Google disappointed fans of its priced-like-a-pizza Chromecast TV dongle this week, when it said it won't be fixing an annoying video quirk that has some European customers' eyes twitching.
The Chromecast, which lets users stream online content to their TVs while using their PCs and mobile devices as controllers, first went on sale in the UK and Europe in March, after launching in the US in July 2013.
But it wasn't long before some eagle-eyed Europeans started noticing an irksome problem: most video content in Europe is delivered at either 50 or 25 frames per second, but the Chromecast is hard-wired to send video over its HDMI port at a refresh rate of 60Hz, rather than the European standard of 50Hz.
Because neither 50 nor 25 divides evenly into 60, the result is a mismatch phenomenon known in video parlance as "judder," where some frames are displayed for longer than others, resulting in a jittery picture.
The same can happen when watching content that was originally filmed for the cinema, which typically plays at 24 frames per second. The slight judder at 50Hz isn't so noticeable, but at 60Hz it can become pronounced, particularly during fast camera movements.
Users who filed bug reports about the issue described their Chromecasts in terms ranging from "very distracting" to "basically useless."
If some of this sounds familiar, it may be because Brit and Euro users of Microsoft's Xbox One noticed a similar issue. But while Redmond eventually pushed out a firmware update that let customers switch their consoles to outputting 50Hz, Google says it has no plans to do the same for Chromecast.
"Chromecast cannot attempt to handle changes in HDMI refresh rates since it is very hard to accurately identify the incoming frame rate," a Chromecast engineer posted to the bug tracker on Tuesday. "Blu-ray players can handle this issue because discs have extra metadata that would allow players to output at the most suitable rate. This is very hard to pull off with streaming content."
The original bug report has now been tagged "WontFix" – which means what it sounds like – sparking rage in customers who feel that even £30 is too much to pay for a streaming device that can't stream smoothly.
"Even the Chinese Android TV sticks can change refresh rates," fumed one bemused buyer. "That Google could not get it to work would be astonishing."
It seems, however, that any further such complaints will fall on deaf ears. Google is taking on telly in a bigger way with the launch of the Android TV platform, and it may be that Chromecast's engineering lifecycle has run its course. ®