In 2008 we gave the Best of CES award to the Belkin FlyWire, the first mainstream wireless HDMI system that was promised to go to market. After numerous delays that system still is not available, but the idea is still going strong. CES 2009 saw multiple manufacturers, including Panasonic and LG, announce wireless video transmission capability built into their HDTVs, where a separate transmitter beams audio and video information from a variety of components to a display that only needs a power cord.
The Gefen EXT-WHDMI is one of the first commercially available wireless HDMI systems that will work with any TV and any components. While expensive, it lets users who want a custom installation skip the cost of running wires from source components to a wall-mounted flat-panel HDTV or ceiling-mounted projector. Its 30-foot range isn't really designed to blast signals from one side of the house to the other, or outside, but within the same room it works basically as advertised. No, the video quality isn't quite up to that of a regular HDMI cable, and in some areas fell short of the other current wireless HDMI system, Sony's DMX-WL1, but it's still pretty darn good and, with its exceedingly stable signal, finally represents a viable alternative to long, expensive cable runs. In addition, unlike the Sony, the Gefen's capability to handle 1080p/24 video heightens its appeal to videophiles.
One important note: With these kinds of systems more than usual, we recommend buying from a vendor that offers a solid return policy in case it doesn't work in your installation.
The Gefen EXT-WHDMI consists of two similar-looking boxes, one slightly larger than the other, each about the size of a stack of five Blu-ray Discs. The larger of the two boxes is the transmitter, which has a single stubby antenna jutting from its rear; the smaller is the receiver, with two such antennas. Both boxes are fan-cooled, but the fan noise wasn't audible under normal viewing conditions, and certainly quieter than a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, for example.
Each compact metal box is quite solidly built, as befits a company like Gefen that produces gear intended mainly for professional use. They're rounded on the edges and incorporate mirror-finish front panels with a few LED indicators and, in the case of the transmitter, a single button to select between input sources.
Unlike Sony with its DMX-WL1, Gefen does not offer a remote control to switch between sources and there's no way to integrate a universal remote that we could discern. If you want to switch between input sources on the EXT-WHDMI, you'll have to get up and press the input switch button on the box.
Gefen includes an Auto input switch mode, which ideally causes the receiver to automatically switch to the active HDMI input when you power up the connected HDMI device. Once we got the hang of turning on and off the two HDMI sources the automatic HDMI switching worked relatively well, but there were some hiccups.
We connected a PS3 and a DirecTV HR20 satellite box via HDMI, and we could never get the Gefen to switch back to the satellite box without turning off the PS3. On the other hand, every time we were watching the satellite and powered on the PS3, the Gefen would switch inputs, as if it was giving priority to the PS3. This behavior occurred regardless of which of the two HDMI inputs the devices were connected to, and we suspect other HDMI devices might give different results.
Also, despite the user manual's claim that we could activate the component-video source by turning off both HDMI sources, that never happened. To watch the component-video source, our only option was to use the front-panel switch to manually select it.
One way to get around the whole input switching issue is to connect an HDMI switcher or an audiovisual receiver with HDMI switching to one input of the Gefen's transmitter.
The Gefen EXT-WHDMI system uses ultra-wideband wireless technology developed by a company called TZero. According to TZero, the technology is superior to other methods like 60GHz and Wi-Fi used by other wireless HDMI developers because it's more stable and less subject to interference. The version 1.0 UWB system used by Gefen has a stated range of 30 feet, which TZero characterizes as conservative.
Gefen's system is compatible with video signals up to 1080p/30, including 1080p/24, 1080i, 720p, 480p, and standard-definition 480i. That's better than the Sony, which maxes out at 1080i and can't do any variety of 1080p. Unfortunately, the Gefen still isn't compatible with 1080p/60 signals, which are quite common among Blu-ray players, game consoles and upconverting DVD players.
Since 1080p/60 is not supported by the Gefen, you should set your device to 1080i mode, then engage the 1080p/24 option. With the PS3 and Panasonic DMP-BD35 we used for testing, those settings allowed 1080p/24 video to reach the Gefen and the display, yet also allowed the menus and other non-film content to display in 1080i. With those settings we didn't miss not having a 1080p/60 output resolution, but they're only valid on TVs that can accept and display 1080p/24. If your display doesn't support 1080p/24, you'll have to disable that output option on your source device and stick to 1080i.
The transmitter has three inputs: two HDMI and one component video, and all of the supported resolutions work via both HDMI and component. There's also a separate stereo analog audio input on the transmitter that has a corresponding output on the receiver. Unfortunately, stereo audio on the transmitter can't be piped into the HDMI output on the receiver; you'll need to connect the audio output separately. However, the provision of an analog audio connection lets you connect both component-video and legacy DVI devices that require a separate audio connection. In that vein we'd have liked to see a provision for optical or coaxial digital surround sound audio, like the Sony has, but it's not available.