There’s no doubt that smartphone displays are growing faster than a four-year-old. Huge 4.7” displays are now the norm for high-end handsets, and ‘phablets’ are pushing the boundaries of portability even further with screen sizes of up to 6.1 inches (thanks Huawei!).
But these roomy displays are still no substitute for a giant flat-screen TV. As convenient as smartphones are, sometimes you just want to kick back on the couch, relax your eyes, and let the glow of the big screen consume your senses.
There’s no need to limit your smartphone to the small screen when you're lounging about at home. For things like gaming, web browsing, viewing photos and playing videos, a larger display improves the viewing experience significantly. Here are six ways you can output your smartphone’s display to a HDTV at 720p or 1080p resolution. Most of these options will “mirror” your smartphone display to your TV.
If your smartphone is one of the few to have a built in micro-HDMI port (commonly found on Sony and Motorola phones in particular), then hooking it up to a TV couldn’t be easier. Just grab a HDMI to micro-HDMI cable, put the small end into your phone, and the bigger end into your TV. If you’re lucky, you phone may have come with this cable already. Otherwise, eBay is crawling with them for around $5 a pop with free shipping. If you’d rather get one in the shop, Belkin sells them for whopping $59.95 each.
Don’t have a micro-HDMI output on your phone? No to worry, it may support HDMI output anyway using an optional adapter. These are available in official and unofficial flavours. Apple has both 30-pin and Lightning HDMI adapters for the two different iPhone connectors, and Samsung offers two different MHL (short for mobile high definition link) adapters for its range of Galaxy phones. For other smartphones, check whether it supports MHL output in the specs, and if it does, you can pick up a cheap micro-USB MHL to HDMI adapter for less than ten bucks on eBay.
Another wired option for connecting your smartphone to your HDTV is a dock. These have the advantage of combining mains power and HDMI output together, so you can recharge your phone while it’s connected to your TV (otherwise, HDMI output drains your phone’s battery very quickly). Docks also have the advantage of proudly displaying your precious smartphone in the living room, even though the screen can be a little distracting when placed next to the TV. Some vendors, like Sony and Motorola, even build special ‘made-for-TV' interfaces into their phones that only display when you connect them to the official dock. The downside to docks is that they’re between 10 and 20 times more expensive than the MHL adapters.
Brand-specific wireless media players
Using wired connections is so last decade. Depending on your phone, you may be able to buy a brand-specific media player that mirror’s your smartphone display wirelessly. Apple devices have the Apple TV, Samsung devices have the Samsung AllShare Cast Hub, and HTC devices have the HTC MediaLink. It’s worth pointing out that wireless mirroring isn’t as reliable as a wired connection, as it’s subject to the vagaries of your home wireless network and may cut out every now and then. Still, you can’t argue with the convenience if you can afford it – expect to shell out around a hundred bucks for the privilege.
Xbox 360 or PS3
If you’re only after music or video streaming (rather than the full-fledge screen mirroring), you may not even need to buy a media player. Xbox 360 and PS3 owners already have the requisite hardware – you just need to pair it up with an app like DoubleTwist (for Android) or media:connect (for iOS devices) to output music and movies over a wireless connection. As with the brand-specific wireless media players, this method isn’t as fool-proof as a wired connection, and some movies (depending on the audio and video codecs use) simply refuse to play, but it should work for most of the content in your smartphone media library.
Smart TV or ‘smart’ DVD/Blu-ray player
We’re using the ‘smart’ moniker loosely here; if you have a HDTV or DVD/Blu-ray player with built-in Wi-Fi, it will support DLNA media streaming from an Android smartphone. But it isn’t the easiest thing to set up. Most Android smartphones come with a media streaming app pre-installed that lets you push multimedia content to a DLNA-compatible TV. On Samsung devices, it’s the AllShare Play app, and we’ll use this as the example (the steps should be similar on other apps). To stream a file to your TV or disc player, open the AllShare Play app, tap on the name of your device under the Registered Devices section, find the file you want to play in the file explorer, then tap it to open it. Once it’s playing, press the ‘play to’ button in the top left corner of the screen. If you have more than one DLNA device on the network, you’ll be able to choose which one to output to.