For $50, Microsoft's new Wireless Display Adapter promises the simplest way to beam your laptop, tablet or phone's screen to a TV (UK and Australia pricing and availability have not yet been announced). Just plug one end of the dongle into your TV's HDMI port, the other end into a USB port for power, and your TV basically becomes a wireless external monitor for the device of your choosing.
If you think that sounds a lot like Apple's AirPlay, you'd be right -- in fact, it uses very similar technology. Both AirPlay and this device's Miracast are basically direct Wi-Fi connections between your computer and your television, which can make them extremely easy to set up. Unlike a Roku, Chromecast or game console, you don't need to pair them with your home Wi-Fi, because Miracast transmitters and receivers can automatically find each other.
The difference is that AirPlay only works with Apple devices, beaming the screen of a MacBook, iPad or iPhone to a television via an Apple TV, while Miracast is an industry standard that's built right into Windows 10 devices and a variety of Android phones and tablets too.
That doesn't mean Miracast is necessarily better, though, as I found testing out Microsoft's latest device. While setting up my first laptop was a breeze -- you just tap the Connect icon in the Windows 10 Action Center and voila, external monitor -- I had to uninstall and reinstall some drivers on the second Windows 10 laptop I tried.
And when I tried to connect my, a flagship Android phone from only last year, motion was stuttery and the connection often seemed to be on the verge of crapping out. When I swapped those devices out for an and an Apple TV, my game of Hearthstone was far smoother by comparison.
Miracast isn't a new idea. It's been around for years now, but it's always been plagued by haphazard manufacturer support. Sometimes companies have called it by different names ("AllShare Cast," or "Smart Share") to make it seem like they invented the technology themselves, while other times they've just failed to support the feature or buried it deep in a phone settings menu.
Microsoft has done much better, making it universal and extremely easy to access on Windows 10 PCs, and creating this dongle itself. And when it works, it's pretty good. There's still enough lag between the time I press a button on my laptop and the time I see my TV screen react that I wouldn't want to play games on it, but it seemed perfectly fine for sharing photos, watching videos or triaging email using the TV as a huge external monitor.
It's not quite as foolproof as Apple's AirPlay and it's no substitute for a good HDMI cable, but it looks like it could be a useful tool if your video-casting needs are modest.