Friday 23 September 2016

Wireless Desktop Streaming Showdown

Setting up a user friendly, seamless and reliable projecting system can me a daunting and expensive process. I will be looking at a couple of major options, weighing their strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully help you to choose which one is right for you.

I will be taking a closer look at the following products:

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter
Airtame Wireless HDMI dongle
Apple TV
Windows 10 Desktop Streaming

Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter v2. USD49.99 on Amazon

Ostensibly this is Microsoft's answer to the Chromecast. In reality, it is an entirely different device, with different design goals. The Chromecast is primarily a multimedia streaming device, whereas the Wireless Display Adapter is a business tool for using screens over a wireless network.
This device makes use of the open Miracast protocol for streaming, and is out of the box compatible with Windows 8 and upwards, as well as Android 4.2 or later. Windows 7 is supported with additional software.

Setup is simple, truly plug and play if you are running Windows 10

Unfortunately as with most Miracast devices, there is a noticeable lag, so gaming is not really an option, and video tends to become laggy and out of sync with the audio. This was tested with an 802.11n network.

Airtame Wireless HDMI dongle USD299 on Amazon

With a hefty pricetag, this device needs to pull out all the stops, and it does. I am not convinced that it truly justifies the cost, but if you need a device that does everything, then this is it. Using a proprietary protocol driven by an app, this device is compatible with Windows 7 and up, as well as Android, iOS and OSX. It only does display mirroring, but extended desktop support is in the pipeline. Apart from being used as a screen mirror, it also features a built in browser which can be configured to use as a standalone dashboard display. It provides the added benefit of a second USB-OTG port, which you can use to connect a USB ethernet adapter, further improving streaming performance.

The app makes configuration very simple and quite painless. On first startup you may need to do a firmware upgrade, which tends to be quite large, and may take a while to run.

As with the Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter, the device excels at static images, presentations and similar, but video and gaming suffers from stuttering and delays that make it hard to recommend for multimedia.

Chromecast USD35 on NewEgg

The Chromecast is, first and foremost, a media streaming device. Compatible Android and iOS apps can cast content directly to the Chromecast, which means that the content is streamed from the media provider to the Chromecast directly. This means that videos such as youtube and Netflix play perfectly, without any stutter or sync issues. With the latest Google Chrome extension, you can also cast your desktop screen to the Chromecast, but that brings in stuttering and delays when playing video. For presentations however, it is a cheap and viable option. Again it only supports screen mirroring, so no extended desktop.

Apple TV USD149.99 on NewEgg

Baked into any recent Apple product, be it iPad, Macbook or iPad, the Apple Airplay protocol makes wireless streaming between Apple devices extremely simple. Any Apple TV device can be used as a receiver, and streaming works as well as any Apple software. Simple, seamless and user friendly. 

Unfortunately as with anything Apple, it is a closed ecosystem. Airplay is for Apple only. Third party apps such as AirParrot allows you to connect to airplay receivers from Windows, and iTunes allows you to stream your multimedia from Windows to your Airplay device. It also allows screen casting from OSX and iOS.

The Apple TV is more of a Media Consumption Device than a desktop streamer, so it may not really fit into this comparison.

Windows 10 Anniversary Edition Desktop Streaming

The latest update to Windows 10 introduced an app called "Connect". Simply running the app will turn your Windows 10 PC into a desktop streaming receiver. A couple of settings allows you to run the app in the background, making desktop streaming cheap and easy. On a 5 year old Intel NUC the performance was similar to that of the Wireless Display Adapter, with the added advantage of being able to run any normal Windows apps on the PC as well. Additionally, Windows 10 allows you to run extended desktop with the connected screen as a secondary display. Finally you can turn that old laptop into an extra PC screen, or you can run Powerpoint with the presenter screen on your laptop, an the presentation on the remote screen.

Airserver USD19.99 from Airserver

Available for Windows or OSX, this software turns your PC into a full fledged Google Cast, Apple Airplay and Miracast receiver. On a good network, screen casting works great, but video can get seriously laggy. I found that casting my Windows 10 desktop had extreme delays (up to 10 seconds) but casting from OSX, Android and iOS worked flawlessly. Of all the available options, this has been, by far my favourite. Read more in the conclusion below.


For my money the best combination is repurposing an unused PC or Laptop with Windows 10 Anniversary edition, or buying an Intel NUC if you want a neat solution. My configuration has Windows 10 Anniversary Edition with the Connect app for streaming from Windows PCs and Airserver for streaming from anything else.

Casting video is still a problem, but because it is a PC you can play any media locally on the computer.

I also installed and Office suite on the PC which means that visiting presenters can bring their presentations on a USB stick and present without the need for setting up a laptop. Combine that with a quality Wireless Remote, and you have a formidable presentation setup that does not cost an arm and a leg.

Price Windows Android Apple Miracast Airplay Chromecast Screen Mirroring Extended Desktop Standalone Functionality
Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter 49.99 X X X X X
Airtame 299 X X X X X
Chromecast 35 X X X X X
Apple TV 149.99 X X X X X (Apple Only) X
Windows 10 Desktop Streaming Free (with Win10) X X X X X
Airserver 19.99 X X X X X X X X X

1 comment:

  1. Really this is something impressive to have. I think that this will make us able to have the best streaming option to use.
    Emma Charlotte |