While set-top boxes like the Apple TV, Foxtel IQ, Fetch TV and others make it easy to get a stack of content on your TV, that may not always be convenient or cost-effective. You're often limited to the content that the hardware provider supports and the cost can be significant.
But if you already have a computer, tablet or smartphone, it's pretty easy to hook your device up to a TV. Here's how to do it.
Cables and adaptors
The main hassle in connecting a phone, tablet or PC to a TV is having the right adapter.
Any TV made in the last decade is equipped with HDMI ports. That means all you'll need is a cable that bridges between whatever connection your device has and HDMI.
USB-C adaptors: One of the best things about the USB-C connector and Thunderbolt 3 is that one cable can be used to carry almost any type of data. That means you can buy a single dongle that will carry video and other data from your device to the TV.
For example, something like the Novoo USB Type C Hub Adaptor gives you a 4K HDMI Port, two USB 3.0 Ports, SD and Micro SD card slots. So, you could connect that to your laptop's USB-C port and then use a HDMI cable to hook your computer up to the TV. Those hubs and adaptors offer the same sort of functionality as old-school port replicators at just a fraction of the cost. Online prices are start at about $40.
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a set of hardware and software standards designed to support the transmission of audio and video. Unlike older standards, which required separate cables for audio and video, HDMI can handle both though a single connection.
It's now the de fact standard for connecting external devices to TVs, linking external displays to computers (although that often requires an adaptor) and even adding smart TV functions to regular TVs through devices like the Google Chromecast, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick. Let's take a walk down HDMI Lane to see what makes it tick and how to make informed buying decisions.
It also has the benefit of letting you connect some external storage, such as a hard drive, memory stick or memory card, so you don't have to clutter your hard drive up with content you want to watch.
iOS devices: Apple, in its wisdom, has made things slightly more complicated for its customers. While the USB-C option is fine for owners of the most recently released iPad Pro devices, everyone else will need a Lightning to HDMI adaptor ($75). There are third party options out there but given Apple's track record at "protecting" users from "dodgy" third-party adaptors, the extra expense of using their adaptors is probably cheaper than buying a less costly option only to find it nobbled by a software update.
If you're a traveller
I've taken to carrying the adaptors and cables I need to connect to a TV when travelling abroad, as many hotel rooms now make HDMI connections to in-room TVs easily accessible. So, you can bring your own movies to watch in the hotel.
How to stream wirelessly to your TV
Google and Apple support wireless streaming to TVs. In the past, this required the use of a set-top box. Nowadays you can get by with one of the following dongles.
Chromecast: The Google Chromecast ($58) is a low cost device that connects into a HDMI port and connects a bridge to the computer over your wireless network. Once you've installed the requisite software on your smartphone, you can stream content from apps wirelessly to your TV.
AirPlay: Apple's play for wireless streaming is its AirPlay standard. It requires an Apple TV ($229 - $289) device to be connected to your TV. As well as providing the wireless bridge, the Apple TV has a growing app marketplace with games and other media services.
However, AirPlay is restricted to Apple's family of devices.
The announcement this week by Netflix that it will be discontinuing support for AirPlay highlights one of the challenges that we can face when trying to stream content from our devices to our TVs.
Netflix claims it discontinued support for AirPlay because: "With AirPlay support rolling out to third-party devices, there isn’t a way for us to distinguish between devices (what is an Apple TV versus what isn’t) or certify these experiences".
During Apple's recent announcements, it noted that AirPlay 2 support would be coming to a number of TVs. That means there's no need to buy an expensive Apple TV if all you want to do is stream content from your phone, computer or tablet. But Netflix says that change means they will lose control of the service's quality.
Or it might be that Apple's launch of its own streaming service means Netflix is preparing for battle and forcing us to make a choice between Netflix and AppleTV+.
However, other apps also limit access to AirPlay and Chromecast. For example, the AFL app doesn't let you stream or use a cable to shift content from a portable screen onto a large screen TV. In that case, the limitation is part of the way broadcast rights have been negotiated. That's why the iPad app, for example, doesn't support full screen streaming, limiting the action to a smaller on-screen window. This is because the broadcast rights for streaming were tied to screen sizes.
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