Confirming reports from last month, yesterday Microsoft formally announced its Wireless Display Adapter, an HDMI dongle that relies on Miracast technology to stream content from your devices onto your TV, monitor, or projector. At $60 it’s a bit expensive when compared to a Chromecast, but because it uses Miracast, it’s actually a lot more versatile.
First thing’s first: what’s Miracast? You’d be forgiven for not knowing what it is – I certainly didn’t know a whole lot about it prior to this post. “Miracast” is a term that refers to a screencasting standard that relies on Wi-Fi Direct. If you have a Miracast-capable receiver – like particular brands of Smart TVs or specially made receivers like the one Microsoft announced – it creates a special, separate Wi-Fi network for broadcasting devices to jump onto. When the broadcaster – like your Windows Phone, Windows 8 PC or tablet, or Android 4.2 (and later) device – joins the Miracast network, you can mirror everything onto your bigger screen.
By contrast, Chromecast connects to your pre-existing home Wi-Fi network. If a compatible device also joins your Wi-Fi network, you should be able to broadcast to your TV that way, but only certain stuff. For instance, you can broadcast individual Chrome tabs from your PC onto Chromecast, and you can also mirror your Android device’s display onto your TV the same way. But if you want to play video files from your PC, you’ll have to figure out another solution.
That’s not a problem using Miracast – and that’s what’s so promising about the Wireless Display Adapter. I have a Chromecast, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed by its limitations. Besides a somewhat janky performance – sometimes it just decides to not work, leading me to restart it to try and reconnect – there are simply too many things I can’t cast to my TV that frustrate me. The Wireless Display Adapter, on the other hand, seems like it will solve a lot of those problems, among others.
For instance, if I want to watch a video that I’ve downloaded or if I want to watch something from Hulu (for which I don’t have a subscription), I have to set up all kinds of weird software or servers to get it to play on my TV. Right now, I have Plex running on my PC, which I then connect to through my PlayStation 3. For unsupported video formats, I use a different server solution called PlayOn. And sometimes that just decides to, well, not work.
The Wireless Display Adapter, it would seem, should make that process much simpler – provided I use a Miracast enabled device. My Surface Pro 3 should have it no problem. My Windows 7 laptop, however, may not. Another question that’s worth asking: what kind of lag is there from the broadcasting device to the TV? If there’s no discernable lag, could I use the Wireless Display Adapter to play Steam games on my TV without having to connect via an HDMI cable? And the preview video shows a mom multi-tasking on her Windows 8 tablet while her son watches Netflix – so how does that work?
Needless to say, the adapter may not be all it’s cracked up to be. That said, it still seems pretty promising. It’s available for preorder now in the US and Canada, and it’ll be available in October at the Microsoft Store and Best Buy. I think I’ll be grabbing one. Will you?