Whether you want to share photos with your family or watch a video-streaming service that your smart TV doesn't offer, there are many reasons to send content from your computer or mobile device to your TV. If you don't want to string cables, you can select from a variety of products and technologies that wirelessly transmit the content from your device screen to your TV screen via a small wireless receiver box or dongle.
Read on to find the right receiver for the gadgets you own.
Screen Mirroring vs. Streaming
Most streaming devices offer some form of screen mirroring, but they're not exactly the same thing. Streaming is when a device independently transmits information to your TV directly from an online source, such as Netflix or Pandora. (This is true even of the Chromecast, which uses your phone as a controller.) Screen mirroring, on the other hand, uses your phone as a middleman. This process, as the name suggests, simply takes whatever is on your phone's screen and displays it elsewhere; no more, no less.
In other words, if you connect a Roku box to your TV and watch Netflix, Netflix is transmitting information directly to that box. If you boot up Netflix on your phone or tablet, then mirror it to your TV with a Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter, your mobile device is doing all the legwork; the Display Adapter is just a receiver.
Generally speaking, streaming works better than screen-mirroring, as it doesn't require an elaborate daisy chain of devices. Furthermore, some companies like Netflix, don't play nicely with Miracast, meaning you may need to employ cumbersome workarounds just to get content to show up on your TV.. However, streaming also has its limitations; you have access to a limited variety of apps, whereas with screen mirroring, you can see anything from your mobile device or computer right on your TV.
Finally, most streaming devices have a screen-mirroring option built in; they just vary wildly in quality. The Chromecast and Apple TV (both described in detail above) are good at both streaming and screen-mirroring. For other devices, it's best to check the manufacturer's web page, and both professional and user reviews to see how well the screen-mirroring functionality works.
Does Screen Mirroring Really Work?
Yes and no. Yes, you can mirror content from your mobile device or computer to your TV — if you have a powerful transmitter, an excellent receiver and a flawless Wi-Fi network. Otherwise, you're just asking for a laggy, unreliable experience.
In my own tests, I've found that using a dedicated streaming device and a media server (via apps like Kodi, Plex and PlayOn) is a much simpler, more reliable experience than trying to grapple with Miracast or the admittedly superior Google Cast or AirPlay protocols. While screen mirroring has its place for productivity, it's just not the simplest or most straightforward way to consume most media.
If you'd like to explore traditional streaming players instead, check out our reviews.
The HDMI cable fallback option
If none of these products fits your particular devices or your budget, you can go the old-fashioned way and attach your mobile device or computer using a cable or cables. This may be the best option for gamers, as there is less input lag with a direct connection than over wireless. For instructions, see How to Connect a Phone, Tablet, Mac or PC to Your TV.