What is MHL?

Apparently, there are now over 220 million MHL-compliant devices in the world, but what is it really and why should you care?

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
2 min read

(Credit: MHL Consortium)
By some estimates there are now over 220 million Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL)-compliant devices in the world, but what is it all about and do you really need it?

At its most basic, MHL is an industry standard for physically connecting your mobile device to your TV. But there are a few things about MHL that make it quite a bit cooler than that sounds.

An MHL cable is basically a micro-USB to HDMI cable. Plug the HDMI part into your HDTV or display and the micro-USB part into your mobile device, and you can send media from your device to your big screen. Music, movies, photos, even games -- MHL can send 1080p video and 7.1-channel sound from your phone to your TV.

This may not seem too exciting (you can pretty much do the same thing wirelessly, after all) but MHL has a few tricks up its sleeve. MHL supports control data, so once it's connected, you can use the TV remote to navigate around your device.

Control data is one of MHL's features. (Screenshot by CNET Australia)

More importantly, an MHL-ready TV can use the connection to provide power to the connected device -- it'll charge your phone or tablet while you use it. If you don't have an MHL-ready TV, many MHL cables (or MHL adapters) have a secondary port, where you can plug in your phone's charger and get the same effect. It's good to note that these cables and adapters aren't expensive; you won't need to pay over AU$25 for one.

While all of this sounds just fine, it's the newer MHL-compliant devices that are the most exciting. The MHL Consortium includes companies such as Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, and we're seeing a slow rise in home entertainment devices that use MHL.

Sharp showed off MHL-ready Blu-ray players in the US last year, while Yamaha has added MHL as part of the connectivity options in its 2013 A/V receiver line-up.

Also in the US, Roku, a maker of set-top boxes and media-streaming devices, has a product called the Streaming Stick. Basically a "set-top box on a stick", Roku plugs directly into an MHL port, connecting to the TV and powering its built-in Wi-Fi to connect to a variety of online video-on-demand services, all requiring a single cable.

While the technology has been around for a while, the uptake has been slow -- especially in Australia -- but with more and more companies coming on board, expect to see an increase in MHL-ready devices in the coming months.