Belkin PureAV RemoteTV
Thanks to the increasing availability of inexpensive wireless networking hardware, it's easier than ever to make your entire house a network hot spot without criss-crossing the place with cumbersome and unsightly cables. Now Belkin--a company with extensive experience in both wireless networking and home-theater accessories--has applied the same concept to TV. The company's RemoteTV enables television viewing of any video source via a self-contained wireless connection.
The RemoteTV system is comprised of two identical-looking modules, a transmitter and a receiver. Both measure 8 inches high by 4.5 inches wide (including the stand) and 8 inches deep and mount vertically; they're small enough to nestle in an entertainment system or next to the TV. The transmitter's back panel includes composite, S-Video, and component inputs, so you can connect any standard video source--VCR, DVD, TiVo/DVR, satellite or cable box--with matching connections. And Belkin conveniently includes passthrough outputs as well, so the RemoteTV transmitter simply leeches off the audio/video feed of your choice, leaving your primary A/V system essentially unchanged. Hook it up once and forget it.
Once you've connected the RemoteTV transmitter to your video source of choice, you take its companion receiver to another room in the house--the system has a rated range of 350 feet, but our obstruction-filled office topped out at about a third of that--and connect it to a TV or video monitor. Naturally, the receiver has the same outputs (composite, S-Video, component, and stereo analog audio) as the transmitter, and you need only hook up the ones you're using; we chose component, for the best video quality from our DVD player. Once all the cables are in place, simply power on the receiver. In just a couple of seconds, the connection light switches from red to green, indicating that it's automatically locked on to the transmitter.
That's the first of RemoteTV's three biggest advantages: it just works. Because it uses a proprietary 5GHz wireless connection, there's no setup menu, no passkeys, and no need to integrate it into your existing home network--just connect and power up both modules, and you're good to go. The audio and video quality is virtually flawless. No matter our viewing choice--the Seabiscuit and Alien DVDs, for instance--the sound and picture were rock solid, exhibiting no interference, dropouts, or pixelation. If you weren't told otherwise, you'd assume the TV was directly wired to the video source. Other pluses: the RemoteTV system includes an IR blaster (on the transmitter), so it can pass on remote codes from the receiver. That means you can control your video source (DVD player, VCR, set-top box) from the other room, as long as you have the original remote or a properly programmed universal model.
As smoothly as it works, the RemoteTV is not without flaws. Despite the three separate video inputs, the system has only a single audio input. So while you can toggle between each of the three remote inputs by clicking a button on the front face of the receiver, you're stuck with just one audio source, meaning it's effectively a one-source system. (Enterprising users will no doubt connect it to the output of their A/V receiver and use that to switch between various A/V sources.)
Also, the lack of a direct coaxial video connection means the RemoteTV can't pass a raw analog cable feed; you'll need a source device with a built-in tuner, such as a VCR, a DVR, or a DVD recorder. The only audio option, meanwhile, is analog stereo; since the transmission system is already digital, adding a coaxial or optical digital audio jack on either side would seem to be an easy upgrade for Belkin. Finally, the system is limited to standard definition 480i video--neither progressive-scan (480p) nor HDTV (720p or 1080i) resolutions are supported. Given the high bandwidth needed for proper transmission of these better video standards, though, their lack of inclusion is probably for the best.
That leaves us with the RemoteTV's biggest problem: its high price. At $499, it's hardly a bargain. For that price, in fact, you could get six DVD players, a handful of TiVos, or even a new TV. That said, it's far more affordable than Sharp's LC-15L1U-S wireless TV. And if you want to get a cable or satellite feed to a remote part of your home, the $499 may well be cheaper--and less aggravating--than having a custom installer punch holes in your wall or staple ugly cables up the length of your staircase. Still, we'd like to see the RemoteTV's price drop by at least half and add audio support to each input. In the meantime, however, if you're willing to pay the price, the RemoteTV will add a high-quality, stable, and easy-to-use wireless extension to your home-theater system.