Using Chromecast to Display Data WirelesslyFriday, August 15, 2014
Dashboard reports are powerful because they can distill large amounts of information into easily-digestible snapshots. We’ve long used them at Accrisoft, but they were usually confined to our computer screens.
Then a few years ago, we bought a small TV that showed how many open support tickets were assigned to each member of our staff. At a glance, anyone in the company could see the state of the support department, and if somebody was falling behind.
To get this working, we had an old laptop displaying a web page sitting in a closet, with a 50-foot VGA cable running through the ceiling to a TV on the wall. We mounted it right at the ceiling so you could barely see the wires.
But we’re a software company, and this felt very old-fashioned. What’s more, we needed to display a lot more data; we manage a lot of servers, and keeping an eye on it is critical in keeping everything running smoothly.
We wanted to add about four more TVs to the office for server and sales information, but how could we sync it all? We didn’t want to put five old laptops in the closet. And, as a software vendor, we wanted to make something that our customers could use, too; we like to eat our own dog food, as they say. When we build something that works for us, we like to share it with our customers, and we often find it’s useful for them, too.
Accrisoft Freedom has very powerful reporting functionality that can query any data from the website, and we already give users the ability to use this information to create dashboard reports that show up in their administrative interfaces. We just needed to find a way to transmit that data to televisions around the office.
Google Chromecast was a compelling option. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this is a $35 piece of hardware that attaches to your TV’s HDMI input jack. It uses a technology called Google Cast to transmit data wirelessly from any Google Chrome browser to the Chromecast device.
Compared with VGA cables running all over the office it’s cleaner and more modern; compared with multiple iPads AirPlaying to separate Apple TVs, it’s more cost-effective. Also, with Chromecast, you don’t need a physical client, like an iPad or an old laptop; you can transmit data right from the browser itself to a TV.
The challenge was being able to transmit data from one website to multiple Chromecast devices at once, and to integrate it with our existing system to it’s easy for anyone to use.
I found the Google Cast API Reference, and realized that we needed to create a “Chrome Sender App” within Accrisoft Freedom, and a “Custom Receiver” on our own server to handle the information passed by the Sender App. We registered as a Google Cast Developer and created a new application.
Our "Sender" is built into each Freedom installation, and its job is really simple: It initializes the Google Cast API on page load, then waits for the user to click on the Chromecast icon that we built into every dashboard report.
To the user it’s completely seamless; after you click on the icon, a list of the available Chromecast devices appears, and you select which one to “cast” the report to. That’s it.
It works really well for us, and we think our customers will find a lot of great uses for this feature, too. These dashboards can be used either internally or customer-facing, depending on their use. Here are some ideas:
- Daily menu specials at a restaurant
- A list of the beers currently on tap at a bar
- Class schedules at a fitness studio
- How many orders a commerce site sells each day
- The latest comments to a blog