Getting the big picture

SINGAPORE - Smartphones have practically replaced point-and-shoot cameras. But if you want to show pictures and videos on your mobile device to an audience, it is more difficult than it should be. How useful it would be if you could display your pictures and videos on a big screen or on a TV.

If you use an Apple iPhone or iPad, and an Apple TV linked to your TV, the built-in AirPlay feature can stream content wirelessly from phone or tablet to TV. But AirPlay is a proprietary technology which works only with Apple devices.

What is Miracast?

For Android and Windows 8.1 users, the answer is Miracast, wireless display technology which mirrors the display of your mobile device on another screen, complete with audio. It is effectively a virtual HDMI cable.

The underlying technology is Wi-Fi Direct. It creates an ad-hoc Wi-Fi connection between source and display devices, so Miracast works without a Wi-Fi network.

It supports streaming videos of up to 1,080p resolution and comes with built-in digital rights management which lets it mirror protected content such as Blu-ray or DVDs.

Miracast duplicates what you see on your device, so you can display mobile games on the big screen. But you still need the phone to control and play the game.

For this to work, both source and the display must be compatible with Miracast. If your smartphone runs on Android 4.2 or newer, chances are it supports Miracast. Microsoft added Miracast support with Windows 8.1, further increasing the number of supported devices.

The list is much shorter for Miracast displays. Newer TV sets from Sony, Panasonic, Philips and LG, especially those launched in the past year, are likely to be suitable. There are also Miracast-compatible Blu-ray players, dongles and set-top boxes which can be linked to any TV to enable this wireless display feature. The Wi-Fi Alliance behind this industry standard has an extensive list of Miracast-certified devices on its website at www.wi-fi.org, but you should always check with the manufacturer.

Setting up Miracast on Android

I tried Miracast with a Nexus 5 smartphone running Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version. If you are using an older version, there may be minor interface differences.

Netgear's Push2TV Miracast dongle was used as the display device and it was connected to the HDMI port of an LCD TV via a cable.

To enable Miracast on the Nexus 5 smartphone, make sure that the Wi-Fi is turned on.

Go to Settings, Display, Cast Screen and select Menu for more options. Check the box to Enable Wireless Display. The phone will now search for nearby Miracast display devices. When one is detected, you will be asked to project to that device (photo 1).

It took only a few seconds to connect to the Miracast display device and have the screen of the Nexus 5 mirrored on the TV.

Setting up Miracast on Windows 8.1

Miracast support was added with the Windows 8.1 update. It is not available on Windows Phone 8 devices. Not all Windows 8.1 devices are compatible, so you should check with the hardware vendor. You should also try to update your device with the latest drivers as some manufacturers may have added the functionality after the device was shipped.

In my test, I used the Dell Venue Pro 11 tablet and the Netgear Push2TV dongle connected to my TV.

Bring up the Charms menu of Windows 8.1 by swiping from the right edge on a touch-capable device or moving your mouse to the upper or lower right corner.

Select Devices, Project (photo 2) and click Add a Wireless Display. A list of Miracast-ready devices nearby will be shown. Select a device to start pairing the source and display devices. You will be prompted to enter a PIN that appears on the TV.

Once this is done, the two devices are linked and both your mobile device and the TV will display the same content.

You can expect some lag when streaming videos using Miracast. Streaming 720p videos was smooth but it was not so for those streamed at 1,080p quality.

In short, if you just want to show off your holiday pictures, Miracast is good enough.

But here is the catch. When Miracast is in use, your mobile phone or tablet cannot be used for other purposes without interrupting the streaming.

Another bugbear is that although Miracast devices must be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, I have seen purportedly compatible devices that simply would not work with each other. So, check user reviews online before you put your money down.

Samsung has proprietary wireless display technology called AllShare Cast which is functionally similar to Miracast but works only with Samsung devices.

That such a major manufacturer of Android and Windows devices has its own competing technology weakens the appeal of Miracast. While some Samsung products reportedly work with devices from other brands, from my experience, the results seem iffy.

Nevertheless, Miracast is perfect for those moments when you wish you had a bigger screen.

vinchang@sph.com.sg


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