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 at anytime, all from a sleek little device that fits in your pocket. However, as convenient and wondrous as smartphones are, there’s something to be said for viewing 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 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 other streamers. Boasting a wide selection of apps, an intuitive touch remote, and direct access to iTunes (no other streamer can offer that), the Apple TV — or, if you’re feeling frisky, the $200 Apple TV 4K — is a great choice for those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.
What makes it great for our purposes is AirPlay. Apple’s proprietary wireless protocol suite 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). Airplay mirroring is really just the start, too. Savvy users can find all kinds of interesting ways to use this 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. AirPlay 2 is even on the way for increased functionality, though it doesn’t offer any new mirroring features.
Roku’s diverse collection 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 its intuitive interface. 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 to offer straight-up screen mirroring for Android and Windows devices.
The service is available for Android devices running 4.2 or higher, and Windows devices 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 enable mirroring from the settings menu, usually identified by “network” or “display” headings.
For Windows 8.1 devices or higher, 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.
In addition, iOS users can sling their favorite content to the Roku with a few popular apps, including Video & TV Cast and AllCast (our preferred method). Some require more time to set up, as platforms require you to download apps to both your destination device and your iOS device. For AllCast, you’ll need to upgrade to the $5 version (otherwise you’ll be limited to a few minutes of video playback.) These apps also work with Roku TVs, like the excellent, affordable P-Series.
Roku’s iOS app also has the ability to stream from iOS devices with a protocol simply called “Play.” However, Play is reportedly less efficient than Airplay itself, and for some reason, it won’t stream music and video content purchased directly from iTunes. Frankly, iOS users are usually better off sticking with AirPlay devices.
Amazon Fire TV ($30-70)
After much fanfare, Amazon’s Fire TV made its debut in April 2014, with several newer (and more powerful) iterations following in the years since. The most recent Fire TV — the 4th generation, which looks like a Chromecast-style dongle, but functions as a full-on set-top box — boasts support for 4K, HDR, and Alexa, all at a reasonable $70.
Early in the Fire TV’s history, Amazon 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 tablets, and the Fire Phone (if anyone still has one). Older Fire TVs don’t support mirroring, and neither do Fire TV Edition televisions. To enable mirroring, hold the Home button on your Fire TV remote, choose Mirroring, then connect your desired device.
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 (paid) app to try out is Reflector 3, which also works with iOS devices.
Chromecast ($35 or less) and Chromecast Ultra ($60)
Originally launched in July 2013, Chromecast has risen to become the unofficial king of affordable wireless streaming. For those with 4K UHD TVs, Chromecast Ultra offers 4K streaming power in a tiny, dongular (yes, we made that up) form factor. 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 to rest and save battery.
Outside of casting from streaming apps, though, Chromcast and Chromecast Ultra also feature near latency-free mirroring of anything on an Android smartphone or tablet, including games, photos, video, and more. The options combine to make for a host of very cool applications. As of now, Android devices running Android 4.4.2+ offer mirroring with Chromecast; some are “optimized,” while others might not run as smoothly. Make sure your Google Home app is updated, and check here for more help. As a bonus, Chromecast can also mirror anything from a Mac or PC’s Chrome browser by simply clicking the Cast button in the corner of your browser, but performance quality varies.
If you’re an iOS user, don’t fret; Chromecast mirroring isn’t supported for content loaded on your device, but Chromecasts are great for streaming content from tons of popular apps, including YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, and Google Play Movies & TV; simply start playback in your app of choice and look for the cast icon. You’ll need to download the Google Home app first, though.
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 a high definition wireless protocol, similar to Airplay. Unlike AirPlay, though, 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 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.
Some options with solid reputations include the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter and the Belkin Miracast Video Adapter. Miracast is also available for use with the Kindle Fire HD through a few devices, including the popular Netgear Push2TV.
Screen mirroring on the Xbox One is, unfortunately, a hit-or-miss proposition thanks to a bevy of somewhat unreliable apps. The Xbox doesn’t have any native mirroring capability, so you’ll need to rely on third-party solutions, like the aforementioned AllCast, or AirServer for iOS. That said, neither app is free (AirServer’s Xbox app costs a whopping $20), and users across the web have had mixed results, to say the least. The Xbox mobile app offers a lot of neat features, but mirroring isn’t among them.
While mirroring is limited, the best way to stream videos from your phone to your console is with Plex. Plex is available in the Xbox store, and takes only a quick search to find. Following that, you’ll need to download the Plex app on your Android or iOS phone. You’ll then need to sign up for a Plex account if you haven’t already. In order to take full advantage of the app, you’ll need a paid subscription and you’ll also have to pay a one-time activation fee for you device. If you’re only using Plex to stream files saved directly to your phone or tablet (rather than stored on a Plex server), you can opt out and remain in trial mode instead. Plex is an awesome solution for those with extensive digital libraries, but those who prefer streaming services will need to access them directly on the Xbox.
PlayStation 4 ($290+), PS4 Pro ($400), and PlayStation 3 ($100+)
Unfortunately, none of Sony’s gaming consoles — including the PS3, PS4 or PS4 Pro — have native mirroring features included. While there is an official PlayStation smartphone app allowing you to control your PS4 and browse PSN remotely, that’s about all it can do. Instead, users will have to resort to third party options. Plex is probably your best bet here, as with Xbox. See the above section for details.
Many newer 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, work just like the set-top devices. For other TVs, check your settings manual to find out if MHL or wireless mirroring are part of the package (alternately, here’s a handy list of some televisions with mirroring capability).
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