Review: Microsoft's Miracast-Powered Wireless Display Adapters

Review: Microsoft's Miracast-Powered Wireless Display Adapters

Two wireless wires

Microsoft's sudden embrace of Miracast with the release of not one but two slightly different wireless display adapters has made the past month pretty interesting. The good news is that both adapters work well and offer solid, reliable connections. So here are some thoughts about how you might choose between the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter and the Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD-10.

Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD-10 (left) and Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter (right)

Spoiler alert: You may not even need one of these adapters. If you own a Roku 3 or Roku Streaming Stick, they were very recently updated with Miracast capabilities, and in my testing the Roku solution is just about as seamless and the connection as solid as that offered by the Microsoft devices.

Spoiler alert #2: If you don't already have a Roku 3 or Roku Streaming Stick, you will almost certainly want to get one of those instead of one of these Microsoft devices. Each Roku is far more capable than any standalone Miracast adapter and neither is particularly expensive. Amazon, for example, is selling the Roku 3 for $85 right now, and  the Roku Streaming Stick is just $49. The HD-10 isn't available yet, but the Microsoft Display Adapter is $45. So for $4 more you can get a dedicated remote with no need for a mobile device and access to tons of built-in services like Netflix, Hulu and Google Play. It's kind of a no-brainer. (And the Roku 3 supports Ethernet connectivity.)

But if you are in the market for a dedicated Miracast device for some reason—both are suitable for work scenarios, and I could see using one for projecting a Windows Phone screen during talks, for example—either of the Microsoft units will do the job. They differ only in minor but important ways.

Before getting to that, let's quickly recap what these devices do. Both the HD-10 and the Wireless Display Adapter are Miracast-powered wireless display adapters. They both work with any Miracast-compatible device—including Nokia Lumia handsets, Android handsets or tablets, or Windows PCs or tablets—and allow you to the mirror the display of that device on an HDTV or other display.

(And if you have a "big" Windows device, like a Surface Pro 3 or whatever, you can treat this display like any second display and extend the desktop or just use the external display. That is, you're not restricted to only mirroring the display.)

So, yes, the power of Miracast is that it lets you mirror a device's display on an HDTV, so you can enjoy rented or purchased movies, photo slide shows, or other content. But the downside to Miracast is that, unless you do have a "big" Windows device or PC, you can only mirror the device's display. So if you really do want to use Miracast to, say, watch a movie, that movie will display simultaneously on both the device and the HDTV, which can be annoying, especially in a darkened room. (Sound will only be heard through the HDTV, however.)

With all that in mind, there are a few minor differences between the two devices.

First, they look completely different. The HD-10 is a hockey puck-like device that resembles a slightly smaller Apple TV or Roku 3, but it's just a Miracast-powered wireless display adapter and not more full-featured. The Wireless Display Adapter is a now common and familiar HDMI dongle.

The hook with the HD-10 is its NFC disc, which can be positioned away from the TV so that you can more easily pair an NFC-enabled device with the adapter. But if your device doesn't have NFC, no worries: You can connect normally. (Microsoft obviously markets this device as a Lumia companion, but don't be put off by the name or that disk; it works with any Miracast-capable device.)

The HD-10's NFC disk

My take on NFC is that it's a nicety not a necessity. Frankly, NFC is just as confusing to most people as is, say, Bluetooth. Point being, I wouldn't get the HD-10 for that reason alone.

Like the Chromecast (or Roku Streaming Stick) it resembles, the Wireless Display Adapter is a smaller and simpler HDMI dongle that you can hide behind your TV, assuming there's a nearby USB port for power too. It's a bare bones solution, but it works just as well as the HD-10 in my testing. And since the HDMI connnector is on the device, you don't need an HDMI cable as you do with the HD-10.

Note that the Wireless Display Adapter's USB cable is hardwired to the device, and if you don't have a USB port on your TV, you'll need to supply both a power adapter and a USB extension cable. The HD-10 has a much longer cable and includes the adapter.

The HD-10 comes in both black and white versions, while the Wireless Display Adapter is only available in black. That makes sense as you will have the HD-10 out visible in your living room, and you may want to match the décor. The Wireless Display Adapter will remain hidden.

If you've been reading my ongoing writings—some might saying rantings—about Miracast, you may know I've not been a huge fan of this technology because most of the Miracast adapters I'd used to date were fairly unreliable and needed constant resetting. But the Microsoft adapters have performed admirably in this regard, and while each has needed the occasional reset—hey, it's still Miracast—both work well.

So how to choose?

I personally prefer the hideaway Wireless Display Adapter design, but that assumes you can accommodate it: Make sure you have a side-mounted HDMI port on your HDTV, if it's on a wall, or room in the back to accommodate it. And you'll need a close-by USB port for power. But the HD-10 works equally well and its design makes it more adaptable to a variety of HDTV configurations.

I suspect the HD-10 will cost more, too, though I still don't know what the final pricing is.

But if you're looking into this kind of thing for yourself—that is, you will use it at home and simply want to enjoy media on the big screen—please, buy a Roku instead and enjoy the many other capabilities such a device provides in addition to providing wireless display mirroring. But if you do need a dedicated Miracast adapter, both the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter and Microsoft Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD-10 are reliable, high quality devices. And both are recommended, assuming you know what you're getting into.

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