Product Review: Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

Product Review: Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter

For the past year or so, I've been using the Netgear Push2TV Wireless Display HDMI adapter for my Surface Pro 3 to TV streaming. It's been a fantastic device. Small and portable, I've carried it with me on various trips to stream my favorite TV shows in hotel rooms. Over time, though, the streaming capability seems to have gotten off track somewhere. And, I think, you'll see in this review that it probably has more to do, sadly, with Microsoft's inability to keep the Surface Pro 3 drivers stable than anything else.

Due to the age of the Netgear (released in August 2012), and how much effort Microsoft takes to tout the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter as a good Surface Pro 3 companion, I thought it would be a worthy upgrade. Slam dunk, right?

When the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter arrived, I unboxed it quickly to get started. I was pleasantly surprised by the size and weight of the adapter. This thing is small and light, making it a highly mobile device. It takes up very little room in a travel bag.

It comes with an HDMI extender cable, in the event the distance between a free HDMI port and the USB port on your TV is too great.

For the TV (Insignia 60") I selected to install the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter, the distance was perfect.

(Please disregard the dust on the back of my TV. I mean, really? – who dusts the back of the television, particularly one that is hung on a wall?)

The beauty of this type of adapter versus the Netgear I was using, is how it fits tidily and completely behind the TV – no cables exposed to add to the messy junk already running up the wall. The Netgear is a tiny device, itself, but requires an additional HDMI cable which you have to supply and a USB cable and power adapter (included in the package).

Setup is pretty much non-existent – at least with the range of devices I tested. I tested with the Surface Pro 3, the HP Stream 7 tablet, and the HTC M8 Windows Phone. For each one, the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter just found them and connected flawlessly. The Surface Pro 3 and HP Stream 7 required drivers to install (they did it automatically), but the Windows Phone didn't.

Like the Netgear, there's a minuscule time lapse between what happens on the local screen and what shows on the remote display. It's negligible. I really didn't notice much of a difference in speed between the two, although I did expect the Microsoft version to show an improvement over the older Netgear. If you're using a wireless adapter like this to simply mirror or extend your local display for working or in a classroom setting, a small lag is no big deal. So, the real test – at least for me – is video and audio streaming.

I tested the Windows Phone and the HP Stream 7 first. Both streamed video and audio perfectly. No obvious video anomalies, and the sound was fluent. However, I did have significant issues with the Surface Pro 3. One of the issues was my own doing, the other, I place full blame on Microsoft. Here's what happened…

From the start, I had problems. On first connect, the Windows 8.1 Netflix app would not work.

Thinking it might be something related directly to the app, I tried the Netflix web site. Same result. Netflix supplied the How To Use the Windows 8 Video Troubleshooter, and while this ultimately didn't help, it’s probably a good link to save in the event it might help with other issues.

Then, I remembered that earlier this month, I applied a hotfix for the Surface Pro 3 that was intended to fix Miracast issues. This was the first real chance I had gotten to test the patch for actual Miracast operability, and, well, it failed. After rolling back to the previous driver, Netflix worked again.

So, for those that have yet to apply this hotfix – don't. It breaks Miracast for the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter, though it's intended to fix it. The hotfix might work with other Miracast devices, but definitely not Microsoft's own hardware.

Still, after rolling back the driver and getting Netflix to work, other issues still exist: video anomalies and audio that cuts out. The best way to describe the problem is to just show you…

It's annoying to say the least. I also downloaded and installed the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter app for Windows 8.1 to see if a firmware update was available, hoping that would provide a fix. No luck. The hardware I received is completely up-to-date, running on the most current firmware.

Again – the HP Stream 7 and Windows Phone work flawlessly, so this is specific to the Surface Pro 3 drivers. And, this is sad, considering Microsoft wants customers to consider the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter as the best solution for its Surface tablets. As it stands now, Microsoft needs to do a lot more work fixing the Surface Pro 3 drivers. If Microsoft can fix the issues with the Surface Pro 3, I'll gladly stop back by and provide another review. Right now, I'm just not comfortable traveling the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter. The Netgear still works just as well.

Anyone know of a solution, let me know. I'm still searching. Until a permanent and solid fix is available, I can only recommend the Microsoft Wireless Display adapter for devices other than the Surface Pro 3. If you find a different device that isn't working, let me know and we'll add it to the list.

You can get the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter from the Microsoft store, but it's actually a bit cheaper ($60 versus $56) for Amazon customers: Wireless Display Adapter for Microsoft Surface

Over Twitter, Brian Friedlander suggested that the Actiontec ScreenBeam works better. I may have to give that a shot soon.

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