Ever wished for an easy way to stream movies from your computer to your TV?
Maybe you want to put some of your smartphone's photos on the big screen for a slideshow night?
Either way, you can cast photos and videos wirelessly to your TV via your home Wi-Fi network.
Computers and phones connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your TV or media streaming device can share photos and videos to your TV.
Your TV might have some built-in features that allow screen casting. If not, you'll need a media streaming device, such as Google Chromecast or Apple TV, which plug into your TV and let other devices communicate with it.
The term Chromecast can refer to two things:
- a small device ($59 for Chromecast; $98 for Chromecast Ultra) that plugs into the back of a TV and connects to your home Wi-Fi network.
- the built-in Chromecast function in some TVs (also known as Google Cast). If your TV is Chromecast-enable, you won't need to buy a gadget. Do a web search for your TV's brand and model to see if it has this feature built in.
Apple TV ($209) and Apple TV 4K ($249–279) work best with iPhones, iPads and macOS computers, especially for local data sharing.
Apple TV also has Apple's Siri smart assistant built in, so you can control playback with your voice, but it comes with its own remote for manual control, too.
If you're hosting a party, celebration or want to show off pics from a recent holiday, you can share photos from a smartphone or tablet with Chromecast or Apple TV.
Sharing photos with Chromecast
You will need:
- Android or iOS device with Google Photos app installed
The easiest way to share photos to Chromecast is via Google Photos app – a cloud storage service with infinite space for photos, though it usually compresses them to a slightly lower quality than the original.
- Open the Google Photos app and click the cast button in the top right and select your Chromecast device.
- Swipe your phone screen to change photos or, on an Android device, click the three vertical dots in the top right and select Slideshow for automatic scrolling.
Sharing photos with Apple TV
You will need:
- iOS device (iPhone or iPad)
- Apple TV or Apple TV 4K
- First, set up an iCloud account at icloud.com or through the iCloud app on your iPhone or iPad. You also need to have set up the Apple TV using the Apple ID as your iOS device, or an Apple ID you've set up iCloud Family Sharing with.
- Once your photos have backed up automatically to iCloud, open the Photos app on the Apple TV's home screen, select Turn on iCloud Photos if prompted, and your photos should be visible.
Media server software can cast videos saved to your computer, or an external storage drive plugged into your computer, to a TV or media streaming device.
Video from Mac to Apple TV
You will need:
- Mac computer
- Apple TV or Apple TV 4K
When casting video from a Mac's storage drive, the easiest way is to share your iTunes library, which lets you access it from your Apple TV menu.
- In iTunes, click File, then Home Sharing, then Turn on Home Sharing.
- On your Apple TV, go to Computers, then select your computer.
- At the top of the screen, you can see the type of media your Mac's iTunes library is sharing. Select what video you want and it should start playing.
To add a video to your iTunes library, click File, Add to Library, then select the video file. Not all file types are supported by iTunes, so if yours doesn't show up in the library, that's probably the reason. Anything bought or rented via iTunes will work.
Price: $6.50 per month. Some free features.
You will need:
- Windows PC or Mac
- Smart TV, Chromecast or Apple TV
The Plex app for Windows and macOS automatically sorts movies and TV shows into genres, adds plot summaries to each video, and includes official pictures for each movie or TV season.
Plex is free to use if you only want a neat way of sorting media on your computer, but to cast any videos longer than one minute you need a Plex Pass subscription – $6.49 per month, $49.99 per year, or $160 to buy it outright.
The Plex Pass also lets you use the Android or iOS app.
Price: Free. Some paid features ($2 per month, $21 per year, or $49 for lifetime).
You will need:
- Windows PC or Mac with Google Chrome browser installed
- Chromecast TV
Videostream shares video to Chromecast via the Google Chrome web browser, which you will need installed on your computer.
You can also download the Videostream app on Android or iOS to control video playback or select new videos from your phone or tablet, so long as Videostream is open on your computer.
The paid version unlocks the ability to add subtitles and create playlists that auto-play the next video.
Chromecast and Apple TV alternatives
While we've shown some easy and popular methods for screen casting, there are plenty of other media devices out there, aside from Chromecast and Apple TV.
Miracast, Amazon Fire Stick, and Roku are some other popular options. Some of these connect with different software, or work differently with your TV.
Likewise, a search of app stores will turn up numerous other apps that can stream from computer to TV using the hardware listed above and the same basic ideas.
Screen mirroring is technically not the same as casting, but it is another way of sharing content from one device to another and the two terms are often confused.
When 'casting' to another device, such as a Chromecast or Apple TV, that device takes over the job of showing videos, photos or music. It's as if your phone or tablet tells the Chromecast what to do, and then the Chromecast goes ahead and does the legwork while the device you're casting from acts as a remote control.
'Mirroring' is like using your smart TV as a display for a phone, tablet, PC or Mac. This means the original device is still doing all the processing and its screen usually needs to stay on, which can be a drain on the battery. Usually, the receiving TV shows an exact duplicate – visuals and sound – of what's on your broadcasting device. How mirroring is handled depends on which mirroring protocol you're using, which device you're broadcasting from, and which smart TV or other device is acting as the receiver.
- Works with Android, Windows, Mac, iPhone and iPad (provisionally)
Google Cast is built into some smart TVs from many major brands, including Sony, Philips, Hisense and Sharp, among others. You can also buy a Chromecast or Chromecast Ultra dongle to add this functionality to a non-supported TV, or to improve your experience if your TV's Google Cast functionality isn't great.
While Google Cast is mostly designed for casting media content such as movies and music, it's also one of the easiest ways to mirror a phone, tablet or computer on your TV.
- Android: On an Android device, open the Google Home app and scroll till you find your Google Cast device. Select it, and at the bottom of the screen hit Cast my screen. To stop, go through the same motions and select Stop mirroring. Some Android devices also let you screen share from the pull-down quick settings menu. On the default Android operating system (OS), this settings option is called screen cast, but it might be called smart view, quick connect, smart share, or a number of other things depending on which phone or tablet you have.
- iPhone and iPad: iPhones and iPads require significant effort to screen mirror to a Google Cast device. You need to first mirror your phone or tablet to a PC using an app such as ApowerMirror, then mirror your computer to your TV. Basically, you need to make a mirror of a mirror, which sacrifices some features and is far from optimal.
- Windows 10 and Mac: To mirror from Windows 10 or macOS, you first need a browser that supports Google Cast such as Google Chrome, Opera, Brave, Edge and other Chromium-based browsers. Right click in a blank spot on a web page or tab and select Cast. You can also find the Cast option in the settings menu. Click Sources at the bottom of the list, then choose between tab, desktop, and file. Casting the tab will only mirror the current tab in your browser. This is useful if you have sensitive information on your computer that you don't want to blow up on a big screen. Desktop is a newer option that will mirror everything on your screen, though if you have multiple screens you can only mirror one at a time. File is a casting solution that lets you play media or videos on the big screen; it's not screen mirroring and the file types that work with it are limited.
- Works with Apple devices
AirPlay is an easy and high-quality screen mirroring protocol. Unfortunately, it can only be broadcast from Apple devices, but some smart TVs can act as receivers. Apple TV set top boxes can also act as receivers.
- iPhone and iPad: Connect your iPhone or iPad to the same network as your smart TV or Apple TV set top box. Open the Control Center – swipe down from the upper right corner of an iPhone X or later, or swipe up from the bottom of an iPhone 8 or earlier – and tap the Screen Mirroring icon. Select the AirPlay receiver you want and follow any prompts that appear on your TV. To stop mirroring, open Control Center again and tap Screen Mirroring, then Stop Mirroring.
- Mac: Mac's can use AirPlay to screen mirror or turn your TV into a second monitor. Make sure your Mac is connected to the same network as your smart TV or Apple TV set top box, then click the AirPlay icon in the menu bar at the top of the screen. If you can't see the icon, go to the Apple menu and select System preferences, then Displays, and then Show mirroring options in the menu bar when available. Choose the AirPlay receiver you want and follow any prompts on your TV. To play with the display settings, click the AirPlay icon in the menu bar of your Mac and browse through the options. To stop mirroring, click the AirPlay icon on your Mac and select Turn AirPlay Off. If you're using an Apple TV, you can also press the Menu button on your remote.
- Works with Android, Windows 10, iPhone and iPad (provisionally)
Miracast is built into many smart TVs, but it's more of a hassle to set up than AirPlay or Google Cast and often a bit laggier. As such, it's a good backup if you can't use either of those two options, but shouldn't be your first choice. It also has limited iOS support and Macs can't use it without some serious techy finagling, making them a non-option for most people.
Miracast doesn't need to broadcast on the same Wi-Fi network as the receiving smart TV. Instead, your phone, tablet or Wi-Fi supported PC creates a Wi-Fi direct connection between devices, without going via your router. This has security benefits because you don't need to let people connect to your home Wi-Fi for them to mirror their screen on your TV.
You might need to enable Wi-Fi direct or Miracast settings for your TV or compatible set top box. How to do this varies, so have a poke around in your smart TV's settings menu or do a web search for your TV model and how to set it up for Miracast.
You can check with the Wi-Fi Alliance for a list of Miracast-supported devices.
- Android: Using Miracast on an Android device depends on what phone or tablet you have. You might be able to connect via the Wireless display menu section in Settings. If this is the case, go to Settings, Display, and then Wireless display. Turn Wireless display on and your Android device should look for a Miracast receiver. Once your smart TV is found, tap it to connect and follow any prompts that pop up on your TV. If your phone doesn't have default Miracast menu options, you might have to download a free app such as Miracast for Android to tv: Wifi Display or Screen Mirroring or Cast Phone to TV – Castto, among others. If so, follow the instructions within the app to connect, but keep in mind that free apps like this often come with ads.
- iPhone and iPad: Apple products don't have native Miracast support, but there are some apps available on the Apple App Store.
- Windows 10: Most Windows PCs with Wi-Fi capabilities can use Miracast. Press the Start key and type in "Project to a second screen" and select the result. Your TV, if compatible, should show up in the list. You can also choose to mirror your current display or use the TV as a second screen if you'd prefer some extra desktop space. If your search only returns "Projecting to this PC", then you can't use your Windows PC as a Miracast broadcaster.
If you can't screen mirror wirelessly, you can connect devices to your TV with a cable.
- Android: To connect an Android device to a TV, you'll need an adapter to convert your Android's USB connection into HDMI. And both your phone and TV need to support MHL. To find out if your devices are MHL-compliant, your TV's HDMI port should have an MHL logo next to it, and here's a list of phones with MHL. Even if your phone isn't on the list, it might still have MHL, so try a web search for your phone's MHL specifications. Some adapters also let the TV charge your device while you mirror your screen via HDMI.
- iPhone and iPad: Apple makes its own adapter ($75) to convert the USB end of your Lightning charging cable into HDMI. For iPad Pro models, which have USB-C rather than Lightning, you can buy the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter ($99). You can pick up cheaper ones made by third parties, but beware of going too cheap. Budget adapters are usually low price for a reason and sometimes don't work at all.
- Windows and Mac: Plugging a Windows or Mac into a TV is the same as plugging them into a monitor. The cable you'll need will differ based on the ports your TV has available, and those on your PC or Mac. For example, if your Windows laptop has a DisplayPort port, but your TV only uses HDMI, then you need a cable that has an HDMI plug at one end and a DisplayPort one at the other. You can also use an adapter, though we recommend not buying a cheap one, as they will often break quickly or not work at all.