In the last couple of years, the Google Chromecast has become a must-have TV accessory. It doesn’t matter whether you already have a smart TV or not because Chromecast is awesome. But what you probably didn’t know is your smart TV may have a Chromecast alternative built in it. Meet Miracast.
Miracast isn’t anything new. In fact, it has been around for longer than Chromecast has. The two technologies are similar, but not the same. Miracast is like a wireless HDMI connection, mirroring everything from one screen to another. It works both ways too, not just as a “receiver” like the Chromecast.
What’s Chromecast All About?
Chromecast, as Google puts it, is “the easiest way to enjoy online video and music on your TV.” For only 35 USD, Google provides you with a HDMI dongle which connects directly to your TV (as long as it has a spare HDMI port). This enables you to stream music and video straight to your TV using your Android device as a controller.
How does it work?
Chromecast connects to the HDMI output of your TV and pairs with one of your Android devices via Wi-Fi. The setup, while not completely user-friendly, is much more intuitive than any of the competition: install the app on your device, plug Chromecast into your TV, connect it to your Wi-Fi, and pair it with your device. Now, look for the Chromecast symbol in your favorite apps to view them on your TV.
Why do I need one?
If you’re somebody who watches a lot of TV on your phone or tablet, or maybe someone who doesn’t because the screen is too small, then Chromecast offers an elegant solution. And the Android smartphone or tablet that you already know and love is used as the controler for all of the settings, no need for a separate remote!
Chromecast currently works with a number of popular apps including Netflix, HBO GO, YouTube, WatchESPN and Pandora, with the list continually growing. Chromecast can also act as a mirror for your Android Device, replicating what’s on your small screen on your almighty TV. This is useful for working with certain productivity apps, or when trying to show your grandparents your favorite holiday snaps.
What’s Miracast All About?
Unlike Chromecast, which is a device, Miracast is a part of the Wi-Fi features on new gadgets. The Wi-Fi Alliance, a worldwide consortium of companies, agreed upon Miracast as a standard protocol. This protocol means that any Miracast device will work with any other Miracast-supporting gadget. Miracast uses Wi-Fi Direct, a Wi-Fi technology you already have but don’t know. Wi-Fi Direct lets two devices connect to each other wirelessly, without a Wi-Fi router, causing data to flow faster.
Miracast is based on WiFi Direct, which enables handsets to communicate with one another, without connecting to a network. It uses WiFi as a direct means of interfacing with another computer. Miracast uses a variation on this technology to allow the output of audio and video, without a wired interface. However, the Miracast specification makes no provision for audio-only devices, such as MP3 players.
On the downside, Miracast is a new format. As such, it has suffered from a huge number of teething troubles, including display quality issues, lag and instability. I’ve experienced a great deal of issues related to compatibility. Miracast devices don’t work well with all versions of Android. For example, my Android 4.2.1 device failed to output display when it updated to Android 4.2.2.
When you think of a presentation with a laptop and a TV, your mind immediately connects the two with an HDMI cable. But Miracast is going beyond that. It is discarding the cable and wirelessly connecting the two screens.
Screen mirroring is all that Miracast does. If you are playing a video on your phone and want to show it to others on your TV, then you can mirror your screen with Miracast. The video will be playing on the phone’s screen and the TV’s screen at the same time.
Want to relay your smartphone’s or laptop’s display onto a larger screen without wires? No, it’s not science fiction. You can wirelessly output video from computers and smartphones today. Wireless display technologies use WiFi to output video to compatible adapters. You only need a display adapter, which connects to a monitor and a WiDI or Miracast compatible device. Most modern devices are compatible with the technology. There’s also Apple’s proprietary technology, AirPlay.
Noticing wireless display technology on all my devices, I recently set up a Miracast adapter. This article summarizes my experience. While setup doesn’t require much effort, it can require a bit of leg work.
Intel developed the Wireless Display (WiDi) technology as a means of streaming video and audio from compatible devices. WiDi inhabits on most modern Intel motherboards, in particular all Ultrabook-branded laptops.
Additionally, WiDi will also soon receive support for Miracast in its 3.5 incarnation, meaning that the two major wireless displays will actually converge. This is practically unheard of among competing standards. Typically, they fight to the death.
WiDi shows up in many second generation Intel Core-series processors. Ivy Bridge through Haswell can incorporate WiDi, although it does not exist on all Intel computers.
AirPlay, unlike WiDi or Miracast, is a proprietary technology. It’s only compatible with Apple TV and other officially vetted brands. You can’t purchase an adapter that will stream to any device, as you might with WiDi or Miracast. AirPlay’s great advantage over other wireless display standards is its ability to function with AirPlay enabled-speakers.
Does Your Phone, Tablet or TV Support Miracast?
The first question you probably want to ask yourself is whether your devices support Miracast. There is an easy way to find out.
Chances are, if you bought a gadget after 2014, it will support Miracast. This includes most TVs, who disguise their Miracast feature under names like “SmartShare”, “AllShare”, and so on.
But don’t go by the post-2014 generalization alone. Each Wi-Fi device goes through the Wi-Fi Alliance’s tests for different standards and protocols. So if you want to find out about your device, check their site.
The Advanced Product Finder has a Miracast option among the filters on the left. Check that, and then use the category or the search box to locate your gadget.
Miracast vs. Chromecast: Is Miracast Better?
Far too often, we compare two similar technologies as competitors. But Miracast and Chromecast aren’t exactly competitors. It’s not that one is better than the other — it’s about what functions you actually need.
For example, in an office environment, Miracast might be a better solution since it works natively with Windows computers. In Windows 8.1 and Windows 10, Microsoft has included a simple guide to connect to wireless displays. You won’t need any HDMI cable or a Chromecast dongle for this.
The built-in nature of Miracast also makes it easy to turn any device into a “receiver”. For example, you can cast your Android screen to your Windows PC. With Chromecast, only the dongle-plugged TV is the receiver. But perhaps most importantly, Miracast works completely offline, which Chromecast can’t do. And that is a big win for the Miracast.
So, Miracast does not require an internet connection?
As explained earlier, Miracast creates a closed Wi-Fi connection between the devices. Since it’s closed, it does not require an active internet connection. And that is its biggest strength. The most frustrating part of my time using Chromecast has been internet stoppages. From weather conditions to undersea cables, our internet connections are not yet fully reliable. And if you don’t have internet, your Chromecast won’t work. It’s baffling why Chromecast requires an active internet connection even if showing photos from your own hard drive or mirroring your screen. On the other hand, Miracast works splendidly without internet. Play a movie saved on your hard drive, cast the screen to the TV, and you will be able to watch it on a big screen, even as the storm rages outside.
Is Miracast just a Media Player?
No – As good as the Miracast is, you can’t use it regularly as your “smart TV media companion.” The simple reason for this is that it only does screen mirroring. Your phone or tablet will be unusable while you cast the video running on its screen to your TV. This also leads to a huge battery drain on the gadgets. You will probably plug your phone’s charger while you stream, and that reduces your battery’s longevity. But the Chromecast is a media player first, and a screen mirroring device second. If you want a way to use Netflix or Plex on your phone to stream videos on your TV, the Chromecast is a better option.
Does Miracast work with Apple devices?
No – Apple decided not to go with the Wi-Fi Alliance’s recommended protocol. Instead, it uses the proprietary AirPlay standard, which more or less does the same thing. So if you use an iPhone, iPad, or a Mac, you can’t mirror your screen to your smart TV through Miracast. It’s actually something a Chromecast can help you with. Or you can use a modified Miracast dongle like the AnyCast, which comes with AirPlay support.