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 unit 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 ($85-100)
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 often competes head-to-head with Roku devices (see below) for top honors. Boasting a wide selection of apps, an intuitive 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 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 full Apple TV 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. It’s because of all those apps that Roku initially made our list. However, while the Roku system was long bereft of any real native mirroring, the company announced October 2 of 2014 that its Roku 3 and Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI) will now 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. The announcement also says that your “hardware must support screen mirroring,” though most devices do in one form or another.
Android — and now iOS users — can also sling their favorite content to the TV with a few popular apps including AllCast (our preferred method), and Twonky Beam, the latter of which is detailed in DT’s ‘Turbocharge Your Roku’ article. 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 2 XS review.
After much fanfare and preparation, Amazon’s Fire TV finally made its debut in April 2014. With plenty of speed from its quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM, cool features like voice-activated search, and a respectable stable of apps ready and waiting at launch, the device was born with a silver spoon in its mouth.
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 finally, AllCast has come to iOS as well, allowing those outside the Android mafia to transmit videos, photos, and other media to the Fire TV
Read our full Amazon Fire TV review.
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 great way to go. 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 gets high marks from users for its efficient, high quality mirroring capabilities. Like Airplay, its Achilles heel is relying on your Android device’s internal resources, tying it up and draining the battery. Still, if Android mirroring is your game, Miracast-compatible devices should be at the top of your list. Devices include several dongles and set top boxes. Some options with high marks are the Ezcast, and the Belkin F7D7501 – more are sure to come as Android increases in popularity.
Miracast is also now 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.
Chromecast ($35 or less)
Since its wildly popular release in July 2013, Chromecast has risen to become the unofficial king of affordable wireless streaming. The HDMI-connected dongle works by employing a variety of third-party apps accessed from your iOS or Android mobile device (as well as PCs and Macs) to stream content to your TV. What really makes it special, though, is its ability to bypass your device’s internal resources thanks to its “cast” method of streaming. With Chromecast, you start the app on your device, click “cast,” and the dongle takes it from there, letting your device rest and, thus, preserving battery life.
Of course, the trade-off with casting is that you can’t just natively grab content on your mobile device and pop it up on the screen. However, that all changed shortly after Google’s I/O 2014, where the company announced that Chromecast would soon be adding straight-up mirroring for select Android devices. The feature officially went live on July 9th, 2014, and users who have tested it report near latency-free mirroring of anything on their smartphone, including games and the camera app, which all 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 version 1.7 of the Chromecast app and a minimum of Android OS version 4.4.2. 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.
Plair 2 HDMI ($49)
The Plair 2 dongle is a Google Play guru that allows access to virtually all of the store’s apps. But if you’re strictly iOS, you can still get in on the action. Like the current Chromecast, the Plair 2 isn’t a strict mirroring device. Instead of using your tablet or phone to access apps directly, it employs a sort of hybrid method of mirroring, allowing you to connect to a wide variety of apps through the Plair home screen. The app can be downloaded for Mac, PC, Android, and iOS devices.
After connecting the Plair dongle to your TV and setting up its Wi-Fi connection, you get access to a default selection of streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu Plus from the home screen. From there, you also have the theoretical ability to download and use basically any app from the Google Play store. Again, the device can’t just pull anything from your phone and pop it on screen. And even more troubling, we’ve heard some horror stories about usability, buffering, and even crashing. This may be why Chromecast is a celebrity, and Plair 2 is not.
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.
The best we can do for Playstation 3 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, as well. 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. 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 Home 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. Check your TV’s 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.
Updated 1/13/2015: After an extremely long wait, AllCast has come to the iTunes store, opening a massive amount of mirroring options for the other side of the tracks. AllCast landed on Android 12/13/14.
Updated 11/4/2014: Users can now mirror their Android device, Fire Phone, or Fire HDX tablet to the Fire TV streaming box natively, without being tethered to the same Amazon account as the streaming device.
Updated 10/02/2014: Roku’s announcement today of beta screen mirroring for newer Android and Windows devices marks a new era of mirroring for the newest Roku devices
Updated 9/22/2014: This article was updated to include support for gaming consoles
Updated 7/10/2014: This article was updated to announce that Chromecast mirroring is now live for select Android devices.
Updated 6/25/2014: This piece was updated to reflect Chromecast’s forthcoming ability to mirror select Android devicesannounced at Google I/O 2014
Updated 6/18/2014: This piece was updated to reflect new features, including the Amazon Fire TV and updated AllCast support