Sony DMX-WL1 Bravia Wireless Link
One of Sony's latest strategies with HDTVs is to market a range of add-ons, such as the Bravia Internet Video Link, designed to work with its Bravia televisions. The most expensive such device so far is the DMX-WL1, otherwise known as the Bravia Wireless Link Module. But unlike the BIVL, the Wireless Link works not only with late-model Bravias, but also with any HDTV that has an HDMI input. In fact, along with the Gefen EXT-WHDMI, it's one of the first such wireless HDMI devices available to consumers.
The main target of wireless HDMI is people with custom installations, like wall-mounted flat-panel HDTVs and ceiling-mounted projectors, who want to get video from the components (Blu-ray player snd cable box, for instance) to the display device without having to run lengths of cable through the walls. Both the Sony and the Gefen succeed to a large extent on this front, although a few important distinctions exist between the two similarly priced--and extremely expensive--systems. We found the Gefen's transmissions more robust in general and appreciated its ability to transmit 1080p/24 video, and while the Sony had slightly better overall video quality, both delivered nearly as good a picture as a standard HDMI cable. For well-heeled buyers with lots of equipment and an installation that won't tax the Sony's transmissions, its robust feature set and IR blaster control make it a compelling option.
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.
Sony's system is comprised of a transmitter and a receiver, along with a remote and host of brackets, IR blasters, and other accessories. The larger of the two units, the transmitter, measures a medium-size 4.8 inches wide by 9.1 inches high by 9 inches deep when set horizontally. You can choose a vertical orientation thanks to the included stand. The transmitter includes a series of indicators on the front panel along with a blue accent light that illuminates the glossy front panel when the box is active. One design-oriented touch is the lack of an external antenna, which streamlines the unit but may contribute to its less-than-perfect transmission performance (see below).
The other major component, the receiver, is a low-profile, rounded, black box with just a small power switch on the front side. It measures just 7.5 inches wide by 1.4 inches high by 5.5 inches deep and can stand on its own horizontally. If you happen to own a late-model Sony Bravia TV with screw holes in the right places, you can hang it from the back of the TV set.
Sony gets big points for the included remote control. It not only operates the wireless link itself, it makes switching among input sources--a big weakness of the competing Gefen unit--relatively painless. You can also program the remote to control various gear in your system, and have those remote codes transmitted wirelessly. This system allows you to point the clicker at the TV and change the channel on a cable box stashed across the room inside a cabinet, for example.
In concert with the remote, the DMX-WL1 features a rudimentary onscreen display that appears on your TV. It offers a setup menu for remote-control and language support, and can provide alerts, which usually pertain to inadequate signal strength. In tough transmission conditions, it's always better to have a graphical, onscreen confirmation than to have to interpret a series of indicator lights.
Sony uses a 5GHz wireless-transmission system developed by a company called Amimon, as opposed to the UWB (ultra-wideband) technology found in the Gefen unit. Sony claims a longer range than the Gefen (65 feet as opposed to 30), but in our testing the Sony was less stable and seemed more subject to interference.
In a high-def world with numerous 1080p sources, including Blu-ray and video game consoles, it's a shame that the Sony DMX-WL1 supports a maximum resolution of just 1080i. You'll need to set your output device to 1080i mode to use with the system. It also handles lower resolutions of 480i, 480p and 720p.
The Gefen, for its part, does handle 1080p in the 24-frame variety, but otherwise the Sony's feature set is much more comprehensive. It begins with excellent connectivity on the transmitter, including four HDMI inputs and one component-video input, along with an analog input and an optical digital-audio output. The analog-audio input allows you to connect DVI devices (via an HDMI to DVI adapter) that lack digital audio. Unlike the Gefen, which requires a separate analog-audio connection from the receiver, the Sony sends all audio and video signals via the single HDMI output on the receiver.
The transmitter's optical digital-audio output, absent on the Gefen, enables the DMX-WL1 to play nice with legacy AV gear that lacks HDMI inputs. The Sony sends the soundtrack from any of the HDMI jacks--up to Dolby Digital or DTS, but not, of course, Dolby TrueHD or DTS Master Audio--out via the optical connection. We tested this setup and it worked as advertised.
The functionality of the remote control and the set of five infrared (IR) blasters, on the other hand, wasn't quite as satisfying. The blasters are designed to attach near the IR receiver windows on the front of nearly every remote-controlled component, and allow you to stash said components in a cabinet out of sight and still retain control using Sony's remote.
The catch is that your device must be contained in Sony's remote control code database, which is way too sparse for such an expensive system. If you have an unusual device, like our Oppo DV-983H DVD player, you probably won't find the code. Some individual commands, such as aspect ratio control for our DirecTV HR20, were also missing even if we could find the device code. You can replace Sony's remote with a universal model if you'd like, but that doesn't really solve the problem of the limited number of devices and commands in Sony's system.
We'd love to see a simple IR pass-through instead, where aiming any remote at the receiver near the TV would simply send the command through the transmitter to the blaster and hence the component--but that's not how Sony implemented it. Still, rudimentary control via IR blasters is better than what Gefen offers for IR control (no blasters included, just a pair of ports). Both systems also work with HDMI CEC, where compatible late-model HDMI gear can be controlled via HDMI.
With a stable signal, the overall video quality of the Sony was very good, and delivered just about everything we'd expect from 1080i video conveyed over an actual HDMI cable. Both Sony and Gefen appeared to maintain the source's frame rate without introducing any of the stutter or dropped frames we experienced on the Acoustic Research HDP100. On the other hand, depending upon installation conditions--namely the distance and number of obstacles, such as a TV or a human body, present between transmitter and receiver--the Sony's signal wasn't as stable as we'd like to see.
In terms of pure video quality, neither Gefen nor Sony looked quite as flawless as standard HDMI cable, but we'd deem it next to impossible for most viewers to see the difference. Between the two wireless systems, we give the video quality nod to the Sony, despite its inability to handle 1080p, mainly because of the minor false contouring we saw on the Gefen. But again, with most video, both systems were very close to one another in video quality.
We compared the three (Gefen, Sony, and standard HDMI cable) using the Panasonic TH-65VX100U as our reference display with a variety of sources: PlayStation3, Panasonic DMP-BD35, and DirecTV HR20 satellite box. We performed most of our comparisons using Blu-ray sources, including Baraka and Body of Lies played via the PS3.
Our principal test setup, intended as a sort of best-case scenario, placed the Sony and the Gefen transmitters and receivers next to one another in the same room, with about 20 feet of distance and line-of-sight between transmitters and receivers. There were anywhere from 4 to 10 active Wi-Fi networks in the area during testing, according to our laptop PC.
Overall, the Sony seemed a good deal less stable and less able to deal with adverse installations than the Gefen. As we noted in the Gefen review, a couple of the toughest patterns on the Digital Video Essentials--HD Basics test Blu-ray (Luminance and Chroma Zone Plate) would routinely "break" the Sony's communication, forcing us to cycle its receiver's power before we could continue watching. That issue occurred in our principal test setup.
When we moved the Sony's receiver behind the TV, yet kept the same distance, the stability of the DMX-WL1's transmission went south quickly. We noted brief and intermittent, but still unwatchably annoying, dropouts during Lies, where the signal would blank out and a message then appeared on the screen telling us the system was unable to establish communication. We also saw minor artifacts, appearing as bursts of small discolorations in the letterbox bars for example, which were still annoying yet tolerable, we suppose, for some viewers. These dropouts and artifacts were seemingly random, although they did occur a bit more often when we got up to walk around the room, especially to approach the transmitter, placing a bag of human water in the path of the transmission. None of these issues occurred with the Gefen when its receiver was placed behind the TV.
In its favor, when the signal was stable, the Sony didn't evince any of the false contouring we saw on the Gefen. Its gradations between colors and intensities were smooth on the PS3's background and the water under a flight of birds ascending over a lake in Baraka, to cite a couple of examples. It also seemed a hair less noisy, although the difference wasn't obvious outside of side-by-side comparisons performed on the 65-inch Panasonic plasma from a 6-foot seating distance.
The Gefen was clearly superior when transmitting some other material. We noticed minor edge enhancement around text on the Sony that wasn't visible on the Gefen, and in test patterns it was even more obvious. Some graphics displayed by the Sony, such as menu elements and the text of credits on Blu-ray Discs, also showed slight shimmering, with tiny pixels appearing and disappearing around the edges, whereas the Gefen was completely clean. The Sony was unable to fully resolve every line of 1080i test patterns, instead evincing interference and breakup in the highest-frequency (most detailed) areas.
With the Gefen, we noted a fraction-of-a-second, yet still-noticeable, delay between pressing a button on a remote or game controller and seeing the results onscreen. The Sony's delay was noticeably shorter, to the point that there was almost no lag. We estimate that all but the twitchiest gamers will be able to use the Sony wireless system for gaming with little problem. For the record, neither system introduced appreciable lip-synch delay between audio and video.
We complained that while Gefen claims its unit can transmit Dolby Digital DTS audio over the wireless link, in our testing it could not. The Sony did deliver Dolby Digital and DTS surround audio over wireless, but we don't consider that a big deal since most setups will have the audio gear, such as an AV receiver, on the transmitting side as opposed to the receiving side of the room. It's worth noting again that neither system will pass the higher-resolution Blu-ray soundtracks of Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio.
The receiving side of the room is where we expect to find a TV with stereo speakers, which should be simple enough to supply with audio via HDMI. Whereas the Gefen had no problem in this regard, we found that the Sony DMX-WL1 was not able to send audio to all TVs from all devices we tried. Specifically, when connected to a Samsung LN52A650 TV, the Sony system couldn't pass any audio to its stereo speakers from our DirecTV box or Samsung BD-P1500, although, strangely, it could pass audio from a PS3. On the other hand, all three source components worked fine with both a Sony KDL-55XBR8 and a Pioneer PRO-111FD television. For want of further testing, we'll throw in the standard HDMI caveat: depending on your device, your results may vary.