Getting PC content onto the more communal viewing screen of the living room TV has always been a challenge. Media Center PCs, which plug directly into your home theater setup, take up space and are necessarily tethered to a single location; media streamers and hubs only work with a subset of content, and can't handle games or social networking. Plugging your laptop directly into the back of a TV isn't always convenient, especially if you want to still access the keyboard and touch pad at the same time.
One common-sense solution is to find a method of wirelessly transmitting the video output from your laptop to any nearby television or monitor. Current laptop-focused choices in this area include Intel's Wireless Display and wireless HDMI boxes such as the Asus WiCast W200 and HP Wireless TV Connect (the latter two being essentially identical).
We've been reasonably positive about Intel's Wireless Display technology since its introduction earlier in 2010, but the platform has a handful of major issues keeping it from being a tool mainstream users will embrace.
If you're not familiar with WiDi, it's essentially a technology built into select laptops running Intel's latest CPUs and chipsets that allows the laptop's display to be wirelessly duplicated on a remote screen (say, a big-screen TV). Though the transmitting hardware is built into the laptop itself, the receiver is a small box that retails for $99 and plugs into the HDMI port of your TV. The big problem with WiDi is that there's perceptible lag between the laptop and TV, making it fine for set-it-and-forget-it video playback, but useless for gaming or real-time Web surfing. It also can't play certain kinds of DRM-protected content, such as Blu-ray, and the current version tops out at a 720p-resolution signal.
The Asus WiCast system solves many of those problems, while injecting a few of its own. The system, which sells for $199, consists of two boxes--a standalone transmitter and receiver--instead of Intel's built-in transmitter and external receiver. This lets you use it with nearly any laptop that has an HDMI port (as well as other devices such as an Xbox 360) but also creates a less-than-portable bundle of hardware that must remain tethered at both ends.
The transmitter is about the size of a small external hard drive, whereas the receiver is larger, about the size of a Wi-Fi router. Both units connect via HDMI cables to your laptop and monitor, and both require power. The receiver must be plugged in via an AC adapter; the transmitter can use an AC adapter or get power from a double USB plug. In either case, you end up with a lot of extra wires and hardware hanging off your laptop.
Once you get past the logistics of setting it up, however, the WiCast is easier to use than WiDi. The transmitter and receiver see each other almost instantly, with no need to visit a software control panel to set them up. You do, however, need to be mindful of screen resolutions, as the host laptop treats the wireless display the same as any secondary display plugged into a video output. That means you can jump into the Windows display options and change the resolution or choose to duplicate or extend the display.
The only time you'll definitely be forced to make adjustments like that is when playing Blu-ray movies. Because of DRM, the Blu-ray video signal will only play on one display at a time, so you'll have to use the Windows display options menu and select the option to use the external display only (as detailed in the video above). Once we had that set up properly, our Blu-ray video played wirelessly on our remote display with no trouble, although the image had a slightly compressed quality, and it wasn't as good as you'd get from plugging a Blu-ray player into the TV's HDMI input.