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Miracast vs. Chromecast: Hands-on with Microsoft's screen-sharing gizmos

Mark Hachman | Nov. 7, 2014
Microsoft now has two ways for you to project content wirelessly from your Windows (or Android) phone and tablet: the Screen Sharing for Lumia Phones HD-10, and the Wireless Display Adapter. But Chromecast got here first.

The first time I paired a Lumia Icon with the HD-10, the performance was lousy. Photos were speckled with pixels as the HD-10 caught up to the wireless data. But connected to Microsoft's latest Lumia 830, the lag was barely noticeable. Photos rendered smoothly, as did video captured and stored locally on my phone, with just a hint of lag on 1080p video playback. Even Netflix was oh-so-close to being perfectly watchable. 

I'd attribute part of that to the longer cord length. The HD-10 requires a flat surface, like a router, exposing it to a line-of-sight connection. The Wireless Display Adapter hid behind my television, close to the HDMI ports. It's possible that the additional interference from the TV made the difference.

Wireless Display Adapter--not for the Surface
When Microsoft announced the Wireless Display Adapter in September, Dan Laycock, an evangelist for Surface, called it a "brilliant accessory that lets you wirelessly project whatever is on your Surface--along with audio--to an HDTV, projector, or monitor."

"It will make your Surface an even more powerful tool for sharing and collaboration," Laycock wrote.

But here's the problem. It doesn't work with the Surface. Or at least the Surface Pro 3. I tried: swiping in from the right, asking the SP3 to project to a second screen, finding the Wireless Adapter, and connecting to it. Each time it failed. I made sure the Surface was patched and up to date, rebooted the adapter--nothing. I know the adapter works, though, since my Lenovo ThinkPad Twist connected to it straight away. Microsoft representatives claim they haven't had reports of the problem, so it's possible it was something specific to my hardware.

Like the Chromecast, the Wireless Display Adapter is a dongle, a small stick that plugs into an available HDMI port on your TV. A separate USB cable plugs into the service port (or a plug) and provides power. Plugged into an HDMI connector behind my TV, the Adapter didn't stream video quite as fast as the HD-10 across the room. But when I tried again, about three feet from the adapter, the latency noticeably improved. In either location, the Adapter performed well cycling through photos or sliding a mouse pointer across a document, as neither required a lightning-fast response. 

An alternative: Google's Chromecast
I stress-tested both of Microsoft's devices using video as a way to push the wireless connections to the limits. That might have been a bit unfair, since Microsoft has never really emphasized the HD-10 or the Wireless Display Adapter as anything more than a simple way to project documents and images from your mobile display to an HDTV.

But there's already a cheaper option that does all that: the Google Chromecast. Provided you have one of these supported phones or tablets, you can also cast your screen to a Chromecast, allowing you to share, say, a PowerPoint presentation via Office Mobile for Android.

 

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