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MH…what? Here’s an explanation on MHL and how it works with your TV

Perhaps one of the best kept secrets in the realm of home theater, and smartphones and tablets in general, is the ability to connect and mirror a wide range of devices on an HDTV using an MHL connection. Although a host of popular media streamers already showcase the wireless technology necessary to accomplish the feat, utilizing an MHL connection affords you a wider range of features and benefits, thus making it a much more lucrative option for most. The thing is, most people are either unaware their TV sports the port or never knew the technology existed to begin with.

Related: How to mirror your tablet on your TV | The best 4K TVs you can buy right now

Because of the general lack of knowledge surrounding MHL and how it works with TVs, A/V receivers, smartphones, and tablets, we’ve decided to lay out the basics in a simple walkthrough. The following covers everything there is to know about MHL — what is is, where it’s used, etc. — whether you know a little, too much, or next to nothing about the technology and its capabilities. Before long, you’ll be able to cue up the latest episodes of New Girl on your HDTV opposed to your smartphone’s 5-inch screen.

Note: Check out the MHL consortium webpage for a list of MHL-compatible devices.

What is MHL?

A band of electronics companies including Sony and Nokia developed MHL — short of Mobile High-Definition Link — in 2010 as a way to connect a growing list of smartphones, tablets, and other various devices to thousands of compatible HDTVs. The standard takes smartphone and tablet content to another level, allowing you to showcase 8K video and astounding surround sound with a single cord. Said cable, which features a microUSB port compatible with nearly all smartphones and tablets, plugs into what essentially looks like an auxiliary HDMI port. To find the compatible ports, simply locate your television’s secondary HDMI ports on the back or side of the unit and look for an extra appropriately named “HDMI/MHL.” Although the naming tends to vary depending on the specific manufacturer and model, some form of “HDMI” or “MHL” shows up in most cases, making it easy for anyone to spot.

A typical MHL adapter.

A typical MHL adapter.

After plugging in a compatible device, you’ll then see all of its applications, games, movies, photos, and music right on your television display. For those without cable or Internet, an MHL connection essentially turns your HDTV into a full-blown entertainment center with one simple plug-in.

If you’re still on the fence about committing to an MHL connection, there are also a few added benefits specific to Mobile High-Definition Links that might sway you. First off, MHL connections tout the ability to transmit control data, which conveniently grants you remote control access to all the content you send to your HDTV. Essentially, this means you simply need to plug your phone or tablet into an HDTV, set down the device, find a comfy spot on the couch, and forget about it. For gamers, MHL connections also offer zero-lag, which allows for virtually no latency during even the most rigorous of gaming sessions. Moreover, the cable charges mobile devices up to 40W without any subsequent lag while displaying the content.

Where can you use MHL?

As we’re sure you’ve surmised at this point, MHL’s main use comes by way of plugging a smartphone or tablet into a compatible HDTV or A/V receiver. However, MHL also lets you plug your smartphone or tablet into your car’s infotainment system, as well as a compatible computer monitor at home or work.

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By plugging a phone or tablet into a compatible car hookup, you’ll have the ability to utilize up-to-the-second traffic reports, charge your device while commuting, and even access your personal music library. Most notably, though, you’ll have touchscreen access to all content as long as your infotainment center features a usable touchscreen. Likewise, plugging a smartphone or tablet into a compatible monitor will help you turn your device into a competent work station, one you can pair with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to create a fully-functioning office.

How much does an MHL cable cost?

Yet another reason MHL remains highly desirable is the fact a cable won’t cost you an arm and a leg. The cables typically range between $15 to $30 in price, though, we did find one on sale at Amazon for less than the cost of Nickelback album. However, keep in mind some smartphones and tablets require different microUSB connections and thus require a different MHL cable. We recommend referencing your device’s user manual to check which kind of microUSB port it houses before buying an MHL cable.