Fully Customize Chromecast Background in Ambient Mode

Header image with title of the blog post

Google appears to have quietly added a new feature to Chromecast ambient mode that allows you some mechanism to manually chose custom photos that show up there. And it’s super easy to do!

Recently I’ve seen tons of articles showing how you can use “Recent Highlights” from your Google photos to let Google automatically choose from your most recently uploaded Google photos, but that’s a terrible solution in practice.

Others have gotten more clever and found that you can simply favorite a bunch of photos and then select “Favorites” from the list of options to display them. Which does actually work! But it’s super clunky.

In the past the solution was to use a Flickr album or choose from your Facebook albums and have photos display that way, but Google recently removed those experimental features.

The solution I discovered is to simply create a Google photos album, upload your photos, and select that album from the list of options in the Ambient Mode settings.

Here are the quick and dirty steps to displaying custom photos for the Chromecast background in ambient mode:

  1. Create an album in Google Photos and add at least 4 photos.
  2. Open the Google Home app, navigate to your device, and navigate to the Ambient mode settings.
  3. Select Google Photos and then select the album you created.

Here are the detailed steps if you need a bit more help.

  1. Go to Google Photos and log in if you haven’t already.
  2. Click “Albums” on the left.
    Screenshot showing where to select Albums from Google Photos
  3. Click “Create album” at the top. You can skip this if you already have an album ready to go. Note that this album name will show up on all the photos when they are viewed!
    Screenshot showing where the "Create Album" button is in Google Photos
  4. Once you’ve created your album, navigate to it and start uploading photos. You can bulk select them from your desktop on PC using explorer and drag them directly into the browser for a super-easy upload experience.*Quick note: it may ask you the quality of photo you want to upload. This is up to you! I’m using a regular Chromecast on a 1080p tv, so I figured lower-quality was fine, especially since Google stopped giving people unlimited photo storage. But keep in mind that if you want to future-proof this, you may want to go higher! Future Chromecasts will likely be better and you might have a better TV. I also noticed that some sort of sharpening gets applied along the way, so high-ISO photos come out very grainy. Not sure if high- or low-resolution makes a difference here.
  5. On your mobile device, open the Google Home app.
    Screenshot of the icon for Google Home on an Android device
  6. Scroll to “Other Cast Devices” and select your Chromecast.
    Screenshot of the Google Home App where you can select your Chromecast device under "Other Cast Devices"
  7. In the top-right, click the 3 dots and select “Ambient mode settings”
    Screenshot of the screen in the Google Home app where you can get to the Ambien Mode settings
  8. Select “Google Photos”. (Note: if nothing shows up here, for some reason you need to first add your Chromecast to a “Room” in your home)
    Screenshot of the Google Home app showing you where you can select "Google Photos" as a source for Chromecast ambient mode
  9. Scroll and find the album you created and select it. Note that I think you need to have at least 4 photos in an album for it to show up, though it may be even more than that.
    Screenshot of selecting the correct Google Photos album for use as your Chromecast background

That’s it! You’re done.

I suspect that the ability to select your own custom album is a recent addition in Chromecast, probably in direct response to people wanting to customize their backgrounds. Otherwise I’m not sure why nobody else seems to have figured this out before, because tons of people are asking.

So hopefully I was able to help you out! Enjoy your Chromecast.


About Brian Johnson

Brian Johnson is a website developer and designer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a passion for code and WordPress. He spends his days building WordPress websites for small businesses, developing new code with the online community, and living life.

10 Comments on “Fully Customize Chromecast Background in Ambient Mode”

  1. I liked Facebook ambient mode as it was easy, not time-consuming and you could enjoy all the albums you have created on Facebook since you were on Facebook.
    That was the only main feature I was using of Chromecast. I don’t like it anymore.

  2. How can I get ambient mode to select more of the pictures in my album to display? There are over 200 photos but it only shows about the same 15-20 over and over.

    1. Hmmmm I have not had that problem. It shows all of my photos.

      Make sure the selected album actually has the photos you think, and that they are all set to the same privacy I guess?

  3. Regret, but when choose Google Photos, it always show ART GALLERY photos as default. How to disable Art Gallery as default in Ambient Mode. Tks.

      1. I’ve done all this and my slideshow only shows 10 or 12 out of the 57 in the album???? I have selected live albums only and that did not fix the problem. any other advice?

        1. I probably wouldn’t use a live album. You aren’t the first one to report this problem, though.

          Have you tried rebooting your Chromecast? Maybe it just needs to refresh.

  4. Awesome Thanks Brian, now my question is how can I tell to ambient make fit the picture no matter the resolution or the size of the picture. I have the Chromecast with this configuration of ambient, but any time some of my people add a picture look different in the Ambient. Is there a way to fix this problem?

    1. The Chromecast will typically always crop images to make them fit the TV exactly. At least that’s what it does for me. But my photos are always large, so they would never be too small. Maybe that’s your problem?

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