Ever catch yourself checking e-mail or browsing the Web while
you're watching your favorite show? You're not alone. A recent
survey found that 42% of viewers use a smart phone or tablet while
Now you can do a lot more with a second screen than post snarky
comments on Twitter. Tech and media companies are rolling out apps
and gadgets that let you send video wirelessly from a phone or
tablet to your HDTV, get more information about the show you are
watching, and use your device as a remote control.
Mirror, mirror. Mobile devices make convenient video players.
But to get the thrill that only a big screen can provide, try
Apple's AirPlay Mirroring app. With it you can wirelessly sling
whatever is showing on your Apple phone, tablet or PC (but not your
Windows or Android devices) to an HDTV -- as long as you also have
an Apple TV media-streaming box ($99), which acts as an
intermediary. AirPlay Mirroring can transmit anything that's on
your mobile device, including Web pages, games and photos, so it's
handy for slide shows and other shared activities.
A free Google YouTube app does a similar trick for Android
users: It sends video wirelessly from a phone or tablet to a TV or
set-top box equipped with Google TV, an Internet-meets-TV platform
that has been slow to catch on since its debut in 2010. To be fair,
Google continues to improve the service, which comes pre-installed
on a limited number of devices, including LG G2 series smart
Xbox SmartGlass is a free app for Android, Apple iOS, Windows
Phone and Windows 8 devices that turns your phone or tablet into an
Xbox game console. Plus, when you start a movie, TV show or game,
the app automatically detects second-screen content, such as movie
trivia and photo galleries, and retrieves it.
Cable providers are also jumping on the second-screen bandwagon.
If, for example, you hate the remote that came with your cable box
(and who doesn't?), try an app instead. Verizon's FiOS Mobile
Remote (Apple iOS and Android) not only controls the set-top box
but also lets you record TV shows and movies on your DVR from
wherever you happen to be -- assuming that there's an Internet
connection. Free mobile apps from Xfinity and Time Warner Cable
offer similar capabilities.
Nintendo's new Wii U game console ($300 and up) fully embraces
the second-screen concept. The handheld Wii U GamePad controller
comes with a 6.2-inch LCD touch screen; swipe a finger across the
screen in games such as Nintendo Land (included with the $350
deluxe package) and you can fling virtual objects from the device
to the big screen. The handheld display shows information that
enhances what's on the TV screen, making both devices essential to
Netflix reportedly has big plans to make use of a second screen,
but its initial effort -- syncing with Sony's PlayStation 3 game
console -- is modest. For now, the Netflix smart-phone app lets you
automatically start playback on the screen attached to your PS3,
says Linda Barrabee, an analyst with NPD Group.
Of course, a second screen isn't ideal in every situation.
"Personally, I'm a big fan of Homeland," says Barrabee. When it's
on, she says, "I don't want to do anything but watch Homeland."