Replacing a video and audio cable are no less than three dongles and gizmos requiring a tangle of cables to hook everything together. The end result? Unnecessary cable clutter. It's still great at very targeted applications.
July 2009 Kerry Chin
One of the fastest-changing sectors of the electronics industry for the past ten years has been the evolution of wireless technology. From analog to digital 3.5G mobile networks to wireless networking and the proliferation of Bluetooth, I have been spoiled by the pace of technological advances. Home theater has not been standing still either, with HDTV becoming mainstream and at price points ever lower and more accessible. IOGear’s Wireless USB Audio Video Kit attempts to answer the question perhaps few were asking: can an HD AV system be freed from the shackles of cables and eliminate more cable clutter? Follow me on a tour as I get geeky.
The IOGear Wireless AV Kit comes packed attractively in bright green. Unboxing the kit feels like unstuffing a stocking at Christmas – there are just SO many pieces and adapters and cables to use and lose. Fortunately, many of the supplied adapters and cables are easily available in any decent consumer electronics store, so your attention quickly turns from the quantity of packaged goodies to simply, “How the heck do I move on from here?”
The main components, ignoring all the adapters and cables for a moment, are three little boxes that serve to provide wireless access to video and stereo audio streamed in real-time from your PC – on your TV. This might be most useful for those with lots of multimedia content on their PC, or PC laptop, who wish that there was an easy way to enjoy all of that content, without the hassle and restrictions of cable extensions or having a dedicated PC in the living room. Of course, one could just get a standalone PC to connect permanently to the TV/audio system, but then it may not be the one that is regularly used or the PC on which the content is stored. Suffice to say there are many other ways to deal with this content delivery issue, but IOGear’s solution promises to be an integrated, high-bandwidth method of getting video and audio into your living or family room – wirelessly.
Some applications may involve gaming, watching downloaded or streaming videos on the large screen, or even full-blown multimedia presentations in a theatre or boardroom setting. Whatever the application, IOGear’s Wireless AV Kit lacks not for new technology, as it uses a Certified Wireless USB chipset from RealTek and also USB video extension technology from DisplayLink. Video is mirrored or extended beyond a single display and channeled out the USB port, and then, using the set of aforementioned adapters, hits the airwaves utilizing the very latest Ultra-wideband wireless radio platform for high robustness in the presence of other wireless signals (such as 802.11), and high bandwidth.
Let me answer that for you – it’s fairly simple if you’re not intimidated by cables, drivers, and adapters.
First, a quick read of the thoughtfully included, color glossy 80 page printed manual (yes, 80 pages!) reveals that on the PC side, one simply connects the wireless USB transmitter similar to this adapter here. This little piece is about the size of a very overweight USB flash drive with an articulating antenna sticking out the side. That is, after you go about the process of installing the software from CD.
Next, with the wireless video receiver in hand, you locate the VGA port on the back of your display which can be either an LCD monitor, HDTV flat panel (plasma, LCD or DLP), or projector. Wait, don’t have a VGA port? No problem as long as you have a DVI port instead. In this case, you would connect the DVI-A to VGA adapter first to the display, then connect the wireless video receiver via the supplied VGA male-male cable. However, it seems to be that most HDTVs these days lack a VGA or DVI port, substituting HDMI. This is fine…if you make another trip out to your local electronics retailer to pick up a DVI to HDMI adapter cable. Then, after returning back home, you can hook your video receiver via VGA cable to the VGA-DVI adapter and finally to the DVI-to-HDMI adapter and finally to your TV. Next, locate the power adapter that fits the video receiver, plug it in and you’re half done. Whew. Told you, I didn’t say it would be easy.
Now for the audio part. The audio receiver is a free standing box with curved sides that can be located both close to your audio system and ideally within line of sight to your PC. Using the stereo mini-plug to RCA adapter, you are likely to be able to locate a spare input on your amplifier or home theater receiver. After you locate the second power supply (which does not fit the video receiver and has a different plug) and plug it in, you are nearly ready to go.
Straight out of the box, you will likely find that your wireless video adapters will have located each other and made some image available on your TV or projector, if you have set up everything correctly. In my case, the units came from the factory pre-paired, so all I had to do was select the “mirroring” option and off I went.
Lastly, your enthusiasm may be tempered slightly by the realization that audio doesn’t work out of the box. I am not sure why, but IOGear makes you go through the simple process of pairing the video and audio receivers by plugging a USB to mini USB cable into the PC and the audio receiver. One more trip to the TV to disconnect the audio box, bring it back to the TV, pair it, and set it back and I was off! Of course, this annoyance could have been eliminated by either us reading the entire setup procedure properly, or by IOGear taking the trouble to pre-pair the audio and video receivers.
The IOGear Wireless AV Kit implements a very similar overall solution to the numerous USB video solutions that have been in the market for quite some time. These USB video products are in use mainly for multiple display settings, digital signage, and the like. The trick here is the wireless implementation using a Certified Wireless USB platform, and also the audio, which to keep video and audio in perfect sync, must not be a trivial technical hurdle. In the IOGear Wireless USB Video Audio Kit, you get 720p or 1600 x 1200 pixel video streaming capability, including full stereo audio streaming within a claimed 30 feet line-of-sight range.
Given that wired DisplayLink video solutions exist for under $100, and that the street price of the IOGear Wireless USB Video Kit (the version without audio receiver) has fallen below $150 USD, the pricing seems to be in line with expectations and no demerits are warranted. In fact, given all the tech (and all the extra adapters and cables), IOGear can’t be making huge money on sales of this product.
As with wired USB video products, the IOGear gives you access to an extended desktop for presentations or higher productivity. The simplicity of this wireless video solution is that you can add pixels to your desktop without adding internal video cards to your PC – especially useful for small form factor PCs, or laptops which support only one external monitor. With the DisplayLink drivers installed, you can in fact just use this system to get video from point A to point B in your home or office and probably be quite happy doing so. IOGear sells a wireless video-only solution for this purpose, but I thought it would make sense to try out a video-only configuration to test the core functionality in a wireless context.
Performance of any wireless system is rather difficult to gauge because so many factors are involved. First, environment plays a critical role in the signal quality and bandwidth available. I tried not to worry too much about this, and just hooked everything up in what I’d consider a rather typical environment: a large room of about 18 feet in length, with a line-of-sight distance of about 15 feet between transmitter and receivers. In the background, I had a 802.11g network, a couple of mobile phones, a cordless telephone basestation, and a host of various wired electronic gadgetry next to an LCD TV.
At 15 feet, I found that the system could not maintain a video link the majority of the time. Signal strength for the video was reported to be 2 bars, but darned if I could get a desktop to show up on the TV. Things became more reliable at about 13 feet — good enough for remote desktop computing, but not good enough for video streaming. I took some DVD quality (480p) movies and streamed them to a mirrored display and got fairly dismal performance. Frames were definitely choppy. Once I added audio to the mix, I pretty much lost the link again. Everything returned by about 10 feet, so I conducted the rest of my testing at a 10 foot range. Certainly, I can say that the claimed 30 feet is not something obtainable in real-life.
After settling in at a wireless-friendly 10 foot distance, I fired up VLC Player and looped a native 720p movie to the TV and sat back. To my delight, the movie streamed relatively seamlessly, and perhaps the most impressive part was that the audio was clear, clean and right in sync with the video. Obviously, my setup efforts had paid off, because finally I was able to sit back and marvel at having a working system. Having convinced myself that I was pretty darn good at watching video from a leather armchair, I watched with a more critical eye. Upon closer inspection, I found that the video stuttered every now and then, perhaps 2 to 3 times per minute. This stuttering was not entirely noticeable, as the occasional casual observer that entered the room paused to watch for a few minutes. None of them noticed any glitches, even when asked.
The IOGear AV Kit relies on Ultra-wideband radio technology to provide its high bandwidth video and audio link. This low-power, spread-spectrum technology is really good at being able to operate even in the presence of many other, potentially conflicting wireless signals. However, since it is a very low power system, it often requires close to a line of sight link for optimal performance. Even bodies or solid objects blocking the view from receiver to transmitter can seriously degrade signal quality. Accordingly, my nasty test of unscrewing the antenna to force a link loss guaranteed an interruption in the signal, but each time, when the antenna was replaced, the video and audio would continue on seamlessly. Usually, the act of just starting to cup one’s hand around the antenna would interrupt the signal enough to cause frames to be dropped, but again, this is to be expected and the IOGear AV Kit passes the link interruption test with flying colors.
Video compression and visual artifacts are a common topic when discussing wireless video or video streaming applications. My expectations were high given that I’ve tested DisplayLink products in the past and, despite a few performance issues with the high pixel pushing scenarios, I’ve always come away impressed with the lack of visible artifacts, ghosting, or obvious downsampling/pixelization issues. The IOGear solution follows the impressive path set by its DisplayLink based cousins. Really, if you have a good link, not too much distance between receiver and transmitter, you are going to be happy with the results.
Back to video tests, I was extremely pleased with the performance of lower resolution streaming videos (DVD rips) and saw no glitching whatsoever. QuickTime formats, played using the standalone QuickTime app, however, would not play at all, but just resulting in a solid green video window.
I should add the following disclaimer to this review: my regular Intel Core Duo machine malfunctioned before I started full testing, so I was forced to resort to testing using my workhorse 1.5GHz Centrino laptop running Windows XP. I expect that if I had slightly more horsepower at my disposal, there would be no 720p video glitches.
As with wired USB video products, your expectations have to be reasonable in order to feel like you’ve got full value for your money. USB 2.0 was never met to carry compressed video data over its poor little half-duplex, shared bandwidth link, but given the right environment and an optimal alignment for transmitter and receivers, you should experience good results. Users wanting the productivity enhancement of multi-displays are better off sourcing a wired USB video adapter, but the Wireless AV Kit will work in a pinch. Day-to-day productivity tasks, or presentations, are well within the capabilities of the IOGear AV Kit, even though moving large windows or graphics around on the screen is not quite a perfect imitation of a zero-latency, regular video connection.
For multimedia display, with cable-free video and audio, the IOGear Wireless USB Video Audio Kit is one of the few games in town. Targeted at the tech-savvy, wireless-hungry media junkie, performance is good, under the right circumstances. You’ll need fairly fast, recent PC hardware and even then, be prepared for the occassional disappointment.
All-in-all, the IOGear Wireless AV Kit fills an interesting niche in the PC to TV market, and throws in the wireless advantage to boot. Installation, though not complicated or brief, is pain-free and operation, given a good environment that allows for wireless distance of less than 10 feet, can be tuned to work rather well. For multimedia freaks, the AV Kit poses an interesting dilemma – these users are likely techie enough to work through the configuration and wireless signal issues in order to fine tune the system for optimal performance. But should a consumer oriented product require such patience and tuning? I think probably not, and so it is with a few reservations that I conclude this review.
Is this Mac or iOS compatible??