For many people, a TV is a big computer monitor. Sure, most people have cable, but they also hook up game consoles, set-top boxes like Roku and Apple TV, and even their PCs if they are enterprising enough. Now they can hook up their new PCs and Windows and Android phones, without stringing wires, using Roku's new wireless Screen Mirroring feature. A beta software upgrade to the Roku 3 and Roku Streaming Stick (read review), the update was announced today on Roku's blog. (Roku has been telling us for more than a year to expect such capability, and it has finally delivered.)
But didn't screen mirroring already exist with Chromecast? To an extent. Google's HDMI stick supports streaming (quite well) from Android Phones. But Roku also supports PCs (alas, only those running Windows 8) and Windows 8 phones — on what's already a very popular streamer in many people's homes.
Separate Miracast/Wi-Di receivers (for smartphones and PCs, respectively), have been around for years. But they have ranged from janky to essentially useless in terms of their ability to smoothly and reliably convey a video stream to a TV. Even our top pic, the $70 Actiontec ScreenBeam Pro with Miracast and WiDi, only wins that honor because it works more often than the competition. Given that, will Roku's new streaming capability work any better? Stay tuned as we test it out soon.
Wide compatibility will be the test. The similar AirPlay technology in Apple TV (review) has to work with only one computer and smartphone brand (it doesn't support Android or Windows). Roku's screen mirroring will have to work with a wide variety of brands, that, at least in the smartphone category, have their own tweaks to the operating system.
The screen mirroring feature, which is still considered a beta, is available as a has begun rolling out to Roku owners today but will take "the next few weeks" to get to all of them, Roku said on its blog. The software requirements are Android 4.4.2 or later or Windows Phone 8 or later for smartphones and Windows 8 for PCs. Roku is vague on the hardware requirements, other than saying that "Hardware must support screen mirroring." It's help pages (opens in new tab) show how you can find out if your device has that feature, and they walk you through the setup process.
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