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Veebeam review: Veebeam

Veebeam

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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7 min read

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.

Veebeam HD
7.3

Veebeam

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.

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 Hulu.com), 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.

Design
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.

Setup
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.

Performance
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.

Speaking of desktops, the screencast function doesn't capture everything; we noticed pop-up notifications, for example, didn't appear on the TV. Neither did our cursor, which, along with the 2- to 3-second delay between laptop and screen, makes Veebeam a relatively poor presentation device if you want to do more than just stream video or a PowerPoint, for example. And given that delay, don't even think about using it for gaming.

It's also worth noting that the wireless transmission range isn't terribly robust. When we tried broadcasting from a desktop PC one room away (about 20 feet or so, through a walled closet), the dongle wouldn't connect with the Veebeam base station. Stick to transmitting from the same room--from the sofa or a nearby desk--and you'll probably be fine.

In screencast mode the Veebeam otherwise works as advertised, and can deliver watchable and in-sync sound without having to connect a wire from your laptop to your TV. With high-quality feeds like Hulu.com's HD version of "No Ordinary Family" or "The Event," for example, the image on our laptop's screen was projected faithfully enough, with OK detail--roughly DVD quality at best--and no obvious signs of compression or other trickery that weren't present in the source. Of course video quality is highly dependent on the source Web site and Internet connection.

During normal use, we never experienced major breakup or dropouts of the video or audio on the TV in our hours of testing both at home and in a more crowded wireless environment at work. We were able to get up and walk around the room without interrupting the stream. The company says 10 meters is the range limit, which should be plenty for most living room setups, although in both home and office environments we found 20 feet was a closer limit, and that closing a door disrupted the signal. When that happened, the screen went black and stayed that way even when we moved back into range. To reconnect we had to manually hit "find" in the software.

A wired HDMI connection will still deliver superior picture quality overall than Veebeam's screencast. Images from Hulu and Netflix looked noticeably softer, despite setting the Veebeam to output 1080p/60Hz video. Worse in our opinion were the artifacts, which included some excessive judder (stuttering in moving video that seemed like dropped frames) as well as brief bursts of thin vertical lines and breakup that appeared intermittently. The judder and lines occurred often and intensely enough to be noticeable, but not enough to render the videos unwatchable. We experienced these issues both at home and at the office, and reducing the resolution as suggested by Veebeam's troubleshooting section didn't help.

We also tested the Veebeam side by side against a Samsung QX410-J01 equipped with WiDi. With identical material playing side by side on the similarly powered laptops, the WiDi streaming was definitely sharper, and didn't show the kinds of artifacts we saw on the Veebeam. On the other hand, the Hulu and network logos on the WiDi unit flashed and strobed in full-screen mode.

Aside from video quality, we also encountered a couple of usability gaffes while screencasting. Twice while watching a Hulu video the Chrome browser on our Lenovo laptop crashed and had to be restarted, something that we hadn't experienced without Veebeam connected (luckily, restarting the browser fixed the video, and Hulu allowed resume...after serving an ad, or course). Also, on a couple of occasions after unplugging and replugging in the USB adapter, its yellow indicator light would flash rapidly ("The USB antenna is switching on" per the manual) but nothing would happen. Restarting our PC was the only way to get the system to function normally. This was rare, however, and most times this kind of hot-swap of the adapter didn't cause any issues.

Aside from screencasting, the Veebeam software can also play video files directly and project them onscreen, which allows you to use your laptop for other tasks at the same time. You'll need to install the correct codecs on your laptop, provided you haven't already, and conveniently the Veebeam online manual links to prominent codec packs for major video file types used by both Mac and PC.

Once we had installed one of the packs, ffwdshow for PC, we were able to play most of our test videos file using the Veebeam player. It wouldn't play one QuickTime (.mov) file nor one MPEG-2 camcorder video (.ts), but other files of the same type played OK, as did a selection of MPEG-4, VC-1, and DivX/xvid videos. The exception applies to copyrighted videos, including DVD or Blu-ray discs, which wouldn't play via either screencast or otherwise.

Veebeam HD
7.3

Veebeam

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7
laptop
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