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Can McTivia take over for Apple TV in a pinch?

When my Apple TV packed it in, I was left to find another computer/TV hybrid on the spot. So I installed a new McTivia, and the results are promising.

McTivia, shown here at this year's Macworld, is a wireless router that can show what's on your PC's screen on your HDTV. Nicole Lee/CNET

Apple, what are you doing to me lately? Fresh off the Apple hard-drive crash that forced me to turn to my iPad for word processing, my Apple TV home unit stopped cooperating, leaving me without access to my favorite computer-archived TV shows and movies.

Fortunately, this presented the perfect opportunity to review a new McTivia unit sent my way. Could the McTivia stand in immediately for my late Apple TV? And could I get it set up quickly and easily?

For the still uninitiated, Apple TV is the technology giant's in-house media receiver that allows users to broadcast the contents of iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, and other video sources through their Apple device over to their TV wirelessly via an Airplay network. For the record, Apple TV setup is easy and offers the intuitive interface you'd expect from an Apple product. But for reasons as of yet unknown, my Apple TV and in-house network stopped cooperating.

McTivia goes a step further than Apple TV in design, looking to broadcast via Wi-Fi everything on your Apple computer or PC to your TV or home entertainment system--not just limiting itself to iTunes content or other pre-approved streaming services. The device is about the size of an iPad and resembles a wireless router, complete with adjustable rear antennae to transmit the wireless signal. McTivia essentially transforms your TV into a full-service computer monitor, opening up access to your Apple or PC to your living room or anywhere else in your house equipped with the McTivia receiver. So, McTivia immediately has one up on Apple TV as it opens more content to your home entertainment network.


The problems emerge when it's time to get the McTivia set up and running. The Apple TV installation process is quick and easy, and networking between the unit and my MacBook Pro was painless and by the book. But the more elaborate McTivia system demanded more steps.

To try to explain the setup simply, you must connect an HDMI output on the McTiVia to your TV. You then connect the power source to your McTiVia and plug it into an outlet. Then, you can set up your network wirelessly, via an Ethernet cable, or via third-party modems. The last option still sounds like a nightmare, and the Ethernet model seemed clunky, even for my flat-screen monitor. So I went with the wireless option.

But the setup wasn't over yet. I needed to install special software on my Apple and get it all to cooperate with the "McTiVia MirrorOps Sender" application. To make a legitimately long story short, it took me a little less than 90 minutes to get McTivia up and running. In this day and age of networking technology, that's a long time. However, once it was truly up and running, the McTivia wireless image provided adequate resolution. I also enjoyed the wider selection of media I could now share to my TV.

Final analysis? The McTivia seems less fancy and polished than Apple TV, even though it essentially offers more functionality than the big-name competitor. It lacks the slick interface on Apple TV and offers a more complicated setup. But, if you can master that setup process, I can recommend the end result. Have you had any experience with McTivia? If so, what's your take?