Veebeam review: Veebeam

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The Good Works well to mirror laptop screen onto TV without wires; HDMI output; simple setup; plug-and-play operation; thoughtful design; solid connection with few dropouts or crashes; works with both Windows and Mac.

The Bad Somewhat expensive; requires newer, robust laptop; screencast function monopolizes laptop; softer and has more artifact-prone picture than wired HDMI cable connection or Intel Wirelss Display; screencasting lag means it won't work for gaming, Web surfing, or other input-dependent PC tasks; won't play copy-protected Blu-ray or DVD discs.

The Bottom Line Despite some picture quality, lag, and compatibility issues, Veebeam HD puts laptop-based streaming video onto TV screens more conveniently than ever.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

Veebeam HD is a strange-looking little device with a simple purpose. It can transmit pretty much whatever's on your laptop screen--including videos from sites like Netflix and Hulu, as well as video files in a variety of formats or digital camera photos--directly to your TV without wires. People who watch a lot of video on their PCs often naturally want to have those videos appear on the big screen, and for those people, Veebeam is a very appealing product. It definitely has its downsides, including some video quality hiccups, tough system requirements, and the need to monopolize your laptop, but overall it delivers on its promise.

The Veebeam comes in two versions: the standard-def Veebeam SD ($99) and the high-def capable Veebeam HD ($140). We tested the latter, which includes an HDMI output and the capability to output video up to 1080p resolution. The closest comparable solution to Veebeam is Intel's wireless display (aka, WiDi). In our tests, Intel's solution performed better, but Veebeam has the obvious advantage of being compatible with just about any newer laptop running Windows Vista or Windows 7, or Mac OS X (version 10.5 or higher). Veebeam HD's connectivity outclasses the similarly priced VGA-only Warpia we tested earlier this year, and it's less expensive than the ill-fated Slingcatcher. On the other hand Veebeam's lag is a disadvantage not shared by wireless HDMI solutions like the more-expensive Asus WiCast. Compared with more TV-centric devices like Apple TV and Roku, Veebeam HD demands a bigger investment but can stream anything available via your PC's browser (such as the free, not just the specific services those products make available (like Hulu Plus on the Roku, which costs $7.99 per month). It also isn't subject to the content blocking that plagues the browsers used by Google TV and Boxee, making it a pretty compelling solution for Internet video watchers who don't mind getting their fix via laptop.

The Veebeam HD's main unit is a squat, round-edged contraption that resembles a small tricorne hat (albeit with four corners). The upsweep on the front has a cavity where the special Veebeam wireless USB adapter can sit when not in use. Ingeniously, removing the adapter turns on the unit and replacing it turns it off; there's no power or any other button to press. In all it's a very convenient and elegant design, albeit one apparently meant to be placed atop a TV or nearby shelf, as opposed to inside a cabinet or otherwise hidden away.

The back panel of the Veebeam HD consists of one HDMI port; one AV output with composite (yellow) video and analog stereo (white and red) audio; one optical digital audio output; the power socket; and a pair of USB ports for future expansion options, such as Webcams or external storage devices.

The Veebeam HD offers an HDMI output for connection to HDTVs.

Unlike most wireless devices, Veebeam was cake to get up and running, but you'll need a good laptop. We used two--a Lenovo V460 running Windows 7 Home premium and a 2010 MacBook Pro with OS X 10.6--and neither had any trouble fulfilling Veebeam's strict system requirements. In both cases the software installed with no problem and, after telling our firewall software to allow Veebeam, we had the little "V" icon lit green on our Windows and Mac taskbars, along with the yellow LED on the Veebeam itself, indicating that the connection was good between USB transmitter and the main unit (Veebeam should have used a green LED, but that's a minor quibble). Just don't expect to use a Netbook or a similarly underpowered PC as the video source.

On three of the four TV setups we tried, our desktop screen quickly appeared on the TV, but on one the TV remained blank. That test TV was connected to the Veebeam's HDMI output via an older Belkin HDMI switch that fed the TV via an HDMI-to-DVI cable, but we've had no problems with any other devices connecting to it in the past, so we were surprised when Veebeam failed. If you're using an older HDMI device or are routing through a switch, you might find yourself taking advantage of Veenbeam's money-back guarantee.

On the TVs that worked, using Veebeam's screencast function couldn't be simpler. It engages automatically, as soon as you plug the USB transmitter into the laptop, and suddenly there's your PC desktop, duplicated on the screen. We had to set our TVs to the aspect ratio that allowed 1:1 pixel mapping (Just Size, Full Pixel, etc.) to remove overscan, where the edges of the desktop, like the bottom of the Windows taskbar for example, disappear.

We also made sure to match the Veebeam settings to our TVs. You can choose between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios; NTSC or PAL for the composite output; 50Hz or 60Hz refresh rate; progressive or interlaced output; and 1,920x1,080-pixel (1080p) or 1,280x720-pixel (720p) resolution.

When we first began testing the Veebeam, we were surprised to learn that screencast mode, the device's main function, totally monopolizes your laptop. In other words, there's no way to project onscreen content to the TV that's different from your laptop screen. With Intel's WiDi system, on the other hand, you can use the TV as a second, separate monitor, in an extended desktop configuration for example.

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