While the Veebeam HD video streamer does indeed allow you to wirelessly stream HD media to your TV, most consumers will be better served with a dedicated media appliance.
For many consumers, the cost of a Home Theatre PC is simply cost prohibitive and yet a media appliance such as the Western Digital Live Plus, or Seagate GoFlex TV doesn't quite meet their needs. Many consumers do, however, own a fairly powerful laptop yet have no way getting the signal off their laptop and onto the screen wirelessly. For this niche, the Veebeam HD may just be perfect as it allows - via Certified Wireless USB - customers to turn their laptop into a HTPC. This is the theory behind the wireless video streamer, but is the reality the same as the theory? Read on to find out in my full review.
The Veebeam HD is not some boring black box. The first and most obvious difference between this and a media appliance (such as the Seagate GoFlex TV) is the diamond-shaped footprint. Basically, this unit is a square-shaped device much like any media appliance. By turning it 45º, Veebeam has made it much more "interesting" diamond shape. Even though its official size rating is 120 by 120 by 80mm, they have actually made the footprint bigger than it should be in its current form factor. With that being said, I doubt anyone will have trouble finding room for it in their home theatre entertainment setup.
The second thing which is blatantly obvious is the front "peak" and the fact that the outer skin is covered in cooling holes. The main reason for its existence is that it serves as the antenna tower for the Veebeam HD. The second reason for its unique shape is that it doubles as the storage cradle for the wireless USB dongle. When not in use, you can tuck the little Wireless USB dongle into this slot and it will be safe and secure. More importantly, it will never get lost.
The rear of the Veebeam HD is where all the actual ports reside. You not only get composite "RCA" ports but also optical audio out and of course, the ubiquitous HDMI port. In other words, you will be able to connect to this streamer to any TV out there. They even include two USB ports for increased storage abilities.
The Certified Wireless USB dongle (a.k.a. Host Wire Adapter) itself is actually larger than you would expect. It is not very long, but it is overly wide and as such may block adjacent USB ports from being used on your laptop. I know this on my Asus laptop but it depends on your laptop's USB port layout. When it came to actual performance of this WUSB dongle, I was fairly impressed. It is rated for 10 meters and I was able to get about that amount of reception distance.
The only issue I have is the fact that this is a line of sight only setup. Anything which is between the receiver and the Wireless USB dongle will block the signal. This is inherently a limitation of Certified Wireless USB technology. Luckily, someone walking between the two devices won't cause it to drop the signal, but someone standing in between them for more than a couple seconds will. It is unfortunate as it would have been nice to have set up the Veebeam HD on a computer in another room, and use a wireless keyboard / trackball to control it without needing to have a computer in the same room. I don't consider this line of sight issue a deal breaker. Since the intended controlling device is supposed to be a laptop, it is hard to find fault with a limitation that shouldn't matter to most of the intended consumers. It is something you should keep in mind.
Where the Veebeam HD is more of a wireless transmission and replication device than a true media appliance, the bundled software will either make it or break it. Oddly, the software actually does not come in the box and you need to download it. This is not a big deal but what the fact that it does not come with any built-in video codecs, and in fact the manual tells you to go and get them from third party sites are somewhat frustrating, epsecially for novices.
Once you have the software installed and the necessary codecs installed, anything you can play on your laptop can be played on your TV. This certainly is a good feature as some more esoteric codecs are usually are not supported by media appliance such as the GoFlex TV. This program literally only has one job to do and that is retransmit the data to your TV in a format that your TV can understand.
To do actually do this, you have two options. The first option (and the default option) is screen mirroring or what Veebeam calls "screencasting". Whatever is on your laptop's screen will be faithfully recreated on your TV. This does make things very easy, but quality of the image may suffer as the resolution of your laptop is going to be the limiting factor. After all, the streamer cannot mirror at a higher definition than your laptop's current resolution. Luckily, Veebeam has foreseen this being a major limiting factor and offered a second option, aptly called Video Play-To mode (a.k.a. "Veebeam Player"). This option does not mirror the image from your screen to the TV, rather it "plays" the media only on your TV in the media's default resolution.
This mode makes for a much better image if you only have a 720p capable laptop screen. As an added bonus, it is also easier on the laptop (and its battery). In testing, I found the screen mirroring option to have about 30 to 35% CPU utilization, whereas Veebeam Player mode only used about 20-25%. Playing HD video and then transmitting it via Wireless USB does take a pretty beefy laptop and that is why Veebeam HD's minimum recommended system is a 2.2GHZ Core 2 Duo.
While the software is extremely intuitive and easy to use, the more useful Veebeam Player option does have a notable drawback. The Player has an extremely rudimentary interface and omits any advanced features. There isn't even an option for selecting different audio streams. On the positive side, when you are dealing with lower resolution files (like YouTube or DVDs), neither of the above limitations is going to matter. These limitations will also be moot if you don't have a 1080p capable TV. You can actually use VLC to play foreign language movies in screencasting mode, and you can play most others in the Player mode. Make sure you think long and hard before opting for the Veebeam HD rather than a dedicated media appliance. The latter basically does everything this video streamer can do (except be wireless) and do so for less monetary outlay. Let's take a close look at the actual performance of this device to see if it can overcome these software induced limitations.
For video testing, I threw together a batch of videos in different codecs of various length (everything from 30 minute anime episodes to 2+ hour movies); sat down over a period of a couple days; and watched them using my Asus K52J laptop and Veebeam HD. For music, I threw everything from high bit-rate MP3 files to FLAC to OGG Vorbis and even some WMA music files I had kicking around. This is what I found out.
When it comes to this streamer's abilities to handle media, be it audio or video, the performance are mainly limited by your laptop. If you have a 1080p laptop screen, you will be extremely impressed with the Veebeam HD as it has not once skipped a beat. Though with that being said, there is a good three second lag between what is displayed on your laptop's screen and your TV so you can forget about using this for gaming or any interactive media. Unfortunately, I do not have a full HD screen on my laptop but do have a 1080p HDTV. As a result, I was forced to use the less than optimal Player mode as anything else would result in lowered image quality. As mentioned in the software section, you wouldn't be able to switch between audio streams; hence this just rules out most of the anime and foreign films as stream 1 usually isn't English.
There is also one more caveat worth pointing out: bandwidth limitations. When the test files were on an external unit, I did notice some major pauses and stuttering due to my laptop's USB bus being shared by two data hungry devices (the Seagate GoFlex 1.5TB USB drive and the Veebeam's USB dongle). Luckily, when it was on my NAS, things went smoothly. This is because I not only have 802.11n enabled device, but also a clear network for testing. In other words, the only way you are going to watch high definition movies is if: a) the files are located locally on your PC or NAS; b) you don't mind giving up alternate audio streams and c) your laptop is in line of sight at all times to the Veebeam HD's base. That is a lot to ask from something which should be easier to use than a basic media appliance such as an Asus 0!Play, Patriot PBO Core, Seagate GoFlex TV, WD TV Live Plus or any of the myriad of other cheaper options on the market today. Colour me unimpressed.
Small and lightweight
Interesting yet stylish look
Veebeam's implementation of Wireless USB works very well at seamless streaming of media across the room
1080p Streaming works flawlessly
Line of sight wireless capabilities only
Software does not include any codecs
Software does not support alternate audio streams
Software and manual are not included in the box and need to be downloaded
USB Antenna is overly wide and will block adjacent ports
When all is said and done, there is a couple things which I really like about the Veebeam HD. It actually delivers on its promise of wireless HD streaming. This does mean that at the hardware level, this unit is everything it promises to be. Though it does have one major drawback and that is: its line of sight only. Even something as simple as a person standing in between the receiver and the base station will make the streamer lose connection. In theory, it doesn't sound that big a deal, but in practice, it does make it a finicky beast which is much more hassle laden than a simple media appliance should be.
Honestly, I could "live with" the hardware limitations if the software was great. Sadly, while it does work, it too has some major limitations. The biggest of these is the Play-to mode's lack alternate audio stream selection and all round lack of basic features. This is compounded by the screencasting mode's inability to play at resolutions above that of your laptop's screen. When you add up all the good and all the bad, the end result is a unit that has much potential but never lives up to the hype. Until Veebeam HD works on their software, most consumers will be better served buying a dedciated media appliance.