Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wirelessly Display Your PC/Laptop WITHOUT WiHD/WiDi/Allshare/Miracast!

The title will be a bit misleading, but I will explain more on that later. One of the "new" technology crazes widely available is being able to share the screen of a device with another, wirelessly. I would say that usually means showing something from a desktop or laptop PC on a large TV. The problem is that not all devices have the features necessary to do this. What I want to describe is a method to still achieve this with those desktop or laptop PC's that are void of the necessary hardware...

Essentially, these are all technologies that do the same thing. They allow you to transmit audio and visual data from one device to another. There are numerous names from different manufacturers, but I believe these are the most common in circulation at the moment.

Since the technology is still very young, it is not quite commonplace, yet. It is common enough that I would say that almost all new televisions and mid-range/high-end smartphones/tablets incorporate the technology.

For the time being, I have two laptops at my disposal. Both are Alienware, with my primary using a first generation Intel i7 (Clarksfield), and the second using a third generation Intel i7 (Ivy Bridge).

My primary is too old to support Intel's WiDi as only second generation Intel-core processors (Sandy Bridge) and newer have the ability to use WiDi. My secondary laptop does have the ability to use WiDi, however, the hardware (a card and antenna) is sold separately. Furthermore, the same slot for the WiDi hardware is the same slot for the M.SATA, of which I am already using.

I considered buying a USB adapter or some other device that would allow my screen to be shared. And while there are some cheap devices out there (under $25), I felt that as expensive as these laptops are--or were--I should be able to accomplish mirroring my screen to my TV without buying extra adapters or devices.

Thus began my (successful) journey on how to mirror my laptop to my TV without having official WiDi support...

iOS Devices
While other platforms support Miracast, Apple has their own proprietary software called AirPlay. I have no experience with this technology, and as such, this may not work with iOS smartphones or tablets without the use of a third-party app or additional hardware.

A Mac, per my instructions below, will work as far as using a PC goes... 

The requirements for this to be done are rather basic. And remember, I am using a laptop and a TV. You may be able to try this with other devices, but what I will be explaining is for my circumstances:

  • Desktop/Laptop
  • WiFi Card
  • TV (with Miracast support)
  • Smartphone/Tablet (with Miracast support)
  • Mirroring Software, i.e. AirDisplay (explained below)

First off, I am including a Mac as a PC, as it is a Personal Computer. The desktop or laptop PC you use can be of any age as long as it has WiFi capabilities [WiFi card]. Mind you, if it is not somewhat powerful, the results may not prove as smooth as desired.

Second, you need a TV with Miracast support. If you have a TV from the last few years, it likely does. If you do not, you can buy an adapter that will insert itself into the HDMI or USB port of your TV, but this requires two things: The purchase of an adapter, which defeats the purpose of this tutorial. And a TV with a HDMI or USB port, which you would probably have if you have a plasma or LED TV.

Third, you must have a smartphone or tablet that has Miracast capabilities. If you have a smartphone or tablet from the last few years, you probably have Miracast. There are some devices that have been hacked to support Miracast, but I have found the results finicky at best.

Lastly, you will need software that allows screen mirroring from your desktop or laptop PC to you smartphone or tablet. I mentioned AirDisplay as this will work on Windows, Linux, or OS X. But there are a lot of other options available that will achieve the same goal. AirDisplay is a paid software, so keep that in mind.

Now it may become clear as to why the title is a bit misleading. While your PC does not need to have Miracast support, you will need something that does. I am betting that people who would be interested in performing this will have a device that does.

How To Display Your PC On Your Device
The setup is rather simple if you have all the requirements:
  1. Ensure that your PC and smartphone or tablet is connected to the same WiFi network.*
  2. Download the AirDisplay software for your PC OS.
  3. Install the AirDisplay software on your PC.
  4. On your smartphone or tablet, purchase and install AirDisplay from your respective store.
  5. Open the app on your smartphone or tablet and proceed to the steps on how to connect. It will then wait for your computer to connect...
  6. Click the tray icon (possibly hidden through the arrow of the taskbar for Windows users).
  7. A menu of choices should appear with your device name.
  8. First click the "Options" to get a submenu.
  9. Select "Mirror Mode".
  10. Click your device name in the main area.

Note: If you skip step #8, your smartphone or tablet will act as an extended monitor to your PC.

The process is now complete and you should be able to see what is on your PC on your smartphone or tablet.

*No Internet?
If you do not have an Internet connection, you can still connect your PC and device by creating an ad-hoc network on your PC and connecting both devices to it. You can also connect via USB if desired.

Miracast is done without the need to use WiFi, however, it too requires WiFi Direct (WIDI) devices in order to work...
Depending on your smartphone or tablet's display resolution, you may get black bars on the sides of your screen. This will happen on newer devices that are 2.5K, devices of an odd display resolution, or if your PC is on a display resolution that is not normal for smaller devices.

The simplest thing to do is change your PC display resolution to something your device can support. I was able to change my laptop to 1080p or 720p, and my 2.5K smartphone then mirrored my laptop screen in fullscreen.

The harder way to go about this would be to change the resolution of your device to what your PC has. This may be impossible for certain resolutions, and beyond that, you will need to root or jailbreak your device in order to attempt doing so. I would only even suggest this after trying different laptop resolutions, or if your device has an odd display resolution that is not supported by (or not a multiple of the resolution of) your PC.

How To Display Your Device On Your TV
The hardest part is done, now comes the simple part:

Once your device is mirroring your PC, simply use Miracast on your device and your TV to connect the two. You will now have your laptop showing on your TV.

For my Android device, I just had to slide down the notification menu and toggle on Miracast. In the event that you are unable to perform Miracast while your have your PC being mirrored on your device, perform the Miracast step FIRST, and then use AirDisplay afterwards.

The only major downside is audio. By using AirDisplay, it is not possible to transmit audio to your device, and thus not possible to transmit audio to your TV. To remedy this, you can use a pair headphones (wireless if you are not near the PC), or use a nice speaker setup with your PC. A different software may have a way to transmit audio as well as video...

The minor downside is power drain. The device you use will likely drain quite rapidly because it has the task of taking a live image from a PC and sending it to the TV. It should be plugged into a wall outlet or large power source for long-term usage.

AirDisplay is a paid product. While still cheaper that an adapter or other device, it still costs. Searching out a free alternative may be a good option, but the most reliable will probably cost you.

I would imagine this would be most useful for playing games or running videos. Maybe you want to see YouTube, Netflix, or Hulu on the big screen. AirDisplay provides a small mouse pointer on your device that you can control with your finger. This makes it easy to change videos on a whim.

Personally, I have my laptop setup with a wireless controller so that I can play games on my TV.

Fade to Black
As stated above, you can buy an adapter or device, and that will likely be a much easier task. On a different note, if you have a newer laptop, you may already be able to accomplish this with the correct drivers and software. Be sure to check Intel's compatibility page and your PC's manufacturer page to see if WiDi is already a part of your hardware.

I should mention, again, that Miracast is just one name for screen mirroring; and that my use of the term Miracast encompasses all those names.

I really only did this to see if I could as I imagine others have come across the same situation and decided to give up. I doubt I will use it all that often, but now I have the peace of mind to know that I can.

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