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If you want to project (or “cast”) your computer screen onto a TV, a second monitor, or a projector, then an HDMI cable has been the go-to choice Video Cables Explained: Difference Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports Video Cables Explained: Difference Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports There are so many video cables out there and it can get confusing. VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort -- what's the difference and why do they even matter? Read More for the past decade. Now times are changing.

HDMI technology was designed in 2002 and quickly grew in popularity with five million compliant devices sold in 2004, 17.4 million in 2005, and 63 million in 2006. There are now estimated to be more than 3.5 billion HDMI devices in the world. Yes, billion!

But now we have Miracast technology, which blows HDMI away in terms of usability and convenience — at least on paper. But is it enough to dethrone HDMI’s reign? Could Miracast usurp it as the king of display casting? The odds of that are pretty darn good.

What Is Miracast?

Miracast is the new kid on the block. The Wi-Fi Alliance launched the technology in 2012 and it has since been dubbed as “HDMI over Wi-Fi” — which isn’t technically true, but it definitely gets the idea across in a clear and succinct way.

At its core, it removes the need for ugly and cumbersome HDMI cables by letting compatible devices find each other, connect to each other, and mirror their respective screens wirelessly. It’s become an industry-wide standard that has been adopted by Microsoft, Android, Roku, Amazon, and a host of other tech media giants.

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It is NOT the same technology which is employed by Google’s Chromecast or Apple’s AirPlay Still Unsure If You Need an Apple TV? Here’s What It Can Do Still Unsure If You Need an Apple TV? Here’s What It Can Do On the fence about what seems like yet another expensive Apple purchase? Check out what you can do with an Apple TV and decide for yourself. Read More . In fact, many observers consider Miracast to be a direct response to the Cupertino-based company’s proprietary system.

How Does Miracast Work?

It’s built on Wi-Fi Direct The Differences Between Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct You Need To Know The Differences Between Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi Direct You Need To Know If you take a peek into the future, it's hard not to envision an always-on society that features a multitude of connected devices that work in unison to make your life more convenient. Read More , a protocol standard that enables two devices to form a direct, peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection. This connection allows them to connect to each other without the need for a wireless router as middleman.

In practice, this means that it doesn’t rely on your home network. Think of it like Bluetooth, another kind of device-to-device wireless connection that doesn’t need Wi-Fi. Miracast devices create their own “network” and freely pass data back and forth. The connection itself is created via WPS and is secured with WPA2 WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? WPA2, WEP, And Friends: What's The Best Way To Encrypt Your Wi-Fi? When setting up wireless encryption on your router, you'll come across a variety of confusing terms -- WPA2, WPA, WEP, WPA-Personal, and WPA-Enterprise. Read More .

Media-wise, Miracast makes use of the H.264 codec and can display 1080p video resolution and produce 5.1 surround sound audio. It also benefits from a DRM layer, meaning any Miracast device can mirror copyright-protected content Is DRM A Threat To Computer Security? Is DRM A Threat To Computer Security? Read More  — e.g. DVDs and music — without any hassle.

Why Should I Use Miracast?

The most significant benefit to Miracast is its widespread adoption across lots of different types of devices. Yes, even though most people have never even heard of Miracast, the good news is that it’s actually quite common!

As long ago as October 2012, Google announced that Android version 4.2+ would support the Miracast protocol. Windows added Miracast functionality with the release of Windows 8.1 in 2013, and Blackberry, Roku, Amazon Fire, and the newest Linux distros quickly followed suit. The notable exception is Apple.

roku-screen

Most new smart TVs also have Miracast built in. Even if yours doesn’t, don’t worry, you can easily buy a Microsoft Miracast Receiver for less than $50 on Amazon, or you can search third-party alternatives that sell for as little as $20.

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter Wirelessly project what's on your tablet, laptop, or smartphone to your big screen Buy Now At Amazon $42.99

If you want to check whether your device is Miracast compatible, you can check the Wi-Fi Alliance’s website. They keep an updated list of all Miracast-enabled devices, with the total number about to cross the 5,000 milestone.

It is important to be aware that not all Miracast devices carry the “Miracast” brand name! For example, if you’ve ever used LG’s “SmartShare”, Samsung’s “AllShare Cast”, Sony’s “Screen Mirroring”, or Panasonic’s “Display Mirroring”, then you’ve used Miracast.

Other major benefits of Miracast include:

  • No Wi-Fi Needed: You could stream to another device even if you’re miles away from a router (e.g. when you’re traveling or working in the field).
  • No Cables: No more rooting around behind a dusty TV to try and find ports.
  • Ease of Use: The two devices will automatically find each other with hardly any user input. Imagine being able to walk into a hotel and cast Netflix from your tablet onto your room’s TV immediately!

Can Miracast Really Replace HDMI?

What makes HDMI vulnerable to being usurped? As it turns out, HDMI has a handful of disadvantages that make it somewhat inconvenient at times.

Distance: Your computer can only be as far away from a TV or a second monitor as the HDMI cable allows. This isn’t much of a problem for home users, but if you’re in the office and want to connect to a screen for a conference or presentation, it can be annoying.

Sure, longer cables are available but they are harder to keep neat, require more storage space, and tend to cost more.

On-Screen Issues: It’s not uncommon for the HDMI output to be blank, which is a problem caused by authentication errors. The same authentication issues can lead to screen flickering and lag, all of which can be frustrating if you’re watching a movie or doing a presentation.

Compatibility: Tablets, smartphones, and some smaller laptops do not have HDMI ports. It means that if your content is locally saved on one of those devices, you won’t be able to mirror it on a larger screen. HDMI worked well in the era before we became hyper-mobile, but it’s starting to look dated.

What Are Miracast’s Downsides?

Despite the growth and flexibility of Miracast, it would be foolish to pretend that it’s perfect. It too has some limitations and drawbacks.

Chief among them is the level of competition. As we discussed earlier, Apple uses their own version of Miracast called AirPlay What's AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion What's AirPlay, And How To Use It In Mac OS X Mountain Lion Imagine you want to play your favorite album in Spotify. Naturally, you'll be hooking your computer up to a better sound station. But what if you're lying in bed, or sitting on the couch? Ideally,... Read More , while Google’s Chromecast dongles Chromecast 2.0: What's New? Chromecast 2.0: What's New? The aptly named Chromecast 2.0 is Google's first major revision to the device since it was first released all the way back in July 2013. What's new? Read More do not support the technology either. In fact, many critics believe that both AirPlay and Chromecast are “smarter” thanks to their ability to multi-task.

Whereas Miracast will display what’s on your screen and nothing else, both AirPlay and Chromecast allow users to cast a video in the background while still performing other tasks in the foreground.

Secondly, Miracast still significantly trails HDMI in terms of public uptake. Even though 5,000 supported devices sounds like a lot, it’s way behind the 3.5 billion HDMI devices in use.

At this stage, you couldn’t feasibly go to a meeting or a conference and expect the equipment you’d be using to be Miracast compatible. You’d still have to take an HDMI cable with you. Ultimately, HDMI is so ubiquitous that it will take a long time to phase out completely.

Lastly, it is important to remember that this is still a new and developing technology and can therefore be buggy on occasion. I can speak from experience here. My Windows 10 computer will only pair with my Roku stick about 75 percent of the time — the other 25 percent I find myself reaching for the HDMI cable.

Miracast’s Future Is Looking Good

On the one hand, Miracast is probably not ready to displace HDMI right at this very moment. The lower number of supported devices, the buggy connections, and the lack of universal compatibility make it too unreliable for consistent use in the wider world until adoption rates improve.

However, can it eventually replace HDMI in the future? Absolutely. The bugs will be ironed out, more devices will come online, and more users will demand a mobile friendly solution (hopefully forcing the likes of Apple and Google to bite the bullet).

So if you can, give Miracast a try. You might just find that it beats out HDMI in your own heart.

What do you think the future holds for HDMI? Is it coming to the end of its lifespan, or does it still have some gas left in the tank? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

Image Credit: tearing electricity cable by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock

  1. Shankar
    July 28, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Yeah I'll stop using HDMI when Miracast displays can use on-board GPU. I have a Miracast supported LG 3d TV and I can mirror my PC display to it but that's all it is; Mirroring. It can't watch 3D videos that my PC plays on my 3D TV unless I connect it through an HDMI cable

  2. David T Stark
    June 17, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    HDMI cables might be "ugly" or "cumbersome" but they keep the video signal confined, which is important if you are into radio as a hobby.

  3. DK
    April 22, 2016 at 10:42 am

    What is never mentioned on such articles (even this one that is orientated on PC to TV connections) is the source that must be compatible with Miracast protocol.

  4. Tom
    April 22, 2016 at 2:08 am

    I'm not interested in what they claim the casting resolution is. I want to know what the size of this "wifi" direct connection is bandwidth wise. HDMI is "4K" * compatible, and it would be nice to have 4K streaming wireless, but I bet it maxes out at 4K 4:2:2 or 4:2:0

    * HDMI 2.0 maxes out at 4K 4:2:2 due to bandwidth limitations on the cable configuration. No HDMI protocol can carry 4K resolution uncompressed (4:4:4)

  5. Rudy
    April 20, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    What about 4k?

  6. Charles Carter
    April 20, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I've searched at different times for wireless solutions for audio &/ or video. I got a fair handle on available audio but invariably become confused about video standards, compatibility etc. so your article is very helpful.
    It turns out I've got a Windows computer and a Samsung TV with all-share, so I'll try it out.
    The most recent audio device I bought connects with Play-Fi. I like that I'm not limited to one brand of player. But I wonder if solutions like Play-Fi and Miracast simply don't get more actual users due to heavier marketing of proprietary standards. I know I've seen Miracast previously but had no real sense of most of the utility mentioned in your article.
    Thanks!

    • likefun butnot
      April 21, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      @Charles Carter,

      Having tried a bunch of different devices, the best Miracast receivers I've found have been NetGear Push2TV3000s. In practice, I've found those boxes to work better than the Miracast receivers built in to SmartTVs and better than the Microsoft or any of the various "HDMI stick"-shaped devices I've tried.

      I have Miracast receivers (and AppleTVs) on all the Presentation screens and projectors around the places where I work. They're really handy to have and they're not terribly expensive.

      Miracast is a standard format, but you can still have incompatibilities or limitations because one side offers optional features that the other side doesn't implement.

  7. likefun butnot
    April 20, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Miracast is a good, usable technology that really isn't a replacement but rather an enhancement of HDMI. People who regularly use Miracast hardware will report that you'll occasionally get interruptions of your screen image or sound stream, usually because of issues of range or wireless interference. For this reason, it's better to use a wire if it's possible to do so, but it's definitely more convenient to have Miracast for mobile devices and the like.

    I've seen the same display and audio issues when using Airplay, so I believe it's just a limitation of wireless display technology, but it would certainly keep me from absolutely relying on it.

    One big benefit to Miracast over Airplay: Miracast will carry 5.1 rather than stereo audio.

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