One of our bugbears with DLNA, the home media-streaming standard, is that it's a bit of a pain to use. A standard it may be, but simple across every device you use, it most certainly is not. So HTC's Media Link HD is an interesting proposition. It's a little widget that plugs into an HDMI socket, and helps you stream various things from your phone to TV.
Being HTC though, it aims to do it without the fuss and configuration needed for other devices. It should be a plug-and-play affair. So we plugged it in, to find out if that's the case.
Tiny and simple
The Media Link itself is a very small device. On its surface there is barely room for an HDMI output, USB power connector and a button to start the device pairing with your phone. Oh, and there's an HTC logo etched on the top.
It's a nice design, and you can throw it behind your TV and forget about it. In fact, some people may have TVs that can power it via their USB ports. So you may not even need to use the supplied power adaptor. We like that, a lot.
And the lack of controls mean that it's simple to set up. The phone really does all the leg work. When you plug in the Media Link, and press the button, your phone - we tested with the HTC One X - will find the device automatically. From then, there's a little negotiation that happens between the phone and the Media Link, but it's all hidden from view.
And even once everything is paired, there's no user interface as such. If your Media Link is on, and plugged in to your TV, but the phone isn't sending anything, then you will see a mesage that tells you to drag content with three fingers to start sharing on the screen.
The first time you see your phone's launcher appear on the TV, we're pretty sure you'll be at least a little tickled by it.
It's also worth mentioning, in case it isn't obvious, you have to have a new HTC handset for this device to work. So, if you're a One series owner, you're good to go.
A 50-inch phone
On our big plasma, it's like looking at a gigantic phone across the room. But this is great, because it means that things you used to do on your phone, you can now do on the TV. So Facebook updates, uploading images or just checking messages, can all be done on your TV.
We have to say, by far the coolest thing you can do is send a live feed from the camera to your TV. This works surprisingly well, and because the network is Wi-Fi-based, you can move around quite a bit before you lose the signal. We're not sure how many practical applications there are for this, but it's certainly something you can have a bit of fun with, surprising friends or showing a room full of people something at the same time.
You can also see games and video on the big screen, but don't expect perfect performance. We had a crack at Angry Birds, and found it stuttered too much to be all that enjoyable. But also, remember, you can't control games very well when you're looking at a TV and touching the screen of your phone. There's no indication of where your finger is, and that makes it hard to use.
Also, you might want to turn your home cinema in to a gigantic telephone but you can't route audio from calls through your speakers. We're not sure how we feel about that, but it's probably a good thing.
Some smoke and mirrors
In our testing, it has become clear that the Media Link HD is very good for some things, it is less capable in other areas.
For example, while it can play HD video, it needs to be the right HD video, played in the right player. This is fine, but it's a pain if you fancy watching Netflix. It will show on your TV, but the hardware won't be able to keep up, and it will stutter quite badly. Of course, this is an understandable technical limitation, but we'd hope HTC can make the next version with this in mind.
It goes without saying though, that content from the phone via HTC Watch, or just the screen, mirrored on to your TV looks superb.
Sometimes, we found that video would drop out, or break up on screen. It didn't happen much though. Longer videos worked well though, and the quality is pretty good. Playing stuff from DLNA servers is a bit of a hiding to nothing. We had various errors here, but it always felt like there was a possibility we could get it working. Perhaps HTC can do more on this over time.
The HTC Media Link HD is a lot of fun for certain things. Business users might find it useful to show video, presentations or websites when they're out and about. It's tiny, and you can plug it in to anything with HDMI, so for that it's ideal.
If you use HTC Watch a lot, then this is a must-have device, as it is built to handle that content and do so well. In our tests, video via this service looked superb and was quick to load. We never managed to get over how cool it was having our phone handle these things, and allow us to control the playback.
For other video, there's enough codec support to play most common files. MKVs are supported, which means a lot of internet video will work well. We enjoyed this too, and it looked good - even 720p video played well, and all wirelessly.
It's not perfect though. Sometimes things were slow to work, or wouldn't work until we tried several times. Hopefully, HTC will keep updating the phones to make this playback better, because although we like the Media Link HD, we think it has even more potential.