Apple TV screen mirroring makes iPad one of the most transformational modern teaching tools. But until recently this key feature has been missing from Android.
With Android devices supporting Miracast now beginning to enter the market is this tool ready for use in the classroom? We review the most popular Miracast receiver on the market.
Miracast is an industry standard screen mirroring technology which, over the last few months, has been slowly creeping onto the market. While the technology has been available for a number of years, it’s only in the last few months that we’ve really started to see Miracast certified devices become widely available.
Because Miracast is an industry standard, unlike Apple TV, you can stream from (and potentially to) any Miracast certified device. In the near future Miracast will be built into most TVs, projectors, laptops, tablets, and smartphones which is why the technology is so much more flexible than Apple’s equivalent and will, long term, cost significantly less.
While the function of Miracast may be the same as Apple TV’s AirPlay screen mirroring, the two technologies work in significantly different ways.
Apple TV and iPad screen mirroring requires an intermediary wireless router — all data is sent via your school’s network. Miracast, on the other hand, makes a direct connection between the tablet and the Miracast receiver — no physical network is required. This has both positive and negative aspects which I’ll come on to later.
We test out the most popular Miracast receiver on the market to see how it stacks up against Apple TV. Has the most powerful feature for teaching with the iPad finally come to Android?
Netgear Push2TV 3000 Miracast Adapter
The Netgear Push2TV 3000 is a Miracast capable dongle that allows you to mirror your laptop, tablet, or smartphone’s screen to any device with an HDMI input. It’s Apple TV for Android.
The Push2TV’s tiny size, it’s only 12m thick and smaller than a credit card, and it’s ability to be powered by USB, makes the device extremely portable and represents a change in the way you can use the device compared to Apple TV. With the Push2TV there is no configuration required at all, no wireless settings to enter, no device naming to manage, and this changes how the device can be used.
Where Apple TV is a static unit, the Push2TV’s size and lack of configuration makes it a far more portable option. Rather than installing Push2TV is specific locations a more cost-effective use might be to distribute them to specific staff who can carry them with them to each class and connect them as required.
The device has only two ports (HDMI out, and mini-USB for power) and a small reset/imaging button that is flush with the case of the unit. In the box is a micro-USB cable and plug, although the Push2TV can be powered from a USB port in the back of your TV saving space if your power sockets are limited.
How Does Miracast Work?
Miracast works by creating a direct peer-to-peer connection between the sending and receiving devices. This means you don’t need a wireless network between the two. This will be a huge advantage to many schools who have not put in place a managed wireless network or in areas without wireless coverage.
How you connect your tablet to the Push2TV depends on the type of device you are using. If you have a device running stock Android, such as the Nexus 7 or 10, screen mirroring is not complicated, but requires more steps than most teachers will be comfortable with, especially when you compare it to the iPad’s slick user interface.
On a Nexus device you have to bring down the settings shade, press Settings, go to WiFi, select the WiFi Direct option, scan for devices, select the device you want, and then connect.
On the HTC One smartphone, HTC have been thoughtful enough to build in a gesture which can be activated from any application to initiate screen mirroring. It’s much closer to the iPads UI and works nicely. Google would do well to build this into stock Android.
Once you’ve connected to the Push2TV the image is so crisp that it’s hard to believe that it is being streamed wirelessly from a handheld device. We’ve streamed 1080p videos from an HTC One smartphone to an HD TV and you would think there was a HD box with direct HDMI connection plugged in to the back of the TV, it really is amazing, and better than screen mirroring I’ve seen with the Apple TV.
While there is slight lag between the output of the tablet and the display on the TV it’s not significant, and similar to that shown with Apple TV. Likewise, audio comes through clearly and with good volume.
Netgear claims that the Push2TV wireless streaming works for up to 30 feet, and in our testing this seems about accurate. I did notice, however, that there would be occasional distortion or stuttering at greater distances, but the connection was never lost and would pick up happily where it left off.
This is the main difference between Miracast and Apple TV. Because Apple TV receives input over a network the distance between the device and the transmitting iPad is irrelevant. As long as both have good signal, even from different parts of the site, screen mirroring will always work.
Miracast, instead, makes a peer-to-peer connection using WiFi between the tablet and the Push2TV. This means you always have to be within close proximity of the Push2TV. While this is fine for most classrooms, it does add an additional consideration when moving about the space.
I did have one teacher who wanted students to take an iPad out of the classroom and across the school while streaming back to the classroom via the camera. Clearly the Push2TV would not work in this situation, but this type of use is rare.
But all things are not perfect on the ship Miracast. Connecting to the adapter takes a good thirty seconds. Once connected there is little lag but unlike Apple TV, where the connection is almost instant, there is a significant delay. This means that you have to plan ahead when teaching rather than quickly being able to stream your display — you can’t be quite as impulsive with Push2TV.
Also, connecting to the Push2TV is hugely inconsistent. The first day we had the adapter installed mirroring was fine — we streamed video from an HTC One smartphone, and browsed images for a few hours without a hitch. On the second day, however, for reasons we weren’t able to discern, connecting to the Push2TV became a game of chance, and simply failed at least 50% of the time, and required rebooting the Push2TV, tablet or both to resolve the issue. This inconsistency only increased when we started to use other devices to screen mirror.
I’m going to assume this is a problem with the adapter as Netgear is regularly releasing firmware updates — which are easy to install — which seem to appease a few customers with each update, but this is simply not acceptable in a consumer device, let alone one being considered for use in a classroom.
The Push2TV is not able to be secured with a password. This means that potentially anyone with a Miracast enabled device within 30 feet can screen mirror with impunity. Due to the required proximity I don’t find this as much of an issue as I would with the Apple TV, but it’s still something to take into account.
I have mixed feelings about the Push2TV. The first day it worked flawlessly, streaming YouTube videos, showing home videos and photos, even browsing the Internet. The potential is there. After that, however, my experience soured. My Nexus 10 would no longer connect, my HTC One connected but only if I hadn’t connected any other devices in the meantime. I tried a firmware update but that repeatedly failed.
These problems occurred while sitting in ClassThink Towers with a good deal of time to work through them, a teacher in front of a class of students is not going to be able to deal with these sort of technical issues.
The Netgear Push2TV does what it says it will and does it well…when it works. As with many tablet technologies, it’s not designed for use on a scale required in schools and as a result is missing some of the features that we expect.
[pullquote]I spent most of the week I was using the Push2TV walking between my chair and the TV power-cycling the device in order to manually reset the box.[/pullquote]
The Push2TV doesn’t have a remote — that’s understandable, there’s nothing to configure — but it means that if unit gets hangs connecting to the tablet, as happened on a couple of occasions, the only course of action is to reboot the adapter by fiddling at the back of your TV or projector. Too much time was spent in the few days we were using the Push2TV walking between the chair and the TV power-cycling the device in order to manually reset the box.
Unless your tablet or phone has a custom ROM installed connecting to the Push2TV is anything but the elegant solution offered by iOS. I don’t like proprietary technology, like Apple TV screen mirroring, it’s inflexible, expensive, and designed to restrict functionality for commercial rather than technical reasons. But what’s great about the Apple TV is that it just works, and more importantly, it works intuitively, and that’s what most teachers are looking for. They want something that isn’t going to hang in the middle of a presentation, or require resetting multiple times a day. When they want to mirror their tablet screen they need it to just happen, not wait 30 nerve racking seconds while they hope the adapter isn’t going to hang.
The Push2TV is heading along the right lines, it’s a simple device, that just plugs in and works…except when it doesn’t. It’s likely the case that this technology isn’t yet mature enough and that the problem is with inconsistencies in the implementation of Miracast in the transmitting devices rather than the Push2TV, but teachers will just see the inconsistencies and become frustrated.
If you’re desperate to mirror your Android tablet to a projector or TV, the Netgear Push2TV will work, but for most teachers it will be too unreliable. For the moment, sadly, we continue to wait until this technology is perfected.