Ever since I watched the Windows 10 casting presentation at BUILD 2015 I’ve been quite excited about some of the possibilities that a universal Windows 10 can bring to media casting. Look at the $99 Windows dongles and think about Windows 10 Mobile sticks that could challenge Chromecast and Amazon’s products. WiDi and Miracast are improving and there’s DLNA to consider too.
I’ve done a few tests on Miracast with Windows 10 and the results look better than before but today I took the time to drill down into DIAL and DLNA. It’s good news and bad news at the moment.
The good news is that Microsoft have done work to make it easier to cast. ‘Cast to’ is replaces ‘Play to’ and the charm-bar method used to send via Miracast and WiDi. Windows 10 supports ‘Cast to’ natively with the File Explorer and will search for Miracast, DLNA and DIAL-capable targets. Remember that DLNA is a media ‘director’, Miracast is a screen/audio streaming service and DIAL is a remote application control protocol that works in a similar way to Chromecast. Microsoft have also created a casting API that can be used by developers to enable their Universal Apps with casting features and the good news here is that if, for example, Netflix were to create a Windows 10 app with DIAL send and receive support it would work between all Windows 10 devices on the same network. You could run Netflix on your smartphone and tell it to run on a Windows 10 AIO or a huge screen with an Intel Compute Stick hanging out the back. There’s also the possibility that we see headless Windows 10 Mobile devices connected as cheap HDMI dongles.
The details and video presentation from BUILD, including a few of my tests, are available in this article. Today I started to fill the holes by testing DLNA with the new Film and TV app, Groove and Windows Media Player. I also looked to see if I could get Amazon FireTV working with casting from Windows 10.
The DLNA story is nicely summed up by this post at MyDigitalLifestyle. DLNA sending works for videos from the File Manager, from the Film and TV app and also from with Media Player as long as you have a DLNA reciever on the network. A lot of TVs and set-top boxes support DLNA along with the KOBI app. If you want to send music or photos your only choice on Windows 10 now is to use Media Player. It’s a strange and hopefully intermediate stage considering that Windows 10 Universal Apps have access to a casting API now but that’s a brand new API, available for just a week two so far. [ space left for update! ]
Note: Don’t forget to turn on Media Streaming and to enable Media Player for remote streaming control. See images below.
Miracast is well supported on Windows 10 although this is a compressed video + audio screen casting (streaming over local network) app that needs good WiFi connectivity. I’ve tested it before but today I updated the firmware on my Actiontec ScreenBeam Pro to version 188.8.131.52 and double-checked.
Unfortunately the experience wasn’t good at all from the Film & TV app. Every attempt to connect over Miracast to the ScreenBeam and the Amazon FireTV Stick (with which you can enable a Miracast mode,) failed, until I removed my DisplayLink adaptor and rebooted everything. After some initial wobbly moments two tests worked on the Actiontec box but nothing worked on the FireTV stick. Remember this is from the Windows 10 Film & TV app which is supposed to be ‘casting’ enabled.
Results were better through the File Explorer and Windows Media Player which use a different application (likely with built-in DLNA support rather than Windows 10 cast API usage) to access Miracast devices. Through the Windows Media Player app I was able to send videos, music and images with fewer problems to the ScreenBeam Miracast receiver. I still had problems with the FireTV Stick which works best when the device is first connected as a second screen through the Windows 10 Connect function (in the Notification Center or via Devices->Connected Devices in Settings.
WiFi issues, Miracast firmware and Windows 10 itself could be the cause of the problems but it’s not encouraging when Miracast support and devices have been around for so long. Given that there are now other options than Miracast and that a TV can be made ‘smart’ at so little cost, Miracast doesn’t have the rosiest looking future.
The Discovery And Launch protocol (developed and made public by Netflix and YouTube) has, in my opinion, the best chance of providing a good remote media experience because it doesn’t rely on the sending device power and WiFi quality. All that happens is that a sender application finds a player application in the local network and instructs it to open and play a media file itself. DIAL is a Chromecast and Airplay-like process which works so well when you have a controller to hand, but now it’s possible for Windows 10 to send those commands to a remote device and start an application and stream. Windows 10 can now control other DIAL receivers including Windows 10, Chromecast and FireTV devices.
The problem is that Windows 10 is new and access to the new DIAL API for Universal Windows 10 apps is even newer. Surprisingly, Microsoft didn’t implement it in their media apps, despite having built a demonstrator app for their developer community. Microsoft would benefit greatly by allowing Groove Music, Film & TV and even the photo app to instruct another Windows 10 PC to open the file especially considering you can buy low-cost Windows HDMI dongles. Worse still is that the Netflix app on Windows app has no idea that there could be another Netflix-capable device on the network including a Chromecast or Amazon FireTV stick. If Groove apps were available on Chromecast and Netflix with DIAL support then Microsoft would benefit there too. It could be that software vendors are waiting for Windows 10 Mobile to develop and if DIAL is easy and inter-works well between devices then it should appear in more and more apps over time. It’s also possible that Microsoft is waiting for Windows 10 Mobile, Windows 10 core in its Xbox One and it could be that Microsoft is also developing its own media ‘stick.’
There’s one application in the Windows 10 Store that demonstrates DIAL working on Windows 10 and that’s TubeCast. I’ve tested it over the last 24 hours and I’m quite impressed. While it won’t detect another TubeCast application working on the local network it will detect Chromecast and Amazon FireTV and the process is simple and reliable.
With DIAL and Miracast support, it’s own user-interface and a remote control it makes the Amazon FireTV products the best choices for Windows 10 owners as a remote player right now. If Netflix, Microsoft and others start to update their Windows 10 apps it will only get better. Miracast is still very unpredictable and DLNA support in Windows 10 is currently a mess so focusing on DIAL makes sense.
Check out the BUILD casting presentation video and slides if you’re considering building DIAL support into your Windows universal apps.