Netgear has produced quite the nice little device, and it's a glimpse at the future of wireless video. But the Intel lock-in and bandwidth limitations mean that people will be more likely to just hook laptops up directly with HDMI.
Looking very much like a miniature version of its routers, Netgear's Push2TV HD is the first device we've seen that takes advantage of Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi). It's a small device that allows you to stream the contents of your laptop screen to your TV, up to 1080p.
You'll need a WiDi-compatible laptop for it to work, though, and given how hard some manufacturers make it to discover which wireless chip is inside, making sure that you get the right one could be a challenge. Thankfully, some vendors are actively advertising Intel Wireless Display on their product stickers, but still, we don't envy non-tech savvy people trying to fulfil this requirement.
If you don't hit the requirements, you could always opt for the less powerful, but more flexible, McTivia. It's quite a bit more expensive, has a built-in router and only works up to 720p, but it won't punish you for not having Intel hardware all the way down the chain.
Netgear keeps things immensely simple with the Push2TV HD itself, with the front panel of the device featuring only a single LED. It stays a solid green to indicate that it's connected to a PC, and it blinks when connecting. If it's waiting for a connection, it stays an amber colour.
The rear is almost as simple, with a power button, an HDMI port, a composite video port and RCA audio. Setting up the hardware really is as easy as plugging it in.
The software side is a little more complex: you need to make sure that your wireless and display drivers are up to date, and then you need to install the Wireless Display drivers. The easiest thing to do is hit this page, and download and install what's required. Once this is done, the WiDi application can be run from the start menu, you can start the My Wi-Fi service and connect to your adapter (Intel speak for the streaming device, not the network adapter, as you'd expect). If said adapter needs a firmware update, then this can be run from the WiDi software, as well. You can also connect to multiple adapters simultaneously if the need occurs.
Once the software dance is done, syncing to the Push2TV is easy. After making the initial connection, a security code is displayed on your TV. Punch that code into your laptop, and you're away — in theory. If you're running a firewall, there's a good chance that you'll need to clear the WiDi connection first.
As far as the desktop experience goes, it's impressively speedy, with audio buffered perfectly: we suffered no de-sync during our entire test. There were occasional glitches, and it's clear that the image is being compressed, looking slightly dirty; but the result is still impressive for what is a 2.4GHz connection, performing admirably up to 7m away from the receiver. We'd have tested bigger distances, but the dimensions of our testing room are depressingly un-TARDIS-like.
For reasons that defy understanding, all PCs seem to have issues with over- or under-scan when hooking up to HDMI, and so scaling needs to be done. Thankfully, Intel makes this incredibly easy through its Wireless Display app, so you can ensure that your picture is taking up as much of your screen as possible, without exceeding the boundaries.
The default setting is to mirror the display on your laptop, but this can lead to a resolution that isn't the best for your TV — so into display properties you'll need to go to set things to extended mode, or to turn off your laptop screen altogether and just use the TV at its native resolution. It'd certainly be a much nicer experience if all of these controls were in the one place, and we can see a not-so-advanced user getting confused with it all.
Our first test found the desktop experience to be excellent, with around a half-second delay in translating keyboard and mouse actions to the screen. This is certainly not a device suitable for gaming. DVD-quality movies also played with no issue, but once we got to our 720p, 6.5MBps and 1080p, 14.1Mbps test movies, things stuttered and skipped quite frequently.
Suspecting Wi-Fi interference to be playing a part, we moved to a geographically separate location and a new TV set-up, where the problems were reduced enough so that even the 1080p clip performed surprisingly well. There was still the occasional skip and frame drop, and the action wasn't the smoothest, seeming to adjust speed up and down on the fly — yet, by and large, the dialogue still matched lips. It's not at all the most enjoyable way to watch a movie, but it's just a little bit amazing that 2.4GHz wireless is doing this, even with compression. We're not sure why Intel isn't doing WiDi over 5GHz; with faster throughput and less interference, we would have thought it'd be a natural choice, and the reduced range shouldn't be a problem, given that most streaming laptops would be in the same room.
Netgear has produced quite the nice little device that does the job it's meant to do surprisingly well. Given its limitations and Intel lock-in, though, we'd imagine that this would be more appealing to corporates than to consumers. There are some major hurdles for the technology to overcome in order to become accepted in the mainstream: WiDi needs to be built into a large number of TVs for quite a long period of time; the Intel lock-in needs to stop, or competitors need to die (neither being likely); more bandwidth is needed for 1080p content to stream seamlessly; and the software set-up needs to become a heck of a lot easier.
For now, the technology is highly promising, and the Netgear device is good. As such, we've scored it, understanding how well it works within the bounds of its limitations. But make no bones about it — unless all of the above conditions happen, people will stick to hooking up their laptop directly by HDMI.