Friday, March 16, 2012

Connecting a Smartphone to TV - Part 1: How



When you connect your phone to your TV, you can view videos, photos, play games and music, even browse the web, taking advantage of the larger display. Imagine this scenario: You can play Monopoly Mobile on your phone alone where all the players have to huddle around the tiny screen to see what's happening. Connect it to your TV, and viola; it becomes a full fledged party game without the mess or the hard work of counting money and keeping track of who owns what.

Similarly, you can store your family vacation photos on your phone and display them wherever you go.

Most high-end (read: stupidly expensive) Android smartphones today come with a HDMI connection. This is a successor to the TV-Out feature that used to be present in older Nokia phones. In fact, Nokia was the first manufacturer to bring this feature to mid-range devices. TV-Out was geared towards Standard Definition (CRT) TVs, while HDMI is meant for flat screen TVs with HD resolutions (LCDs, LEDs, Plasmas).


Technology is a mess, and HDMI Out is no exception. There are currently two methods implemented in phones:

1) Dedicated Micro HDMI slot provided connects via micro HDMI-HDMI cable to TVs.Used by Motorola and Sony (previously Sony-Ericsson) mobiles.

2) Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL), where a special dongle is connected to the phone's Micro USB slot (there is no separate micro HDMI slot), a SEPARATE slot in the dongle accepts the phone's charging cable, while the microHDMI slot in the dongle connects to the TV via the cable mentioned in (1). Used by Samsung and HTC.

MHL is, for me, the worst thing to happen to mobiles in recorded history. Three cables to connect to the TV? the logic behind this stupid standard is that the phone keeps on charge during the connection, thereby safeguarding against the battery drain resulting from the phone having to run two displays. Breaking news, Samsung and HTC: any HDTV has to be connected to a power outlet to run. That power can easily be transferred via HDMI slot back to the phone.


Funnily enough it's not that easy to tell. For Sony and Motorola sets, just check out the phone: they should have a micro HDMI slot. If it is missing, you don't have it (kind of obvious :-)).

The situation becomes complex with Samsung. First of all, they have about 500 Android phones and about 36 variants of each phone. Sites like and others list only those features that have been provided to them by the manufacturer through their spec sheets. If they miss out, the world doesn't know. Case in point: My Samsung Galaxy Nexus has the MHL capability but it's mentioned nowhere on the box or in the manual. I found only through YouTube, then broke this news on for fellow owners.

Right now, the only safe bets in the Samsung portfolio is Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note and Galaxy S2. Please consult Google or Youtube to find out about your set.

For HTC, their entire Sensation range has MHL connection. Easy.


For Motorola and Sony sets, all you need is a microHDMI to HDMI cable, easily purchased from Mobile Markets or good mobile shops for about Rs300.

For MHL (Samsung and HTC), you need to have the MHL Dongle AND the microHDMI to HDMI cable. Official OEM dongles are astronomically expensive; just pick one up from Karachi or Lahore mobile market  for about Rs1,500. Please beware that very few people know what MHL is: you should ask for 'HDMI cable for Samsung' or similar.

This is end of part 1. Part 2 will cover the proper way to make the connection and what you can do with it.

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