Details have leaked through the FCC product registration database that Microsoft appears to be working on a Miracast dongle. What’s Miracast, and why should you care?
Miracast is a way to wirelessly share a device’s display to another screen. If you’re familiar with Apple’s AirPlay technology or the Google Chromecast, you’ll have a pretty good understanding of what Miracast offers. It’s a feature that is built into Windows 8, and is now available on Windows Phone 8.1. In Windows 8 you access it via the “Devices” option in the charms bar. On Windows Phone you can find it in the settings under “project my screen”.
There are plenty of great use-cases for Miracast. You can use it to display a video clip from your phone or tablet onto a TV. Maybe you’re watching Netflix on your Surface, but you’d prefer to watch it on your TV. With Miracast you can wirelessly tell your tablet to display the video on your TV. Need to display your phone’s screen to a group of people for a presentation? All of this is possible, and very easily done, with Miracast on Windows devices.
Miracast has some advantages over the competition too. Google’s Chromecast can only stream one application at a time. If you’re trying to use it from a laptop its use seems even more limited, as it can only effectively stream a web browser window. Windows on the other hand, treats the remote display as a secondary monitor. That means you could use it to wirelessly add an additional display to your tablet or laptop. That’s of course in addition to simple screen mirroring. And in Windows, it’s all handled in the exact same way as connecting a standard wired monitor. There’s really nothing new for the user to learn.
Of course, to make all this work you need a TV with Miracast support built in, or a device that supports Miracast connected to your TV. There are some devices on the market, like the NETGEAR Push2TV, but at $60 it’s a little pricey to solely be used as a Miracast receiver. Many of the lower-cost offerings haven’t performed all that well either. Combine that with Google’s Chromecast being sold for only $35, and you’ve got a market that is ripe for the picking.
We expect Microsoft’s Miracast dongle to be of a similar form-factor to the Chromecast. It would make sense for it to be a small dongle that is roughly the size of a large USB flash drive. On one end it would have an HDMI connection, and it would most likely be powered via USB.
There’s no doubt that Miracast is a solid technology that offers great features to Windows users. To really gain wide-spread use though, a low cost, simple, solution needs to exist. If Microsoft can release this Miracast dongle at a price that is competitive with Google’s Chromecast, it could see great success. However, if they try to market this as a premium device, and in turn expect a premium price point, they could find themselves with a great product that doesn’t sell well. That sounds like a pretty familiar story with Microsoft products. Here’s hoping they’ve learned that lesson already.