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Saturday, December 13, 2014

How to Connect Your Android Phone to Your TV

A decade ago the idea that you’d want to mirror the screen of your mobile phone to your television would seem silly but now that there is so much content on our mobile devices from games to HD video, it’s downright useful to blow up your phone’s tiny display to television size. Read on as we show you how.

Why Do I Want To Do This?

As with nearly any tech-oriented problem there are multiple approaches to the problem of getting content off your Android phone and onto your HDTV. You can use a Chromecast to cast movies, photos, and a whole lot more. You can even use a Miracast dongle with  your Android 4.2+ phone to wirelessly mirror your Android phone.
Despite how great the Chromecast is for streaming media content and that the Miracast offers (somewhat unstable) screen mirroring, there’s one thing they don’t (and can’t) offer: the stability and bandwidth of a wired connection. If you want perfect mirroring with incredibly low latency, no risk of wireless interference or dropouts, quality sound reproduction, and the convenience of using screen mirroring wherever there is an HDMI port, then you’ll need a wired connection between your phone and your display.

What Do I Need?

The heart of this tutorial is the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) standard. MHL was released in 2010 and consumer products with MHL integration began appearing in early 2011. The standard is managed by a consortium comprised of Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba. Let’s take a look at the potentially confusing world of MHL cables to ensure you get the right cable for your phone.

MHL is not micro HDMI

MHL should not be confused with micro HDMI. Several years ago it was relatively common for flagship Android devices to have a tiny micro HDMI port that appeared very similar to micro USB connection. These micro HDMI ports were typically collocated with the data/charging ports on their respective devices. If you have an older device with a micro HDMI port you can follow along with the general outline of the guide here but you’ll need to purchase a micro HDMI-to-HDMI cable.
If you don’t have a phone with a micro HDMI port that means you’ll need a phone with MHL support instead. Unfortunately, MHL support is not a standard feature on Android phones (like the now ubiquitous micro USB charging port is). Fortunately, the number of Android devices with MHL integration is fairly large. Samsung’s Galaxy series (including the S2, S3, S4, and S5 phones as well as the Note mini-tablets), Sony’s Xperia line, HTC’s One lineup (and several other phones), and LG’s Optimus lineup, all include MHL support.

MHL Cable Types

Once you’ve confirmed that your phone supports MHL, the only thing you’ll need is an MHL cable for your phone. This is, by far and away, the most tricky (and potentially frustrating) part of the entire process. Once you have the right cable it’s smooth sailing, but if you purchase the wrong cable for your device you’re going to have a really bad time. To help you avoid the frustration, let’s take a look at what makes different MHL cables incompatible and how to select the right one.

Active Cables

There are currently three MHL cable types on the market. The first type is known as the Standard micro-USB-to-HDMI Adapter and has 5 pins on the micro USB connector. This is the cable type used by most MHL devices. The second type is the Samsung micro-USB-to-HDMI Adapter and has 11 pins on the micro USB connector. This is the cable type used by most Samsung devices (although a few of their devices use the 5-pin standard).
You will need to check the specifications for your device before purchasing a cable.

Passive Cables

Finally, there is what is known as a Passive MHL cable.  In addition to the pin types outline above, MHL adapters come in Passive and Active form. Active cables, like the ones we mentioned in the previous paragraph, include a powered adapter which converts the MHL standard to plain old HDMI so that you can plug your MHL-enabled phone into any television, projector, or receiver with a free HDMI port. Passive MHL cables do not include active signal adaptation and are intended for use between an MHL-enabled device and an MHL-enabled display. Although they don’t have an extra cable for charging they still will provide energy to the attached device as the MHL cabling standard includes power transmission when the cable is paired between two MHL-enabled units.
The same 5 pin/11 pin rules that apply to purchasing an active cable apply to passive cables.

Purchasing the Correct Cable

Overall we can’t recommend purchasing a passive MHL cable for your device as it severely limits you. There are quite a few Android devices with MHL support on the market but the number of MHL-enabled displays is rather small. Realistically the chances of you just happening upon an MHL-enabled display while armed with your MHL-enabled phone and passive cable are relatively slim. Even if you’re purchasing the cable to use primarily at home (and have an MHL-enabled TV) it makes very little sense to buy a passive MHL cable that only works with select displays when you can buy a similarly priced active MHL adapter that will work with any HDMI port on any display.
Purchasing an active MHL cable isn’t as straight forward as buying, say, a charging cable. In addition to selecting the correct cable type (5 pins or 11 pins) for your device, you’ll want to really pay attention to product reviews. There are an enormous number of cheap cables on the market that offer lackluster performance (or no performance at all for that matter).
For the purposes of this tutorial we used the Aibocn 11-Pin Active MHL Micro-USB to HDMI Adapter ($7.99) to connect a Samsung Galaxy S3 to displays with no native MHL support. Readers with a 5 pin device like the Samsung Galaxy S2 or HTC EVO should take a look at the nearly identical (and also well rated) Skiva 5-Pin Active MHL Micro-USB to HDMI Adapter ($11.99).
Again, and we stress this because it’s really the only step where things can go wrong, read the reviews and make sure you’re purchasing a cable that is compatible with your device and that other users have had success with.

Pairing with a Suitable USB Charger

Active MHL cables require a USB power source. We strongly recommend using a high-quality 2A cellphone/tablet charger as the power requirements for an MHL setup are higher than your typical recharge-the-phone scenario. You need to supply adequate power to the MHL converter as well as power for the device tethered to the MHL cable. Given that the majority of users will wish to tether their phones via the cable for media consumption or gaming (both battery intensive operations) it is wise to use a charger that can provide more power.
Even with a 2A charger, depending on the device, you’ll likely still see a slow battery drain. It isn’t unusual to plug your device in with a full charge, start watching a movie, than then at the end of the movie find that the charge has been depleted to 80 percent or the like. In such instances the charger is providing energy to the device but the power demands of the activity (watching a movie) outpace the power provided by the charger.

Using the MHL Cable

After reading over the previous section, you’re probably thinking “Geez, this is really complicated.” The best part about MHL, however, is that once you’ve taken the time to select the right cable for your device the rest of the process is quite literally plug and play. There are no drivers, no updates, no messing around with applications or file permissions (and certainly no rooting or advanced Android tricks) involved.
The above diagram outlines the simple setup process for an active cable. Plug the male HDMI cable into the television or other display system. Plug the male micro USB cable into the device. Plug the male USB cable into a USB charger. If you’re using a passive cable the setup is identical sans the USB charger bit as the power is provided via the MHL-enabled display.
There’s no need to toggle anything on your device. As soon as the connection is made (and there is power to the connection via the charger if you’re using an active cable), the display on the device will be instantly mirrored to the larger external display.
No settings, no drivers, no anything. When you have the correct cable it’s just plug and play. Notifications, the user interface, games, movies, anything you can display on your device will appear on the larger screen with no detectable delay.
That’s all there is to it! Shop carefully to select the proper 5 or 11 pin cable from a well reviewed company/vendor and your setup process should take less than 30 seconds with no hiccups.

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