Projecting your PC or mobile device with Miracast: How well does it work?

Projecting your PC or mobile device with Miracast: How well does it work?

Summary: Miracast is a signature feature of Windows 8.1 and newer Android versions. In theory, it allows you to project a presentation or HD video wirelessly from your mobile device to a large screen. How well does it work in the real world?

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Like so many modern computing experiences, Miracast is a great idea, implemented almost (but not quite) well enough to be used by mere mortals.

The Miracast standard, maintained by the Wi-Fi Alliance, is designed for mirroring a display and streaming high-definition content (with 5.1 surround sound) between mobile devices and large displays.

In theory, you can wirelessly stream the display from a Miracast-enabled phone or tablet to a Miracast-compatible receiver, such as a TV, with perfect fidelity. If the TV isn’t Miracast-ready, you can plug an adapter into a spare HDMI port.

belkin-miracast-adapter
Belkin Miracast adapter, plugged into HDMI input / photo credit: Belkin

After pairing the two devices, you can duplicate the display on your handheld device to a much larger screen, allowing you to wirelessly project a PowerPoint presentation to a conference room TV, watch a livestream in your living room, or cue up a music playlist for a party.

(As an aside: If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s ChromeCast offer similar features, without the noble promise of standards-based interoperability. AirPlay Mirroring works with Apple TV and iOS devices. ChromeCast does most of its magic through web apps that only run in the Google Chrome browser, and screen mirroring requires an Android 4.2 or later device.)

That’s the theory. In practice, based on my initial experience, I can tell you that Miracast is delightful when it works and maddening when something goes wrong.

Although the Miracast standard is relatively new, the technology behind it is well-tested, and there are an increasing number of compatible devices on the market. Popular adapters include the Netgear PTV3000 Push2TV Wireless Display Adapter, the Actiontec Screenbeam line, and Belkin's Miracast Video Adapter. Miracast support is also built into some TVs and Blu-ray players.

Last weekend, I spread out an assortment of tablets and smartphones, plugged a fresh-from-the-box Belkin Miracast Video Adapter into the nearly new 58-inch Panasonic TV in our living room, and asked my wife for her patience and forbearance as I tested different scenarios.

Setup

After plugging the Miracast adapter in to an empty HDMI input and connecting its power input to a USB port on the TV, I tinkered with the device briefly, just long enough to determine that it needed a firmware update. (As it turned out, there was a software update available for the TV as well.)

Updating the embedded code on the Belkin adapter required downloading a firmware file to a local PC and then powering up the device while holding down a button on the tiny HDMI dongle. That replaced the normal “Connect a device” screen with a setup screen on the TV.

Next, I had to use a web browser to connect to the device using its built-in Wi-Fi hotspot (normally hidden and visible only in setup mode) and navigate to a specific IP address to choose the firmware update, which was accompanied by this weird description.

belkin-firmware-update

The update hung on the first try but succeeded the second time around. After restarting, I noticed that the onscreen interface was noticeably cleaner and included specific instructions for Windows 8.1 and Android.

A Miracast receiver (in this case, my TV with the Miracast adapter) uses Wi-Fi Direct to turn itself into a special-purpose wireless hotspot. Connecting a Miracast-compatible device to that invisible hotspot allows the device to mirror or extend its display to the larger screen.

To connect a Windows 8.1 device to a Miracast receiver, you use the Project option on the Devices charm. The first time you encounter a Miracast adapter, you're prompted to add it. On subsequent visits, that device should be available as a target for the Project option.

Connecting an Android device involves searching for the equivalent command, which might be buried in the Settings menu or be controlled by an app.

After the connection is made, you can use the touchscreen on a mobile device such as a phone or tablet to control the output.

With that introduction out of the way, how did my assortment of devices fare?

Topics: Hardware, Android, Tablets, Wi-Fi, Windows

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33 comments
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  • Latency

    Another interesting statistic is latency. Some devices have latency of
    Sacr
    • Lovely

      The comment system just deleted almost the entire post, great.
      As I said in the mostly deleted comment above, some devices have a low latency (lower than 100ms), which allows using the Miracast screen in the same way a screen connected by cable can be used, except gaming. These devices are usually WiDi devices.
      On the other hand my Surface Pro 2 when paired with a 2013 Sony TV has latencies of 0.3-0.5 seconds, which make accurate mouse movements impossible. This reduces the usefulness of miracast to things like screen mirroring and power point.
      Ed, I wonder if the latency was low enough to control the mouse on the Miracast screen, with any of the pairings you tested.
      Sacr
      • Not that bad for a mouse

        The latency issue isn't that bad for a mouse. You get used to it lagging behind a little bit pretty quickly. It's like when we used to use VNC for remote desktops.
        Buster Friendly
        • Not really

          Not really, depending on the device combination, which was my point. I'm sure there are combinations of devices which have latency that's as you describe (~150ms). 0.3 or even 0.5 seconds is very bad for mouse movement and there's no getting used to it.
          Sacr
          • I would say more what you're doing

            500ms seems extremely high for a local setup. It's really going to depend on what you're trying to do with it. If it's presentation, I'd want to work on my laptop screen and use this to mirror it onto the projector for everyone else to see.
            Buster Friendly
      • I used exclusively with touchscreen devices

        I was not considering these as monitor replacements but rather as projectors. Latency was an issue with some devices and not with others, but it's not really significant if the only actions are scrolling, play/pause, advance slide, etc.
        Ed Bott
        • Some devices

          So I'm wondering which were the "some devices" and which ones the "others". :)
          Sacr
          • Not significant for me

            If it had been an issue that affected my perception of the experience, than I would have included details. But it didn't, so I didn't even note it as an issue.

            Someone who plans to deploy this should do their own tests anyway.
            Ed Bott
      • Deleted content

        FYI...More than likely due to the use of the less-than symbol. Comment system thinks you're trying to use HTML tags and rejects anything that follows.
        Nierteroth9
  • i use the Netgear Push2TV PTV3000

    Pretty similar to the Belkin with HDMI and Optional power via USB or provided power adapter. (Netgear PVT3000 49.99 on Amazon)

    to minimize issues with connecting to different devices I carry the Netgear in my bag and connect it to customer TVs via HDMI... works flawlessly with my devices already paired.

    I have used Win 7 & 8.1 laptops, Surface 2, and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (original version not 2014) with the Netgear PTV3000. This device is certified with Kindle Fire HDX.

    have also used HDMI to VGA with audio adapter and HDMI to DVI with audio adapters... your mileage with vary with these. Most moderately up-to-date folk have HDMI available. :-)
    greywolf7
  • I have issues with the Netgear PVT3000 and Windows 8.1 on a Lenovo laptop

    with i5 processor. I can periodically get it to work, but with much hand-holding and gnashing of teeth. I have tried periodic updates to device Firmware, Intel WiDi drivers, etc... I would definitely only recommend if you are using certified PC, Phone, Tablet devices from the WiDi/Miracast device manufacturer. Luckily it was on about $50 from BestBuy, so it was not a major expense loss).
    jkohut
  • Great tech article

    Just ordered the Belkin Miracast Video Adapter to try out. Too bad Google didn't open up their Chromecast API to other platforms, its very limiting right now. Google needs to loosen up!
    Sean Foley
  • Perhaps not all Miracast adapters are created equal, Ed.

    As greywolf7 noted above, his Netgear Push2TV pvt3000 works fine although jkohut's experience differed from greywolf7's.

    I also use the Netgear Push2TV adapter and have had some connection problems as well. Except those connection problems have usually occurred after Windows system updates or other driver updates have occurred. Usually, when that happens, I need to uninstall and then reinstall the Windows' Miracast device driver to get the system working again.

    I will note that my Miracast experiences were better after Microsoft updated Windows to the 8.1 version. However, my three Windows devices I have used (Surface Pro, Surface RT and a Dell Venue 8 Pro) have all worked well streaming and mirroring content via my Netgear Miracast adapter during the past year or so.
    kenosha77a
    • Not quite sure what you mean about two things

      All Miracast adapters have compatibility issues. That's the nature of the beast. If you go through enough forums and vendor message boards, as I did, you'll find lots of people with issues.

      Also, Windows 8 did not support Miracast. If you were using a Miracast device before Windows 8.1, you were probably using Intel WiDi or something similar, which can use Wi-Fi Direct but isn't Miracast.
      Ed Bott
      • About that Intel WiDi use conjecture - interesting.

        I do recall installing the Intel WiDi drivers when I first setup my Surface Pro and Surface RT devices with my Netgear Push2TV adapter. (The Netgear adapter does support both protocols). I always assumed that when I connected my Windows tablets to my Netgear adapter via the devices charm that I was using Miracast to stream my tablet content to my HDTV set when I was using Windows 8 on my tablets.

        But why would there be any compatibility issues over a known standard like Miracast?

        Anyway, regarding Miracast and Android compatibility. My Kindle Fire HDX 7" tablet is a 'best friend' with my Netgear adapter. Actually, it was quite easy to setup and has worked like a 'charm' whenever I needed to stream content from my Kindle via that Netgear adapter.
        kenosha77a
        • Ditto for the Kindle Fire HDX here

          As I mentioned, these two devices (7- and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX) just worked. Very good experience.
          Ed Bott
        • This made me smile :)

          "But why would there be any compatibility issues over a known standard like Miracast?"
          There is always a way to screw up a standards based implementation, accidentally, or intentionally, so that it only works perfectly within a brand or ecosystem, and still 'comply with the standard'.
          sj53
  • chromecast

    While chromecast in general is great, the addition of screen casting/mirroring from my phone has finally rendered miracast obsolete in my book. At least on the nexus 5 running android 4.4.4, mirroring works extremely well.

    I was never ready to fork over $75-$100 for a miracast receiver for which they all seemed to have very mixed reviews.
    drwong
  • Netgear PTV3000 works great

    I have been using the Netgear PTV3000 with my Surface 2 for some months now and it works just perfect.

    Today I tried to connect our new Lumia 930 to the Netgear PTV3000 and as soon as the Connection was made the Lumia Went all black on the screen and needed a reboot to get back in action... Seems like the Lumia 930 have a bug in its Miracast implementation.
    brhorv
  • Don't need Miracast

    That stuff is all native to my BlackBerry 10
    bb_apptix