Miracast vs Airplay
Miracast is a new offering for the Nexus 4 Android 4.2. It is a video streaming specification created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. It allows a user to share whatever is displayed on their device’s screen with another compatible product. So you could share your Nexus 4 screen to a TV or a tablet or another desktop. The spec supports up to 1080p HD video and 5.1 surround sound. The dream is, you could download a movie to your tablet via the Play Store (or your preferred medium) and stream it to your TV without a HDMI output, or play games on your TV or just to broadcast a presentation.
If it all sounds very familiar, that’s because AirPlay has done it for years. It lets you wirelessly stream what’s on your iOS device to your HDTV and speakers via Apple TV. Or mirror exactly what’s on your mobile display to the big screen. It’s a simple but effective feature that allows any iProduct (iPod, iPad, iPhone, and iMac) to talk to the Apple TV box or any AirPlay Server that you could install on your PC or MAC. Apple was the only one to offer this seamless experience up until now. I have been running XBMC on my desktop (secondary display) permanently for over a year now. The convenience of AirPlay is that my spouse can broadcast shows to the TV whenever the computer is on on her iPad or iPhone. No configuration is required other than to be on the same wireless network.
Level of Integration
Both are designed to work with media, videos, music etc to stream music from one device to another. Also, they have also incorporated mirroring of what’s currently showing on the screen. Miracast is suppose to go one step above, to allow for strategic information to be sent over miracast, and to use the tablet or phone screen as a secondary display, to display related information perhaps.
The neat thing about Miracast is it doesn’t require any special hardware to work. It is supposed to be a globally adopted standard and hopefully, in time we would get to see more devices coming with Miracast support. Unlike Apple’s Airplay, Miracast is less restrictive and it is open thus any platform or device manufacturer could jump on board in future. As of right now, there are a number of major players who are willing to work on this including Intel, AMD, Broadcom, Ralink, NVIDIA, TI, Qualcomm, Marvell, MediaTek, and the Android platform. Hopefully, Apple will too.
As for Airplay, clients are primarily the Apple devices, iPhones, iPads etc and the official receiver is the Apple TV. However, you could easily configure your PC, MAC to receive Airplay content and also for applications such as XBMC, they also support receiving AirPlay streams.
The Nexus 4 and 10 both support it officially as clients, though you’d be hard-pressed to find a working demo of it. And in fact, while Google claims the Nexus 10 can utilize it, the option is entirely absent. No news on the Nexus 7 front too. Perhaps it could be due to lack of Miracast certification and not sure if there are royalties involved for a miracast-compatible device. Anyway, beyond just the Nexus 4, there is also a real need now for Miracast servers. While there are a couple of Netgear Miracast adapters, hopefully the next year would see more devices incorporating miracast support. This would help compete against the Apple which for now, still wins with the simplicity of Airplay’s implementation.
Another quirk is that Miracast uses your Wifi antenna for a direct WiFi connection. This means you can’t maintain a connection to your home network while transmitting and would have to rely on mobile data. This is a definite drawback compared to competing systems like AirPlay, but it’s something that could be added or changed as Miracast evolves.
Industry analysts predict annual shipments of Miracast-certified devices to exceed one billion units within the next four years. ONE BILLION! That’s a lot and would definitely help to catalyse growth and support in this industry. Hopefully, we will start seeing more devices in the near future. I wouldn’t stop using Airplay, but I would hope to see Miracast receivers being developed and for it to run in parallel to my Airplay XBMC receiver.