Update 1: Android screen mirroring through Chromecast is available! Please read this post for details.
Chromecast was hailed by the Time Magazine as the most innovative gadget in 2013. This affordable HDMI dongle changes the way people consume contents, especially online video and music.
Most people now have multiple screens: smartphones ( normally 3.5-7″), tablets (normally 7-12.2″), laptops (normally 10-17″), PC (normally 19-34″) and of course TV (normally 34-80″). Different size gives different experiences, and some contents., for example, full-length movies, are preferred in a larger TV screen.
How to unify these screens?
There are different answers from different vendors. But most of them are vendor-dependent. In other words, the solution only works for some specific-branded devices. For example, Apple has AirPlay (which requires Apple TV); Samsung introduced AllShare Cast since Galaxy S3 (which requires certain Samsung Galaxy devices).
Chromecast delivered an answer that is independent of hardware vendors!
Another hardware-independent answer is Miracast.
Because Android supports Miracast natively since Jelly Bean 4.2, a lot of Chromecast owners confused Chromecast with Miracast.
I will try to explain to you Chromecast vs Miracast: the difference between Chromecast and Miracast (Miracast enabled devices), the advantages, and disadvantages of Chromecast and Miracast.
What is Miracast?
Miracast is a peer-to-peer wireless screencasting standard using Wi-Fi Direct connections. Manufacturers can get certifications for their devices from Wi-Fi Alliance.
Miracast standard enables wireless delivery of audio and video to or from any devices with WiFi direct support. To make it work, both the sending and receiving devices must support Miracast. Most smart TVs released in last two years support Miracast.
If the receiving device (usually TV or projector) does not support Miracast, a HDMI or USB Miracast dongle can be used for the receiver to work with the sending devices. This means if your TV does not support Miracast, you may still enjoy the casting with a small HDMI dongle.
Does my mobile device support Miracast?
For Android phones and tablets, Miracast is supported since Jelly Bean 4.2. This means if your Android device is running Jelly Bean 4.2, Jelly Bean 4.3 or KitKat 4.4, very likely your device supports Miracast.
The Miracast feature in Android devices are usually marketed as wireless display (e.g., Moto X) or screen mirroring (e.g., Galaxy S4).
However, for some low-end Android devices , some vendors may disable Miracast due to hardware or resource limitations. For example, although Moto G came with Jelly Bean 4.3 and was updated to KitKat 4.4, wireless display is disabled in the software level due to the hardware limitation (WiFi connection and Miracast cannot be used simultaneously in Moto G). Actually Sony Xperia Z also suffered the similar issue. But Sony enabled this feature anyway (but once you use wireless display in Xperia Z, internet connection drops).
Some old Samsung Android devices, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2 and Galaxy Note 10.1, have AllShare Cast baked in. They also work with Miracast receiving devices, although the OS may be still in Jelly Bean 4.1.
AllShare Cast is a proprietary solution from Samsung. But it is compatible with Miracast devices (Samsung does not publicly admit it).
While AirPlay from Apple is NOT compatible with Miracast at all. It only works through Apple TV. Neither iPhone nor iPad supports Miracast. So, if you are an iPhone or iPad user, you are out of the Miracast circle.
For laptops and ultrabooks, Intel has a WiDi solution, which is compatible with Miracast devices. It works with Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
Windows 8.1 will support Miracast natively. Microsoft put a guide page here.
Is Chromecast using Miracast ?
First, Chromecast is NOT using Miracast. It actually has nothing to do with Miracast.
Chromecast can work in two modes: web apps mode and Chrome tab casting mode.
In web apps mode, Chromecast works like a HTML5 web browser. The Chromecast-enabled apps (for example, YouTube App, Netflix App, Google Play Movies and TV, Hulu Plus,…) pass an HTML5 page to Chromecast, and then Chromecast streaming the contents to your TV. The app developer must access Google Cast SDK, which was released to the developers officially early this month, to make their apps work with Chromecast. The casting or streaming relies on Google Cast Services provided by Google.
Chromecast can also directly cast any tabs of Chrome browser from your PC to a TV. This mode is different from web apps mode because it does not require a web app. In Chrome browser, you need install a Google Cast extension. The technology behind this mode is actually WebRTC. WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is an API definition being drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to enable browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat, and P2P file sharing without plugins. Chrome tab casting is not as matured as web apps and it requires substantial hardware capabilities.
So, in short, Chromecast has nothing to do with Miracast.
Chromecast VS Miracast: what are the major differences?
When compare Chromecast VS Miracast, the first question you may have is what the differences are.
Miracast is a “mirroring” solution. The video and audio signals are transferred digitally (WiFi direct) from the sending device to the receiving device (most of time, it is a TV). The receiving device pass (small conversion may be involved) the digital signal to TV inputs.
For example, when playing a video on mobile phone, the mobile device decodes the video and sends the output to both local screen and the receiving device (e.g., TV). The receiving device does not handle files directly. For most devices, you cannot turn off the local screen. The only exception I found is Samsung’s AllShare Cast, which automatically turn off local display.
Chromecast in web app mode actually works like a media player embedded in an HTML 5 page. The Apps in your mobile device pass the URL and some other properties to Chromecast, which do the rest. So Chromecast actually handles the file and send output to the TV. The app in your mobile device may do something else.
For example, when watching YouTube video with Chromecast, your mobile device’s YouTube app simply passes the resource info to Chromecast as an HTML 5 web page and Chromecast will do all other things. You can then use mobile device for other jobs.
Chromecast in Chrome tab cast mode works similar to mirroring, but using a totally different technology.
Chromecast VS Miracast: Advantages of Chromecast
Comparing Chromecast to Miracast, it is easy to find Chromecast has the following top 3 advantages.
- Cheap. $35 is probably the cheapest wireless casting solution you can find. Miracast HDMI dongle usually costs $50-$100. Of course, you can argue that lots of current TVs have Miracast-support already. But for the sending device, only high-end device provides Miracast support. While Chromecast only need small apps in your sending device. The apps works in most devices.
- Multitasking. Miracast is a mirroring solution. It usually means your local screen will always have identical content as the TV. You cannot navigate aways to do anything else. Although in Samsung’s AllShare Cast solution, you can turn off local display, you still cannot navigate away. Chromecast allows you to switch to other apps in your mobile device when in web app mode. In Chrome tab cast mode, you can open other programs and do something else as long as you do not close that mirrored tab.
- Hardware independent. Miracast requires Miracast support on both sending and receiving devices. Chromecast is a hardware-independent solution. You only need run apps in your sending device. For the receiving device, you only need a HDMI port.
Chromecast VS Miracast: Disadvantages of Chromecast
Of course, Chromecast is far from perfect. In the fight of Chromecast VS Miracast, Chromecast has the following top 3 disadvantages.
- Heavily relies on app developers. There are still very limited apps that work with Chromecast. Of course, we will see more and more apps with Chromecast support after the public release of Google Cast SDK. In short, what you can cast on the TV screen relies on app developers (in web app mode) or relies what Chrome browser can handle in Chrome tab casting mode. While with Miracast, you can mirror whatever you can see on your tiny screen to TV. It is app-independent. Update 1: In selected Android devices with Android KitKat 4.4 or later, screen mirroring is also available. For Nexus devices, it is built-in. For other devices, it is done through Chromecast app. This is still a beta feature. For more detailed info on Android screen mirroring through Chromecast, please read this post.
- Mediocre performance in Chrome tab casting mode. Chrome tab casting mode is still in beta. The video quality is limited to 720p and there is no full HD 1080p support yet. Apparently, Chrome tab casting needs a lot of computing power. In some old systems, the performance may be not acceptable. Although some cheap Miracast HDMI dongle may give similar mediocre performance, most of the time, Miracast works flawlessly if the device is certified.
- Not all WiFi networks work with Chromecast. Chromecast requires a wireless network. Miracast itself does not require this. To make it even worse, some wireless networks (e.g., wireless network in most hotels) do not work with Chromecast at all. Some router configuration, e.g. , AP (access point) isolation, will make your Chromacast useless.
Chromecast VS Miracast: should I buy Chromecast or Miracast dongle?
If you mainly watch local (downloaded) movies, and your device supports Miracast, a $60-$80 Miracast dongle probably is the ideal solution for you. Chromecast does not support local media well, although a few apps can stream local media to Chromecast.
If your mobile device does not support Miracast, of course, you should not waste money on any Miracast dongles. Miracast is required on both sending (e..g, your mobile device) and receiving devices (miracast-enabled TV, or Miracast dongle).
If you are an iPhone or iPad user, only Chromecast works for you. Actually, Apple TV probably is a better solution for you.
If your video is mainly from Amazon, and you have a Kindle Fire HDX tablet (Kindle Fire HDX 7 or Kindle Fire HDX 8.9), a Miracast dongle is the solution. Kindle Fire HDX supports Miracast. Amazon videos do not work with Chromecast. For any Kindle Fire tablets, you can sideload Chromecast app, but Amazon video does not work with it.
Chromecast VS Miracast: where to buy Chromecast?
Chromecast is available in Google Play Store (US only currently, but it will be available in more countries in March).
It is also available in Amazon, BestBuy, Walmart, Staples and Motorola online store.
Chromecast VS Miracast: What is the recommended HDMI Miracast dongle/adapter?
My recommendation is Netgear Push2TV Wireless Display HDMI Adapter. This adapter works very well with both Samsung devices (Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Note 3) and other Android devices (Moto X, Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Xperia Z1 and HTC One). Don’t be fooled by the mediocre reviews in Amazon product page. Some reviewers simply do not know the purpose of this adapter.
This adapter also works nicely with Amazon Kindle Fire HD or Kindle Fire HDX tablets. This is the only device that is officially certified by Amazon for display mirroring with Kindle Fire HDX 7, Kindle Fire Hdx 8.9 and the new Kindle Fire HD.
Netgear Push2TV HDMI Miracast adapter supports Intel Wireless Display (WiDi) as well. This means you can use your TV as the second screen for your WiDi-supported laptop with this adapter.
The price for this adapter is around $60. In the box, the USB power adapter is included. But surprisingly, HDMI cable is not include. When ordering this adapter, please make sure you get a HDMI cable if you do not have any spare HDMI cables at home.