Hotel rooms still have televisions, and you can put them to use when traveling. Why use your laptop, smartphone, or tablet when you can watch thing son the bigger screen?
For the record, we’re talking about reasonably modern TVs with HDMI ports on the back here. Older TVs without HDMI ports will be more trouble.
Stream From Your Hotel’s Wi-Fi Network With Amazon’s Fire TV
You may want to pack a small streaming stick like the Roku Streaming Stick, Google Chromecast, or Fire TV Stick, or even a larger set-top box like an Apple TV, Roku, or Fire TV.
That’s a logical idea — streaming sticks especially are good and tiny, so you could throw them in a bag and hook them up to the HDMI port on the back of your TV. However, there’s one big problem here. Most hotels use “captive portals” for their Wi-Fi, forcing you to provide a password or at least click through a terms of service to connect. These set-top boxes haven’t been designed with this in mind, so there’s been no way to connect most of them to a typical hotel Wi-Fi network.
Amazon recently updated their Fire TV products with support for such captive portals. if you want a small stick you can use to stream content from your hotel’s Wi-Fi network to its TV, Amazon’s Fire TV products are the ones to get. Hopefully other manufacturers (like Google with their Chromecast) will add this feature to their products, too.
Bring an HDMI Cable
The low-tech way is often the easiest. There’s always the option of getting an HDMI cable, hooking it up to your laptop’s HDMI port or Mini DisplayPort with the appropriate connector, and then plugging it in to the HDMI port you’ll find on the back of your hotel’s television. You can then play anything on your laptop and mirror it on the TV. If you have video files downloaded to your laptop, you can just play them locally and mirror them onto the TV without any Internet connection required. If the hotel offers an Internet connection, you can connect on your laptop and play YouTube, Netflix, or anything else.
Because this doesn’t involve anything wireless, it should just work. There’s just the matter of carrying around an HDMI cable with you and having to fiddle with your laptop.
Use Miracast for Wireless Streaming (No Wi-Fi Connection Required)
Miracast should be the best option here, if only this standard could get off the ground and work reliably. In Miracast’s vision of the future, all those TVs you encounter in a hotel room will eventually have Miracast built in, and you’ll be able to wirelessly stream to them with just a few clicks or taps. Miracast is integrated into Android, Windows 8.1, and Windows Phone, assuming you have the appropriate hardware. Miracast is like a wireless HDMI cable — it streams the exact contents of your display to the TV.
This would actually be an excellent solution because Miracast works over Wi-Fi Direct. If you have a Miracast dongle, you can plug it into the TV’s HDMI port and stream your smartphone, tablet, or laptop’s display wirelessly. The Miracast dongle itself doesn’t have to connect to a Wi-Fi network.
Microsoft’s Wireless Display Adapter is a well-reviewed solution for this, but it’s more expensive than a Fire TV Stick that comes with a remote — so you may want to skip the hacky MIracast solutions and just pick up one of those. Roku’s Streaming Stick also recently gained Miracast support.
Be sure your laptop, tablet, or smartphone supports Miracast, too. Be aware that Miracast has had a lot of reliability issues, although some people report that modern dongles and devices are working more reliably.
Most Other Streaming Devices Need a Smartphone Hotspot
If you’re willing to use your smartphone’s hotspot feature, that can also provide an option. This is basically the only way to connect a Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, or another device to wireless Internet in a typical hotel. Obviously, enabling mobile data and streaming content from the Internet will use quite a bit of data, and that will count as tethering data — we hope you have a good amount of tethering data and possibly an unlimited mobile data plan. This probably won’t be a realistic solution for anyone, as video services use a lot of bandwidth and most mobile data plans just aren’t that generous.
Yes, it’s silly that you’d have to connect a Chromecast or similar device to cellular Internet when your hotel has perfectly good Wi-Fi, but Chromecasts and other devices just can’t connect to them. Hopefully other manufacturers will get their acts together and more devices will support those captive portals.
On the other hand, if you luck out and end up in a hotel that offers a Wi-Fi network that “just works” without those obnoxious passwords and click-throughs, any streaming device will be able to connect and work just fine.
So, what should most people do? If you frequently want to stream content to your TV in a hotel and use its Wi-Fi network, we recommend getting a Fire TV Stick. if you’re willing to potentially struggle with issues and have modern, Miracast-capable devices, a Miracast dongle will work well and won’t even require an Internet connection. And an HDMI cable you can connect to your laptop will always work in a pinch.
If you do pack a streaming stick or another HDMI dongle, be sure to unplug it from the TV and take it with you when you leave!