Gadget Review: Warpia's StreamHD Wireless PC to TV Display Adapter

A USB-based device that does a decent job of beaming pictures, presentations and video from a PC to an HDTV.

By , Columnist

Warpia

Warpia’s StreamHD Wireless PC to TV Display Adapter is one of several products designed to wirelessly get what is on your computer screen onto an HDTV. As the “HD” in the name suggests, it is capable of transmitting high definition video. Moreover, unlike some similar devices that can only handle resolutions up to 720p, the StreamHD can handle full HD at 1080p.

In principle, HD capability makes the StreamHD suitable for relaying photographs and movies from HD cameras and HD content from Internet-based video-on-demand (VoD) services such as Hulu, Amazon.com and Netflix. Given that the range of such services accessible through the Web on a computer is greater than through any Internet-capable TV or Blu-ray disc player, the Warpia StreamHD could provide an excuse for you to cut off your cable. That is, if you have a computer with high enough specs to use it at its best.

The StreamHD consists of two parts: a transmitter and a receiver. The receiver is about the size of a small ornament and sits easily on a bookshelf. It has an HDMI socket for connecting to a TV, a 3.5mm audio jack and an S/PDIF output for 5.1 surround sound. The transmitter is an L-shaped USB stick that plugs into a computer and can be rotated to face the receiver.

The StreamHD only works when the transmitter and receiver are more-or-less in the line-of-sight. This is one feature that separates this technology from some Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) media streaming devices that can beam signals through walls. Solid objects will block the StreamHD’s signal, so you can’t put the transmitter in the bedroom and pick up a signal on your notebook in the washroom.

Distance is also critical because the signal strength weakens the further it has to travel (which is also the case with WHDI devices). Place the transmitter and receiver too far apart and the result is a choppy or otherwise degraded picture.

As a computer-based device, the StreamHD also needs to have video and sound drivers installed on the host PC (the Warpia is not designed to work with Macs or Linux). I found installing these from the included disc to be a straightforward process. It went without a hitch under Windows 7 and after one aborted attempt on Windows Vista.

Once installed, the software will prompt for the transmitter to be plugged in. If the receiver is already set up appropriately, the two parts should then connect. A flashing blue light on each component will tell you if it is operational. If you get a connection, your Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 screen should appear on the TV.

Again, I had no trouble with this: The two components linked up quickly almost every time I plugged the transmitter in. They were far more reliable at doing so than some WHDI devices I’ve tested. I did subsequently lose the connection between transmitter and receiver briefly on a few occasions but they usually reconnected automatically. When they didn’t, the problem was easily rectified by pulling the power cord out of the receiver and pushing it back in.

Once connected, the TV acts like a second monitor. This means you can choose to extend the computer’s desktop onto the TV, mirror the two displays or switch everything to the TV screen. I found that I needed to tweak Windows’ Display settings on one of the laptops I used  to get the image to fill the screen. That may have been a function of the graphics card rather than the StreamHD, though, because it didn’t happen with the other machines I used.

I did find in all cases, however, that when the PC’s desktop filled the TV screen it bled over the edges so that anything along the sides, such as the Task Bar or Maximize, Minimize and Close icons, was either concealed or only half visible. I couldn’t find a way to correct this even using the Fit to TV option available by right-clicking the video driver icon in the Task Bar.

In general I found that I achieved the best results by setting the screen resolution at 1280 x 720 and duplicating the screens. My test computers were mid-range laptops with specs that I considered likely to be similar to those on computers owned by most people who would buy this device. Their native resolution was 1280 x 800 and their graphics cards may not have been powerful enough to output good quality video in full HD.

This could explain the low quality I got at 1080p when I played a video in extended desktop mode or when I disabled the laptop screen and restricted the display to the TV. Both of these approaches worked better at 720p but the picture still stuttered slightly more than when I duplicated the displays.

When viewed close up (roughly four to six feet away) and at 720p on a 46-inch 1080p TV, the image was spoiled by pronounced jaggies (the square corners of pixels). These weren’t visible at a viewing distance of around 12 feet on a 42-inch HDTV and the image looked sharp. Also, they were much less apparent close up at 1080p.

At that resolution, though, it's best to assume you'll need a laptop with a higher-end graphics card to get fluid video. Colorful images with a high level of glare were excessively bright and vivid at all resolutions on my test TVs but I was able to compensate for this by adjusting the TVs' picture settings.

According to Warpia’s specifications, the range of the StreamHD is 30 feet. I couldn’t produce video that didn’t show intolerable stuttering at anything much beyond 15 feet but perhaps my testing conditions were less ideal than those of used by the StreamHD’s manufacturer.

When I streamed Netflix in standard definition at a distance of about 12 feet it worked with virtually no lag and only occasional stutters. The picture was bright and sharp at a distance where jaggies were not visible and any drops in resolution appeared to be due to bandwidth issues rather than the StreamHD.

Under the same conditions the playback quality of a 720p HD video downloaded from Amazon.com was also good. Aside from some minor stutters, it looked no worse than if it had been streamed directly over the Web to the TV. Although not full HD, 720p looks substantially better than standard definition and is the resolution used by numerous VoD services.

Given this, the full HD capability of the StreamHD is redundant if streaming video from those services is what you would principally use it for. Blu-ray discs are recorded in full HD but the StreamHD will not transmit video from them because it is not HDCP compatible.

In addition to streaming video, I also tested the StreamHD with Avatar in my laptop’s DVD drive and with 720p videos on an external hard-drive. Stuttering was more apparent in the former case than with other media I tested but the latter worked as well as the VoD services under similar conditions. The playback quality of the DVD improved when I moved the transmitter closer to the receiver.

Jaggies aside, the major issue I had with the StreamHD was not with video but with sound. No matter how much tweaking I did in Windows, I couldn’t get audio piped into my receiver via the StreamHD’s S/PDIF output to play anything other than stereo even though the specs of the video download and DVD I tested said their soundtracks were in 5.1 surround sound.

Based on my past experience of USB wireless streaming devices, I was skeptical coming into this test about the capability of the StreamHD to deliver watchable video. As it was, I was pleasantly surprised. If you can accept its limitations, it could be a useful tool for wirelessly getting pictures, presentations or video from your computer onto an HDTV.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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