Bonus review: Intel Wireless Display
One question comes up fairly often in my e-mail and Web chats: "What's the easiest way to connect my laptop to my TV?"
The usual method is to run either an HDMI cable or a combination of VGA and audio cables from the laptop to the TV's inputs. But this limits the computer's placement and may risk guests tripping over these cables.
For several months, I've been testing another option--Intel's Wireless Display technology, built into a growing number of laptops--that uses a wireless signal to send audio and video to a small adapter that plugs into the TV. (Note to Intel PR: Sorry about the delay - I'd meant to review this sooner.)
Intel launched "WiDi" in January at the Consumer Electronics Show, but until June it was confined to a few machines sold in Best Buy stores. It's now available in about three dozen laptops from a variety of manufacturers--but you can't add it to an older machine.
The adapter, Netgear's Push2TV, comes bundled with some of these models, but if not it costs $99.99.
I tested the system with a Sony Vaio laptop, one of the three offered first at Best Buy.
Setting up the adapter was a simple process that didn't involve any of the usual WiFi configuration hassles. I turned on the adapter and the TV, switched the TV to the adapter's input, launched the Intel Wireless Display program on the laptop, and several seconds later it detected the adapter.
A few clicks later, I had the laptop's video on the screen--inside black borders on two of its sides. I had to fiddle with the laptop's screen resolution to get it to match that of the TV.
I saw about a one-second lag between the action on the laptop's display and what played on the TV's screen, though this didn't result in audio getting out of sync and was easy to ignore in practice.
Videos from the Web and the computer's hard drive--including a high-definition TV episode from the iTunes Store--played fine on the HDTV. But trying to watch a DVD yielded this error message right after the screen darkened: "Windows Media Player cannot play this DVD because there is a problem with digital copy protection between your DVD drive, decoder and video card."
Yes, that's right--this thing won't let you watch DVDs or Blu-ray movies on your HDTV, as Intel's tech-support note affirms. I worked around the problem by using the free, open-source VLC media player for the DVD, which ignores unhelpful usage restrictions like that.
A few months into my on-and-off testing, Intel shipped a 1.2 firmware update that did not fix the lag or DVD-playback problem but did address other issues and add a helpful two-screen mode. But installing this was a mess, involving multiple downloads and installations.
Another usability glitch cropped up after I'd switched off the laptop's WiFi to test the Clear wireless-broadband system, then forgot to turn it back on before trying to watch something on the HDTV: An error message suggested I restart the computer, which would not have fixed the problem.
Intel is trying to solve the right problem with Wireless Display, but I can't recommend something that will refuse to display content you have the right to watch. Would you? I'd like to read your assessment in the comments.
July 28, 2010; 9:54 AM ET
Categories: TV , Video
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