The Chromecast finally supports a feature users have been requesting for ages: customized wallpaper. Read on as we show you how to add custom wallpapers to your Chromecast’s splash screen as well as turn on weather, news, satellite images, and more.
The Chromecast is still, as it was when we reviewed it around this time last year, controlled by the Chomecast helper application and that app just received a welcome update. Since the Chromecast came out fans have been clamouring for more features as the Chromecast splash screen (displayed when you are not actively casting things) is ripe to serve as an information portal of sorts. While they haven’t gone full widget-mode on us quite yet, developers have added a handful of new and welcome features, known as Chromecast Backdrop, including the ability to use personalized wallpapers, weather status, news headlines, and other wallpaper options.
Update Your Chromecast App
If you’re reading this tutorial close to publication date, you’ll likely need to update your Chromecast app (Google pushed out the update for all iOS users on 10/08/2014 and began rolling it out in waves for Android users on the same day).
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iOS users simply need to update to the most current version of the Chromecast App (1.8.22 or above) and they’ll be all set. Android users, especially if they’re following along within the first two weeks after the 10/08/2014 release date will need to update and check their update version. If their Chromecast app is still version 1.7.* they haven’t received the update. If it’s 1.8.* then they have.
If you’re not willing to wait a few days for the update and you’re comfortable installing a signed but off-market application, you can snap up a copy of the updated Chromecast APK here at APKMirror.
Once you’ve confirmed that your Chromecast App is at least version 1.8.22 or higher (whether you’re on iOS or Android) you’re ready to proceed.
Create a Wallpaper Album
Although you can customize the new Chromecast app features (like the weather and news) without a Google+ account, if you want the best feature in the new update (personalized photos) you’ll need one.
Currently the only source of wallpaper images accessible to the Chromecast is Google+ albums. You can use existing albums or create a new one dedicated just to Chromecast wallpapers. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll assume you’re not a regular Google+ user and you need to create a simple private album for your wallpaper images.
Visit plus.google.com and sign into your Google account. Navigate to your photos via the “home” button drop down menu located in the upper left corner or jump directly there with this link.
Click on “add photos” in the navigation bar and then drag and drop the photos you want to use as Chromecast wallpaper onto the upload tool. Click the “Add to album” drop down menu, as seen in the screenshot above, and create a new album (such as “Chromecast Wallpaper”) for your wallpaper image.
You can repeat this process to add more images in the future. You can also use other albums in your Google+ account as well (we’ll show you how in the next step).
Configure the Display via the Chromecast App
Album created, it’s time to fire up the new Chomecast app and start supplying our Chromecast with personalized wallpaper.
When you first run the application after the update it will prompt you to customize your Chromecast via the new feature set. If you’ve read this far you’re clearly interested, press “Yes.”
Select the Chromecasts you wish to customize via the Backdrop. You can’t select the Chromecast unless it is currently on, so if you have your Chromecast plugged into your TV’s USB port you’ll need to turn the TV on first to bring the Chromecast online.
Once you select the Chromecasts and hit “Use Selected” you’ll be given a prompt to allow Chromecast to use your location data and your personal Google account. You can use some of the Backdrop features if you disallow it, but if you don’t allow the Chromecast and Chromecast app to access your location data and account then you won’t get weather data and you won’t see your personal wallpapers/photos. Click “Allow.”
On the next screen you’ll see the actual Backdrop preferences where you can toggle display types and settings off. The settings are pretty straight forward. If you select “Your Photos” you’ll see a screen like the following which allows you to pick which Google+ albums you wish to use.
Select the albums (you can select as many as you wish) and return to the previous screen when you’re done. In addition to toggling on your personal photos you can also toggle on Weather, Art, News and Lifestyle, Satellite Images, and Feature Photos. Lets’ take a closeup look at what each of these options entails.
The above is an example of the personal wallpaper screen with the weather enabled. Not only do we see a photo of our dog Cricket (the same photo we uploaded in the previous step) but we also see the weather and time in the lower right corner.
The Art category pulls artwork from Google’s Open Gallery and Cultural Institute. The name of the work, the author, and the collect it is from is listed beneath the weather/clock widget.
Satellite Images provides stunning images from the Google Earth collection. We weren’t too excited about this particular feature at first, but after seeing that it’s a hand curated collection of really beautiful satellite imagery we’ve been won over. The images that cycle by are really something to behold and highlight a wide range of natural and geologic structures from around the world.
The News and Lifestyle category is kind of a curious one. At first read, you’d assume that it would be actively displaying news (perhaps like a ticker tape on the bottom of the screen or what have you). Instead it’s more of a photojournalism kind of vibe wherein articles from major publications with good photos attached end up featured. In the example above we see a big pan of picadillo from a New York Times culinary article.
Of all the categories the News and Lifestyle was the one we had the most mixed feelings about. Sure it’s novel but there are no granular controls and it feels a lot more like Pinterest with pretty pictures than it feels like any sort of useful news source. Now, grant it, the point of Backdrop is to put pretty pictures on the screen so perhaps we’re silly for expecting anything different.
The last category is the Featured Photos category which provides the exact wallpaper effect that has been with the Chromecast since day one: hand curated pictures from Google’s collection and from photographers sharing their work on Google+.
If you set a single toggle you’ll get a single category; if you want to see just your personal photos turn everything but “Your Photos” off. If you want a mix of images, toggle as many categories as you want; the Chromecast will rotate between whatever you’ve selected (e.g. personal photos, artwork, and satellite imagery).
If you want to make any changes in the future, simply open up your Chromecast app, tap on the menu button in the upper left corner, and select “Backdrop” to toggle and modify your Chromecast personalizations.
That’s all there is to it. As longtime fans of the Chromecast we’re thrilled to see the extra features and really hope the Chromecast development team keeps expanding on the display capabilities of the Chromecast splash screen as it has a huge amount of potential as a home information dashboard.