MHL — Playing HD Video on Your Android Phone Without Draining Your Batt

May 24, 2011
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Hi-def audio and video from your Android device to your HDTV. Nothing new or special about that, as many Android devices already allow you to stream seamless, hi-res audio and video from your phone or tablet to your HDTV. What’s responsible for that? HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) output.

But, here’s the awesome part about HDMI: it can also be used to charge your Android device while streaming uncompressed digital multimedia from your device to your HDTV. HDMI itself doesn’t do that. It’s MHL that does.

What is MHL and what does it hold in store for Android users?

MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition Link. It’s an interface standard developed by the MHL Consortium to enable mobile phones and other portable gadgets to link directly to hi-definition displays such as HDTVs.

Android devices and high-def display screens compliant with the MHL specifications enjoy the following perks:

  • High-definition Digital Audio and Video. You can experience picture quality of up to 1080p60 (that’s hi-def speak for a 1,080-pixel horizontal resolution for images coming in at 60 progressive frames per second). For audio, you can get as many as 8 channels (e.g., 7.1-channel surround sound) with up to a sampling rate of 192 kHz.
  • Connector Blindness. The more technical term is “connector agnostic,” a techie way to say that MHL-compliant gadgets don’t care about which hardware connector is used. Even custom and proprietary connectors can be used. Currently, popular existing connectors are used–MicroUSB for your mobile device and HDMI for your HDTV.
  • 5-Pin Connectors. Five is a very small number, and using connectors with such a low pin count will let your Android devices keep their slim and small sizes. So, no bulky connectors for MHL.
  • Charging While Playing. Imagine jogging at full speed without depleting your energy at all. That’s the kind of thing MHL will allow your device to have. For instance, play a hi-def movie on your phone and display the flick on your HDTV. What goes on here is that your HDTV, via MHL, will continuously supply 5 volts (500 mA) to your phone so that its power will not drain. This means your phone will continue to have enough power for other functions such as emails and voice calls. Awesome, right?
  • Content Protection Mechanisms. MHL helps your digital content from being intercepted or copied without permission. High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) technology has full support in the MHL specification.
  • Remote Control. Regardless of the brand of your HDTV, you can use its remote control to operate your phone or tablet.

Currently, however, legacy (i.e., non-MHL-compliant) HDTVs will not be able to make full use of MHL features without the use of adapter cables, dongles, or docks.

The MHL Consortium was originally founded by big players in the smartphone and tablet industry: Samsung, Toshiba, Nokia, Sony, and Silicon Image. Acer and HTC later on joined the Consortium as adopters of the MHL specifications. The good news for Android lovers is that Samsung, Toshiba, Sony Ericsson, Acer, and HTC are all supporters of the MHL standards, so you can expect greater support for the MHL specification in the coming months and see more Android devices and HDTV sets carrying the MHL Consortium’s stamp of approval.

Historically, Samsung’s Infuse 4G gets the credit for being the first mobile device to get MHL support. Other MHL-enabled devices include HTC Flyer Wi-Fi, HTC Evo View 4G, HTC Evo 3D, and Samsung Galaxy S II.

Will you be an MHL adopter, too? Or do you think legacy HDMI is enough for your needs?

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