It’s a pretty fantastic world we live in these days, especially when it comes to mobile technology. Hours upon hours of entertainment lay at our fingertips, available virtually any place, anytime, all from a sleek little device that fits in your pocket. However, as convenient and wondrous as smartphones are, there’s still something to be said for watching your favorite content on a big, flat-screen TV. And for those who access more content from their tablet or smartphone than anywhere else, that big screen in the living room can create some serious size envy.
So why can’t you have your cake and see it too? You can, thanks to the magic of mirroring. A rapidly growing arsenal of devices now exists to allow anything on your phone or tablet to be mirrored on your TV. For those looking to marry the second screen with the screen that started it all, we’ve put together this list of the best, most convenient, and most affordable ways to do so. We’ve done all the research for you, so dive right in and pick your poison.
Apple TV ($150-200)
Not to be confused with the mythical stories of the actual television that Apple has been rumored to release, the Apple TV set-top box is a streaming device that competes head-to-head with Roku devices (see below), Amazon’s Fire TV, and others for top honors. Boasting a wide selection of apps, an intuitive new touch remote, and access to Apple’s ‘walled-garden’, iTunes, the box is a great choice for those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.
But what makes it great for our purposes is Airplay. The proprietary system is a brilliantly simple way to send video, audio, and pretty much any other content wirelessly from your iOS device to any display with an HDMI input. And that’s really just the start. Savvy users can find all kinds of interesting ways to use the box as a media or smart home hub. Even if an iPhone is your only piece of Cupertino currency, the Apple TV makes a lot of sense as the mirroring device of choice.
Read our Apple TV hands-on review
Roku’s growing selection of streaming devices are perennial favorites among reviewers and consumers alike. What really makes Roku fly is its ridiculous selection of apps, which now numbers over 1,000, and the new Roku 4 also allows for streaming 4K content — something Apple TV can’t do. Better yet, while the Roku family was long bereft of any real native mirroring, the company has updated its devices, allowing for its Roku 4, Roku 3, and Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI) to offer straight-up screen mirroring for Android and Windows devices.
While a full list of compatible devices wasn’t disclosed, the beta service is available for Android running 4.4.2 or higher, Windows 8 phones, and Windows PCs running 8.1 or higher. Your “hardware must support screen mirroring,” according to Roku, though most devices do in one form or another.
Now iOS users can also sling their favorite content to the Roku with a few popular apps including and Twonky Beam, and AllCast (our preferred method).The latter takes some time to setup: The platform requires you download the AllCast app to both your streaming device, as well as your phone. You’ll then need to update the app on your phone to the $5 version (otherwise you’ll be limited to a few minutes of video playback.) However, once done, AllCast is the bees knees for iOS mirroring to devices other than Apple TV.
Roku’s iOS app also has the ability to stream from iOS devices with an Airplay-esque protocol simply called ‘Play’. However, Play is reportedly less efficient than Airplay itself. And most troubling, it won’t stream music and video content purchased directly from iTunes – hence the phrase ‘walled garden’ above.
Read our full Roku 4 review here.
Amazon Fire TV ($50-140)
After much fanfare, Amazon’s Fire TV made its debut in April 2014, with a faster, more capable follow-up arriving in September 2015. The new Fire TV is offered in three models, including the regular Fire TV with 4K streaming, one with an added gaming pack, and a new Fire TV Stick with voice-operated command.
Naturally, it didn’t take long before the Fire TV added native mirroring for Android devices via Miracast, though at first users had to have their device tethered to the same Amazon account as their box. But thanks to an update any user with a compatible device can get in on the fun. Enabled devices include Android devices running 4.2 Jelly Bean or greater, Amazon’s Fire HDX tablet, and the Fire Phone.
And just like the Roku, iOS users will find AllCast is the way to go when it comes to to transmitting videos, photos, and other media to the Fire TV from outside the Android mafia. Another app to try out is Reflector 2, which also works with iOS devices.
Read our full second-gen Fire TV review
Chromecast ($35 or less)
Originally launched in July 2013, Chromecast has risen to become the unofficial king of affordable wireless streaming. Refreshed with a brand new design and a new app this fall, the HDMI-connected dongle works better than ever with a growing list of third-party apps accessed from your iOS or Android mobile device (as well as PCs and Macs). What makes Chromecast special is its ability to bypass your device’s internal resources thanks to its “cast” method of streaming, allowing you to start playback of content on your device, click the cast icon, and let the dongle take it from there, allowing your phone or tablet rest and preserve its battery.
However, full, unabashed Chromecast mirroring officially went live on July 9, 2014, offering near latency-free mirroring of anything on an Android smartphone, including games, photos, video, and more. The options combine to make for a host of very cool applications. As of now, a select number of Android devices offer mirroring with Chromecast, which are listed on Google’s Chromecast help page For most devices, the feature requires an update to the latest version of the Chromecast app and a minimum of Android OS version 4.4.2 or later. As a bonus, Chromecast can also mirror anything from a Mac or PC’s Chrome browser, but performance is shaky at best.
Finally, the addition of AllCast to the iTunes store now allows iPad and iPhone users to magically transmit media to the Chromecast, as well as to share media from cloud services like Dropbox and Google Drive.
While Google is making it more and more enticing to stay in its home-baked lineup, if you’re an Androidian, Miracast is still a viable option. Miracast isn’t a device, per se, but its own streaming system, similar to Airplay. But unlike Airplay, Miracast is unique in that it does not require a Wi-Fi network. Instead, it sets up its own private streaming network through a protocol that arrived with Android 4.0 called Wi-Fi Direct. The network is accessible from other local devices, but is safe from any Internet hooligans outside of its short range.
Miracast is extremely versatile, and offers a host of mirroring capabilities. While it works with Android devices, it is especially useful to use for mirroring PCs. Like Airplay, its Achilles heel is relying on your device’s internal resources, tying it up and draining the battery. Still, if Android(and especially PC) mirroring is your game, Miracast-compatible devices should be on your list. Devices include several dongles and set top boxes. Some options with high marks are the Microsoft Wireless Display Adaptor, and the Belkin Miracast Video Adaptor (nothing fancy in the titles there).
Miracast is also available for use with the Kindle Fire HD through a few devices, including the popular Netgear Push2TV . Select Windows tablets are also set up to work with Miracast but, as you may already know if you own one, it’s a little complicated. We dug up several reports of spotty connection quality with limited devices, so we have to label any Miracast mirroring with Windows gear as sketchy at best.
No surprise that the ever-present AllCast app is the best way to send content from your Android or iOS device to the latest two generations of Xbox consoles. As described above, the app takes a bit of toil to setup, requiring you to download the free app to your Xbox console and phone, as well as updating to the $5 version for your phone to allow for playback of video longer than 5 minutes.
Additional, but less battle-tested apps include iMediaShare, which works with both consoles, and ZappoTV, which is restricted to the Xbox 360. While not as well known as AllCast, both of the latter apps stretch beyond the Android universe, available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
Playstation 3 ($250)
The best we can do for Playstation right now is a highly tentative recommendation. Though not listed in the apps list of compatible devices, we came across several rumors online that iMediaShare will work for the PS3 console. We’ve tried the service with an iPhone 5, and got it to respond to the app for playback of a short video, though it initially said the data was “corrupted.” When we tried to share a photo, however, the system couldn’t find our pictures. We’ll keep testing, and will also rely on any user comments for those who have been able to get this or any other service to work with the console. For now, however, it’s a pretty barren affair. We’ll update this post accordingly when we find out more.
A selection of newer flat screen TVs have mobile mirroring built right in. If you’ve got a newer TV and you’ve noticed an acronym on one of the HDMI inputs labeled MHL, you already have a plug-and-play solution to connecting your Android phone, albeit from a decidedly 20th century hardwired connection. MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition Link, and allows you to mirror most content right on your display through an HDMI input. All you’ll need is a cable that converts your smartphone’s connection to an HDMI connection. Note: MHL will also power and charge your device while connected.
Of course wireless mirroring is much more useful for the couch potato in all of us, and that capability also comes with some of the newer flat screen models. Unfortunately, most of the built-in mirroring options available are proprietary, like Samsung’s AllShare system, which works only with select Samsung Galaxy phones. Still, if you happen to already have the goods required, then all the better. Roku TVs, for instance, which have built in Roku functionality allow for streaming just like the devices. For other TVs, Check your settings manual to find out if MHL or wireless mirroring are part of the package.
While this list is a great start, we actually hoped to dig up even more options. That’s where you come in. If you’ve found another way to mirror, especially for the brutally under-represented Windows mobile segment, sound off in the comments below.