First Look: The New Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Posted on February 26, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Microsoft Surface, Mobile, Windows 10, Windows Phones with 0 Comments

First Look: The New Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Back in late 2014, Microsoft released what we now know to be the best Miracast dongle in the market, the cunningly named Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter. Well, they’re back with a new version, and while I’ve been using it for the past week, it’s still a bit early for a final verdict.

The culprit, as it turns out, is the pre-release Windows Insider builds of Windows 10 Mobile which seem to be wrecking havoc with what should be a more seamless experience. The issue is one that Microsoft has apparently documented: The full-screen trackpad-like Continuum control you get in Windows 10 Mobile is jittery, making it hard (sometimes impossible) to select things on the wirelessly-connected display.

The Windows 10 Mobile version of Groove, running fullscreen via the new Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

The Windows 10 Mobile version of Groove, running fullscreen via the new Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

So let’s not worry about that one too much.

From a high level, there’s seemingly not much new with this second version of the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter. It looks and works much like its predecessor, but with one notable change: Where the original adapter had a longish (OK, 2.5-inch) “body” behind the HDMI end of things, the new version has smaller “bodies” on each plug (HDMI on one side, USB on the other), ostensibly because this will make for an easier fit in the slim space behind many HDTVs. (Microsoft also provides a short USB extender so you can reach an out-of-the-way USB port.)

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapters: The new one (on top) and the original model (bottom).

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapters: The new one (on top) and the original model (bottom).

Beyond that, nothing seems to have changed. But that’s why this is a “first look” and not a review: I need to let my Windows 10 Field Guide co-author Rafael Rivera get his hands on this thing and find out what Microsoft really changed under the covers. As you may know, Rafael maintains the definitive list of Miracast adapters, and the original Microsoft adapter is still the best choice. But Rafael has theories about how Microsoft might be enhancing (even extending) Miracast with this new dongle, so we’ll see how that pans out.

waiting

In the meantime, and with the exception of Windows 10 Mobile, for which I think we can blame quirks in the Insider builds, the new Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter works as expected.

First Look: The New Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Testing with my Surface Book, connectivity is fast and reliable. You can use the Connect tile in Action Center to utilize the HDTV connected to the adapter as a secondary display, and you can use the Project pane (WINKEY + P) to determine whether that second display duplicates what’s on the built-in display, extends that built-in display, or replaces the built-in display.

connect-wp

With a compatible Windows 10 Mobile handset, you can of course use Continuum—in fact, have to use Continuum—rather than the old remote display capabilities we had with Windows Phone OS (and still have with lesser Windows 10 Mobile handsets). This provides a two-screen experience where you see a Windows 10-like desktop on the connected HDTV and your normal Windows 10 Mobile UI—or, that trackpad-like screen—on the phone. Again, this wasn’t working well for me, because Insider program.

It’s worth noting, too, that Miracast works with Android as well. To test this, I fired up my Nexus 6P and … nothing. Researching this, I see that the Nexus 6P is not included on Google’s list of Miracast-compatible devices, though older Nexus devices do make the cut. With the 6P, I can see all of the Chromecast devices in my home. But not Microsoft’s Miracast adapter. (I believe Google is essentially pushing customers to Chromecast here.)

Because packaging is always interesting.

Because packaging is always interesting.

So I tested it instead with my wife’s Samsung Note 4, which has a Screen Mirroring option in the notification slide-down. This works as expected—and just like using Miracast with non-Continuum-capable Windows phones—where what you see on the phone’s screen is replicated on the remote display too. The performance was excellent.

app

If you are using it with Windows 10—on a PC/tablet or on phone—you will need to get the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter app, which you can use to configure and update the adapter. (This is true even on Windows 10 Mobile, which has additional controls around Continuum.)

Assuming that the new Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter works as well—from a performance and latency perspective—as its predecessor, this one should be a no-brainer: It costs less the original and is better designed to fit in the tight spaces behind many HDTVs. But I will need to see what Rafael uncovers—and make sure it really does work well with Windows 10 Mobile—before I can say for sure. For now, this one gets a qualified thumbs-up. But I intend to use it a lot more in the future to be sure.

The new Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter costs $49.95 and will be available starting March 1. But you can preorder it now from Amazon.

 

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