Miracast: An HDMI Alternative?

Most consumers are familiar with high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cables. Over the last five years, these cables have become the de facto standard for televisions and gaming devices, offering better picture resolution and signal bandwidth than devices supported by “component” cables. In addition, more advanced versions of HDMI support 3D graphics, higher refresh rates such as 120 Hertz, and even Ethernet connectivity. But despite all these advantages, there’s a new, wireless technology which may supplant HDMI as consumers’ top choice: Miracast.

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Mirror, Mirror

The idea behind this technology is quite simple, according to CNET — the wireless delivery of high-definition video signals from desktops, tablets, or smartphones to other devices such as televisions. Miracast supports 1080p resolution and 5.1 surround-sound audio for television, is already part of the Android 4.2 operating system, and is certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Instead of requiring a cable and two HDMI-capable devices, however, the technology only requires you to have one supported device and, in the case of televisions, a dongle — which go for $40 to $60 at many online retailers. Once the two devices “find” each other, a wireless connection is established much like Bluetooth: instead of using a home’s existing wireless network, the devices form a onetime, secure connection to each other.

Anything displayed on your smartphone or tablet will then be displayed on your television; if your device shuts off, your TV will also go black. While this codependency might sound like a handicap, it actually works in Miracast’s favor. Since videos, apps, and music are mirrored directly from device to device, there’s no need for an application to “support” them at the receiving end. In addition, this mirroring means you can play DRM-enabled (digital rights management) content with no problems.

A Better Option?

This technology has been on the market for several years but is only now starting to establish a foothold. This is, in part, because short-range wireless networks have been historically over-matched by cable alternatives — here, however, Miracast really can compete with HDMI in terms of quality and price. There are several caveats, though. Connection to a television or computer drains any device quickly, so make sure to have it plugged in during use. In addition, some dongles experience lag or difficulty establishing a connection, and older smartphones don’t support multitasking, meaning once a device is creating Miracast content it’s effectively locked. Sony and LG — to name a few — have already produced multitask-friendly phones.

Miracast offers a wireless version of HDMI with equivalent quality but without the need for HDMI ports at each end. Short-range wireless and true mirroring make this a technology to watch as the smartphone and television end-user experience evolves.