromebook, it is that there really isn't a manual with it. There's a booklet that will get you set up and online, and a very basic onscreen tutorial on how to use the trackpad. After that, Google assumes that you'll find their help pages and other Chromebook How-to sites.
But I like everything to be explained, in detail. Fortunately, there is a book that does just that -- My Google Chromebook. I like it, and I highly recommend it. It's well organized and written in clear, easy to understand English without a lot of geeky technical terms. Since the Chromebox works exactly the same as the Chromebook, you can use it as your companion to answer any question.
Update: Yes, if you really like the For Dummies series, Chromebook for Dummies has just been published in November 2014.
I like the Chromebox a lot. That's actually not surprising, because I like the Chromebook a lot, too, and since my eyes are good and I can have both, I use the Chromebook more (I also spend more time at my desk than I do in the living room.)
For people who want to connect to their new flat-screen TVs, or whose eyes aren't as good as mine, or who are replacing a desktop computer and want something that's easy to use and can connect to an HDTV or a modern flat-screen monitor, I very highly recommend it.
What Should You Do Next?
If you'd like to buy a Chromebox, here's Your Chromebox Shopping List at Amazon. You can probably find a Chromebox at BestBuy, but you'll want to check Amazon too for the best prices, and also to get the Logitech keyboard and the book.
If you'd like to see more about what's involved the setting up a Chromebox and its basic use, check out A Selection of Chromebox Reviews with some videos so you can see what others have to say about it.
And if you have questions, feel free to post them in the comments and we'll try to answer. If you're a Games4TV members with Talk4TV and you don't see the comment block below, log in (at the bottom of the page) and it will appear. If you don't have your Talk4TV turned on, you can do it from the Games4TV front page -- it's free for all active Games4TV members. And if you're not a Games4TV member yet, why not join us?