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Hava Wireless: a better Slingbox alternative for Windows Media Center owners?

Hava Wireless: a better Slingbox alternative for Windows Media Center owners?

Remember Hava? When we previewed it back at January's Consumer Electronic Show, the folks at Monsoon Multimedia were touting it as a better Slingbox than Slingbox. But once the show ended, we promptly forgot about the Hava box. Until those same Monsoon folks knocked on our door last week to give us a demo.

Like Slingbox (and Sony's LocationFree TV products), Hava lets you digitize your home TV signals and stream them to any broadband-connected PC. But the Hava includes a few noteworthy features you won't find on the Slingbox. First and foremost, it has a built-in 802.11g wireless capability, so it should be able to interface with any existing wireless or Ethernet network (Slingbox is Ethernet only). Secondly, it can be tightly integrated with a PC running Windows XP Media Center Edition, which enables the ability to record live streaming video directly to the PC (a standalone PC viewing application is provided for non-MCE machines). And finally, the Hava allows multicasting--multiple clients can view the stream within a home network while a single remote client simultaneously views over the Internet (Slingbox allows only a single viewer at a time). The Hava box includes component (HD), S-Video, composite, and RF inputs and can control set-top boxes with an IR blaster--by comparison, the Slingbox Pro requires a $50 component-video dongle to accept HD video.

You can buy the Hava Wireless box right now at the Web site for $249, but Monsoon is planning on expanding the line to include a Hava Pro model for $199 (with the same overall feature set, but with no wireless capability), and a Hava Pro Compact (composite and S-Video only) for just $99. Moreover, the company is looking to license its technology to OEM partners, so it's possible you'll be seeing Hava-powered boxes from a variety of third-party manufacturers.

The current hardware and software iterations on the Hava Wireless box certainly didn't have the refined polish that we've come to expect from Slingbox products. But given the comparatively rich feature set as well as the low prices of the Hava products, we suspect a lot of prospective placeshifters would say, "So what?" While the built-in wireless and multicasting capabilities were enticing, it's the Media Center functionality that was particularly impressive. Essentially, the Hava lets Windows think that it is the PC's built-in TV tuner--whether it's two rooms or two continents away. That leaves you with all of the great Media Center functionality--including DVR-style controls (pause, play, rewind, fast forward) and recording abilities--without the need to be tethered to your cable or satellite box.

We're looking forward to putting the Hava to the test in the near future. Our review sample is on the way, and we'll be following up with a full, hands-on review soon. Stay tuned.