While Miracast was once an unreliable solution for replicating a PC or device screen to an external display, Microsoft’s newer Miracast dongles—in particular the inexpensive Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter—change all that. And I now bring such a device with me on family trips so that we can all enjoy TV shows or movies together on the big screen.
We’re in Puerto Rico this week for the kids’ vacation—how we managed to get out of Boston and its historic snowfalls and low temperatures is still unclear—and I brought along the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter for this very reason. It’s a simple and, at $60 at the Microsoft Store, inexpensive solution: Just plug in the HDMI end of the dongle to an available HDMI port on the TV and plug the USB end into a USB port for power. (If there’s no USB port on the TV, you can use a standard cell phone-like power adapter instead.)
In addition to its rock-solid reliability, there are a number of nice things about the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter.
First, because it’s Miracast, it doesn’t require a Wi-Fi network to work: you just make a direct connection between a compatible PC or device (see below) and the dongle. If we had brought along a similarly sized Roku Streaming Stick or Amazon Fire TV Stick, we’d have been left stranded since those devices need to connect to Wi-Fi and they can’t navigate a hotel’s web-based sign-in pages.
Second, it works with all my devices, which on this trip include a Surface Pro 3 and a Nokia Lumia 930 smart phone. Basically, you need Windows 8.1 or Windows Phone 8.1, or Android to use any Miracast device. (And if you’re using Windows 8.1 (as with the Surface), you can even download a special Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter app for configuring the device, though that is not necessary on a trip like this.)
I tested the Wireless Display Adapter with both of these devices and it worked great: With the phone, you get a nice screen replication, which is of course odd in portrait mode.
But it makes more sense when you watch a video, such as this Xbox Video-based movie.
On Surface Pro 3, the display projection functionality in Windows 8.1 goes to screen duplication by default, which squishes the built-in device display. But you can switch to external only and just used the Surface’s trackpad to control onscreen items. It works fine.
Because the Wireless Display Adapter works with my devices, that further means it works with anything I can do on those devices. Native apps like Netflix and Xbox Video. Web-based apps like YouTube or Google Play Video. Everything works.
Finally, the Wireless Display Adapter is small and self-contained, so you won’t notice its size or heft at all in a carry-on bag, let alone the device bag I throw in my larger luggage. Bringing this device along on a trip is a no-brainer, and if I don’t use it, no harm no foul.
Looking ahead to this summer, we’ll be traveling to France, and accessing US-based services like Netflix has other challenges. I’ll examine those issues in August, but it’s fair to say that screen projection via the Wireless Display Adapter will work just as well in Europe as it does here in the USA. And this dongle will be a permanent part of my travel toolkit going forward.