Want to project your notebook, tablet, or smartphone display onto a larger screen, like that 60-inch HDTV sitting in your living room or office conference room? The good news is that there are many ways to do it, both with and without wires. The bad news is also that there are many ways to do it, all depending on the hardware and inputs, and especially with wireless met0hods, things can get confusing fast. Here are the basics.
Back in the old days, turning your TV screen into a computer monitor was tantamount to sorcery. Nowadays, all you need is the right cable.
HDMI: High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has greatly simplified the task of connecting the world of computing and home AV. Most new computers and all new HD Televisions have HDMI connections. All you need now is a cable to connect the two. HDMI cables carry both HD video and audio signals, so there’s little more to it than connecting one end to your TV and the other end to your computer and change the input. It’s really that simple, which is probably why it’s one of the most ubiquitous connection standards.
There are a few different sizes for HDMI connections to be aware of. The full size connectors we are used to seeing are technically referred to as Type A. In order to provide hard wired connections for the ever shrinking designs of laptops, tablets, and phones, there is also miniHDMI (Type C) and microHDMI (Type D). The same signals are passed through each type of wire so you just need to find the appropriate adaptor or wire.
Regarding cables, there is no need to throw money at overpriced gold-plated tipped high priced HDMI cables. As long as they are certified for the latest standard of HDMI (currently 1.4) they will work fine. We also recommend getting a cable long enough to connect your laptop from where you sit in your living room.
Display Port: Likewise, a number of desktops and laptops, including all late model Macs, are equipped with either Display Ports or Mini Display Ports (AKA MiniDP and mDP) that require their own unique adapters. Display Port uses the same set of signals in the HDMI wires so it is just a matter of finding the correct adaptor cable. One big advantage with DisplayPort is that it can easily be adapted for use with HDMI as well as the older VGA and DVI ports.
MHL: Mobile High Definition link is a great idea that is unfortunately starting to lose steam. It allows other devices, like smartphones, that are equipped with microUSB ports to connect to full size monitors and televisions. If the television has a specific MHL port, it is technically possible to use the televisions remote to control the mobile device as well as provide power to keep it charged during playback. Older smartphones with microUSB ports relied on MHL adapters to enable a connection to HDMI, however late models like the Samsung Galaxy Note5 and Motorola Moto X Pure Edition no longer support hardwired connections. These devices require a wireless alternative.
Mobile Apple HDMI cables: You can also connect Apple iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads to HDMI via Apple’s proprietary cables. The old 30-pin-to-HDMI will cost you $40 from Apple, while the Lightning-to-HDMI (also known as the Apple digital AV adapter) goes for around $50. Take heed: upgrading to iOS 8 and beyond has been reported to cause the 30-pin-to-HDMI method to cease functioning.
There are various ways to get content from your smartphone or laptop to show up on your television but they can be divided into two basic concepts which we will call mirroring and casting. In theory, mirroring is essentially a wireless HDMI cable that will show a replica of your devices screen, up on the big TV. The main technology for mirroring is called Miracast and it was developed by the WiFi Alliance so it has the benefit of being available in a wide variety of devices from different manufacturers albeit under a confusing array of names unique to different brands.
Casting lets you use your smartphone as a search tool and remote control and then lets the TV or a dongle take over the job of actually displaying the content. The most popular device for this technology is the Google Chromecast but it is also used by many Smart TV apps.
Miracast: Miracast can best be described as a wireless HDMI connection. The big difference that separates Miracast from its main competitor Chromecast is that it doesn’t require the use of a central router to bridge the connection between your mobile device and your HDTV. It doesn’t even require an internet connection at all. Instead, it uses the Wi-Fi Direct protocol to transmit 1080p video and 5.1 surround sound. It’s also cross-platform, which means it will work across different brands of electronics as long as they are Miracast certified, and is secured by WPA2 encryption.
Miracast comes standard on all devices running Windows 8.1, and Android mobile devices running Jelly Bean 4.2 or later – although having 4.2 installed on your older Android doesn’t necessarily mean your device is capable of mirroring content. Miracast functionality is a built-in standard with all Android devices manufactured with 4.4 and later. Most late-model Intel computers and laptops are also Miracast enabled, often under the Intel WiDi certification. Amazon’s Fire OS is also supported by Miracast. The Wi-Fi Alliance website provides information on all products that support the standard.
In order for a Miracast screen cast to work, both the sending and receiving device have to be Miracast certified. Many newer models of TV’s have Miracast built in but under a few different names. LG calls it “SmartShare”, Samsung calls it “AllShare Cast”. Sony refers to it as a “Screen mirroring” feature and Panasonic uses the term “Display mirroring”. If you are shopping for a new TV and want to make sure it has Miracast built in, check the model number against the WiFi alliance listing of compatible devices which can be found here: http://www.wi-fi.org/product-finder
You can also add Miracast to any display with an HDMI port using any number of compatible dongles, streaming sticks, or set top boxes. You can find Miracast dongles from Roku, Microsoft, Belkin, and Asus in the price range of $50 to $60. Additionally, Amazon’s Fire TV stick can be purchased for around $40, but the drawback is that it only supports mirroring from Android and doesn’t work with Windows devices.
If you prefer a bit more functionality, there are set-top boxes you can buy that will bridge the communication gap between your Miracast-enabled mobile device and non-Miracast HDTVs. Among the most popular and widely used are the Amazon Fire TV and Roku streaming box, which can run you between $90 and $130. The Xbox One now also supports Miracast for Android, Windows Phone and Windows PCs.
One of the notable limitations of using Miracast to screen cast from your mobile device is that you’ll have to keep your smartphone or tablet awake in order to continue the stream. This can quickly drain your mobile device’s battery and may require you to remain plugged in and charging when streaming data to your HDTV.
Chromecast: Have you ever copied a link to a video or website and then sent the link to a friend via text or email for them to watch? Because that is the basic concept behind casting. For an investment of $35, you can buy a Chromecast dongle that connects to your HDTV’s HDMI port and turns just about any device — Windows, Apple or Android — into a virtual broadcasting hub. All you have to do is dial the dongle into your Wi-Fi network and you’re ready to go. In this setup, you use the apps on your phone to search for and find the content you want to watch and once you find the right movie or show, you click the cast icon on the app. When you do this you are essentially copying the link to that show and sending it to the Chromecast dongle. The dongle then uses its own connection to the internet to follow the link and start playing the video to which it points.
Chromecast is currently functional with a growing number of supporting apps, including Netflix, YouTube, HBO Now, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Google Play, and Google Chrome browser tabs, the latter of which could be ideal for turning your entertainment center into a workplace productivity center, especially after you throw in the Google Drive functionality. Chromecast also enables Android display mirroring on many Android smartphones released since mid 2013.
The big difference that separates Chromecast from Miracast is the requirement to have an active internet connection streaming through a central router in order to mirror content from your mobile device. One of the benefits that Chromecast has over Miracast is that once streaming from your mobile device begins, you can use your broadcasting device for other purposes – unlike with Miracast, where mirroring only continues as long as both devices are engaged.
Chromecast supports Android devices running Chrome OS, Jelly Bean 4.1 or later, iOS 7.0 or later, Windows 7 or later, and Mac OS X 10.7 or later.
DIAL: If you have a newer ‘smart’ tv with built in apps for Netflix and YouTube, then chances are you can use casting even without a Chromecast device. DIAL stands for “Discovery And Launch” and it was jointly developed by Netflix and YouTube. The original versions of Chromecast used the DIAL standard but have since moved away from this method to their own technology. However, most TV’s that have Netflix and YouTube baked in still support DIAL. Getting this to work usually involves going through a setup process on your TV which gives you a unique URL that you enter into the browser on your smartphone. Once complete, the cast icon then shows up in the apps on your smartphone and you can then start casting shows to your TV with ease.
Apple AirPlay: As with most things Apple, they do things their own way and that way is simple. With Apple AirPlay you can use any iDevice (iPhone, iPad, iPod) or MacBook from the past three years or so and mirror the screen up to your TV using an Apple TV box. This method is nearly pain free, and is an example of that old Apple strength of products that “simply work.” Unfortunately, it’s limited to Apple products only. You will need to ensure the remote device and the Apple TV are connected to the same wireless network to make this work.
What about DLNA?
DLNA isn’t so much a method as it is an organization. Its goal is the creation of a world where all of your tech devices can live in interconnected, plug and play harmony. The Digital Living Network Alliance got its start in 2004, kicked off by Sony but eventually gaining the involvement of Intel, HP, Motorola, HTC, Microsoft, Samsung, LG and Panasonic. Just about everyone’s included, except Apple.
Essentially, all of the companies that have signed on as DLNA members have agreed to work toward developing devices that play well together through a central Wi-Fi connection. They’ve even come up with a substandard for streaming video called DLNA Premium Video.
While the vast majority of HDTVs sport a 1920 x 1080 resolution, laptop, tablet, and smartphone resolutions vary greatly. So any casting may require reformatting, though some standards, like Miracast, handle that for you. Also, DRM and copy restrictions may limit exactly what content you can cast. While many content providers have lifted DRM restrictions (for example, Apple Airplay users could not cast HBO Go until recently), it still crops up from time to time. Though, your PowerPoint presentation and spreadsheet are likely not going to run afoul of the copyright police.