Whether you call it placeshifting or remote viewing, there is a small but growing number of products that let you watch your home TV from a far-flung location via any broadband Internet connection. Sony pioneered the field with its LocationFree TV products, only to be made the underdog by savvy start-up Sling Media and its rapidly expanding line of Slingbox products. And now a third player has entered the arena: the Hava Wireless HD from Monsoon Multimedia. Originally previewed at the January 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, the Hava is now available for $249 at Monsoon's commerce Web site, snappymultimedia.com.
On paper, the Hava Wireless HD one-ups the Slingbox with some worthwhile additions. First and foremost, it has a built-in 802.11g wireless capability, so it can interface with any existing wireless or Ethernet network (Slingbox is Ethernet only). Secondly, it integrates with a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition, allowing you to record live streaming video on your PC when you're streaming inside your home (a standalone PC viewing application is provided for non-MCE machines). And finally, the Hava allows multicasting, which means that, within your home network, several users can watch the stream at the same while one person watches remotely via the Internet (Slingbox allows only a single viewer at a time).
Design and connectivity
The Hava Wireless HD looks like a big network router, measuring 2 inches high by 12 wide by 7 deep. Our review unit was a generic silver box with four green status LEDs on its front panel. And while it's one of the more homely-looking pieces of electronic equipment, giving Scientific Atlanta cable boxes a run for its money on the ugly scale, Monsoon has been tinkering with the design of the enclosure, so future models could offer a different look and feel (the guts of the box should remain unchanged).
On a more positive note, the rear panel is jam packed with more jacks than an average DVD player. There are composite, S-Video, and component inputs, along with one set of stereo audio jacks (red and white RCA connectors) and a screw-type RF input. You can feed as many as four sources to the box, including an unscrambled RF source such as an analog cable feed or an antenna, which takes advantage of the built-in TV tuner. But because the composite, S-Video, and component inputs share a single set of audio jacks, you'll need to purchase Y-cable adapters to feed them simultaneously. Likewise, you'll have to have the second and third devices powered off (or muted), or you'll get a mash-up of all the simultaneous audio streams. Alternately, you might use the second input as a video-only security camera feed--just plug in your camcorder. (By comparison, the Slingbox Pro has discrete audio inputs for each of its video sources.)
Rounding out the Hava's rear panel is a connector for the included dual-headed IR blaster, which remotely controls the A/V sources of your choice, such as cable/satellite boxes and DVRs. To interface with your home network, the Hava has both a standard Ethernet port (for wired connections) and dual wireless antennas.
The Wireless HD is the first of three Hava models. The lineup has recently expanded to include the $200 Hava Pro HD, which is basically identical except that it offers only wired Ethernet connectivity--no Wi-Fi. Monsoon is also planning to release an entry-level Hava Gold model (no wireless, no built-in TV tuner) for just $100. If the company meets that price point, it'll be the most affordable standalone placeshifting device to date.
Setting up the Hava is a two-step process: you need to connect the A/V cables to the video source(s); then connect it to your network, which involves installing the included software on a PC. Linking up with your home-theater components is just as straightforward as hooking up a VCR or a DVD recorder. We appreciated the pass-through outputs, which let the Hava sit innocuously in the chain between our cable box and the A/V receiver, without the need for splitters or monopolizing precious video outputs. Of course, as with any placeshifting box, the A/V source you connect to the Hava will determine how much you'll get out of it. A cable or satellite set-top box will let you watch all those channels on your PC, but a TiVo-style digital video recorder will provides the added value of accessing those great DVR features--pausing and rewinding live TV, watching previously recorded shows--remotely.
Once the Hava box is hooked up and powered on, you have to install the setup software on a nearby PC. The Hava boasts a pretty decent setup wizard; it wasn't flawless, by any means, but it did an admirable job of taking us through the process step by step. We installed the software on a wireless laptop (the Hava software is Windows only). The setup program logs in to the Hava itself--wirelessly--and asks you to input your network's wireless encryption key (it's WEP-only for now, but Monsoon is pledging to add WPA support soon). Thereafter, the Hava itself can access your wireless network, and you should be good to go. We installed it at least three times on three different PCs, and there were a few hiccups here and there--the process can occasionally "confuse" a PC's wireless card, for instance, and might require some manual intervention. But as far as wirelessly configuring a network device goes, it's among the more impressive and successful experiences we've had. In fact, it bested Sony's LocationFree LF-B20 in two big ways: the setup process was not only smoother but truly wireless throughout; Sony requires its unit to be connected via Ethernet during the setup process. That said, if you don't have a Wi-Fi network, the Hava works just as well via Ethernet.