Over the last few months I have been playing about with a few small gadgets, in particular the type that project your screen onto the TV.
As an iPad and iPhone owner for a number of years, I was an avid user of Apple TV which worked great when I was part of Apple ecosystem. Since 'leaving the cult', I have been trying to figure out a suitable replacement and here is a summary of my findings. I hope you find it useful if you are planning on doing something similar.
- Setup – At £30 and easily discoverable on Amazon, I can see why people are buying these. After a small amount of configuration, via an app download, I had the Chromecast connected to my TV awaiting some input. The device is powered via a USB/plug combination and although I didn't test it out myself, it felt like a pretty standard USB connector, so potentially it could be good for taking on the road as you can use existing plugs/cables.
- Connections – Google have included a HDMI connector as part of the unit which is a stroke of genius. The other units I tested all require a HDMI cable (sometimes included, sometimes not) which means you have another cable to worry about. I hate having to search around for cables so well done to Google for including the HDMI connector in the unit.
- What can I show? – You are officially limited to a device with a Chrome browser or any supporting application. The application list is expanding all of the time and with the sheer number of Android devices out there, it’s not as bad as it sounds. You can project your whole screen, via beta functionality, but this is tougher than it should be to get up and running (you have to open up the Chrome browser to access the setting for a start)
In summary, it’s a cheap device and I really liked the fact it's got a built in HDMI connector rather than needing to use a separate cable. Biggest problem really is that it’s all centred round the Chrome browser which meant I only tended to use it when surfing and wanting to show a webpage on the screen.
- Setup – These currently sell for around £40 on Amazon (currently on offer). The box comes with the unit, a plug (with USB connector) and a USB cable for powering the unit. I like this because in theory it means I don't need to carry around as many plugs in order to charge my devices, very similar to the Chromecast in this respect. The only let down here is that it didn't come with a HDMI cable in the box which meant it took a few days for me to connect it up. Given how cheap HDMI cables are, Netgear should include this in the box so you can get up and running immediately.
- Connections – On the back there is a USB socket for power and a HDMI socket. All in all not really much to go wrong, as long as you have a spare HDMI cable already!
- What can I show? – This device supports both Miracast and WiDi (more on those later) so you can display from most modern devices. For Intel WiDi you use a specific application to share the desktop (a slightly clunky experience – that's Intel's fault) but with Miracast you simply open the charm bar, select project and then add a wireless display. A few moments later you have your screen on the TV, including sound.
In summary, it’s a nice compact device and the USB power socket means you have the potential to save space in your bag with one less plug. Where it lets itself down is that in order to update the device I needed to download the firmware to your PC, put the device into a maintenance mode and then connect to it over its own wireless network. This seems really clunky given the Actiontec can do it over the web. Fix this 'issue' as you have a sleek little device that's easy to pop in your bag and take with you on the road.
Actiontec Screenbeam Pro
- Setup – At approx. £67 it's a little more than the Netgear PTV3000 but I can tell what I am paying for. The box comes with the unit, a power cable (not USB) and a HDMI cable included (nice touch). Including the cable meant I could connect it up to my TV immediately which I think it a great advantage over the Netgear.
- Connections – On the back there is a power socket, a HDMI socket and a full size USB. After reading the manual, it turns out that you can use the USB socket for 'wireless USB'. I tested this with a mouse, which had a little latency, but was impressed with this little addition. I need to do some more testing to see what works over wireless USB but I am thinking it would be nice to plug in a keyboard or hard drive if speed allows.
- What can I show – This device also support WiDi and Miracast, it also says it supports AllCast on their webpage. It's a similar experience to the Netgear in that you can either use the Intel WiDi app or standard 'charm' option if you have a Miracast enabled device.
It might cost a little more and come with a separate power cable/socket (not USB) but that can be forgiven as everything else is a pleasure to use. Updating the units firmware can be done over the internet straight from the device without having to download first or connect to a separate wifi network. The addition of wireless USB is a great touch although more testing required to find out exactly the limits of the technology.
Intel WiDi vs Miracast
During my testing, I also discovered that Miracast and Intel WiDi are two separate protocols, or at least they seem to be. Intel WiDi was a clunky experience as I first needed to download the app before I could send my small screen to the big screen. Compare this to Miracast, which was a simple swipe and press on Windows 8, I can see Miracast competing much better with Apple TV than Intel WiDi.
What about VGA?
Both of these units have HDMI only which means I might not be able to use them for presenting as many projectors I bump into on my travels tend to have VGA, especially if they are built in projectors attached to the ceiling. I could get round this with a HDMI to VGA adapter but that's just another cable for me to lose :)….
Perhaps the world just needs to move on from VGA?