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. 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 streamers. Boasting a wide selection of apps, an intuitive touch remote, and access to Apple’s “walled-garden,” iTunes, the Apple TV is a great choice for those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.
What makes it great for our purposes is Airplay. The proprietary system is a brilliantly simple way to mirror video, audio, and pretty much any other content wirelessly from your iOS device to any display with an HDMI input, done by swiping up from the bottom of the screen and clicking the Airplay symbol in the quick menu (which looks like a square with a triangle through it). And Airplay mirroring is 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 numbers well over 1,000, and the latest models also support 4K content — something the 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 newer models, including the Roku 4, Roku 3, and Roku Streaming Stick (HDMI) to offer straight-up screen mirroring for Android and Windows devices.
The service is available for Android devices running 4.2 or higher, Windows 8 phones or higher, 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. Google Devices running OS 6.0 or later are not supported. For Android devices, Roku notes that there are many terms used for mirroring, including Smart View, Quick Connect, SmartShare, AllShare Cast, Wireless Display, HTC Connect, Screen Casting, and Cast. Once you’ve identified the correct terminology, you can usually connect mirroring from inside the settings menu, usually identified by “network” or “display” headings.
For Windows 8.1 devices, you can mirror by following this Microsoft article. For Windows 10 devices, open the Action Center, select Project, select Connect to a wireless display, and then select the Roku device on your network.
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 higher, Amazon’s Fire HDX tablet, and the Fire Phone (if anyone still has one).
Just like the Roku, iOS users will find AllCast is the way to go when it comes 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