With Apple TV, Boxee Box, Logitech Revue with Google TV, Roku, and other media streaming boxes vying for a spot next to your TV, you may be overlooking one category of product that could make your life easier. Asus' WiCast ($199) can wirelessly beam 1080p videos from your laptop or gaming console to your TV or projector. You don't have to worry about which box supports which content. If it will play on your notebook, it should just work, whether it's Hulu Plus, iTunes, or Netflix. Plus, you'll have access to all the photos and videos stored on your laptop--no syncing with the cloud required. You can even stream Blu-ray discs (should your laptop have such a drive). While the transmitter is bulkier than we'd like, the WiCast works well, and is worth a look for those who don't want to string cables all over the place.
The WiCast consists of two pieces: The receiver, which measures 4.9 x 4.1 x 1 inches, is a little larger and more squared off than the new Apple TV. The transmitter, at 4.1 x 2.7 x 1.1 inches, is about the size of two decks of playing cards. Both boxes are black, and have connections for HDMI, mini USB, and power, and both have small white and amber status lights.
While relatively unobtrusive, the transmitter is bulky, especially when you use it with a smaller laptop. A small piece of Velcro comes with the unit, so you can more easily attach the transmitter to the lid of your laptop. The transmitter can be powered via USB or with the included adapters; it's nice to have this flexibility. Even better is that the USB cable that comes with the WiCast has a Y connection, so that if you're using it with your notebook, you won't have to sacrifice a port.
Asus packages the device with two HDMI cables, one of which is only a few inches long, though that likely won't be an issue for this setup.
The WiCast uses WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) technology, which lets you beam signals in a 33-foot radius with less than a 1-milisecond delay, and has a data rate of about 3GBps. We used the WiCast in a few different scenarios. First, we connected the receiver to a projector, and the transmitter to a Sony Vaio Z's HDMI and USB ports. The receiver immediately recognized the transmitter, and the projector was beaming out our laptop's screen in no time. The WiCast had no problem both cloning the two displays as well as streaming full 1920 x 1080 images to the projector. We played both a Blu-ray title and 1080p MPEG-4 files off the Sony's hard drive, and were impressed with how smoothly they streamed.
Unlike Intel's Wireless Display technology, which is limited to 720p playback, there was no lag as we moved the cursor around the screen and selected windows and icons. To see how well the WiCast fared with a greater amount of real-time input, we connected the transmitter to a Sony Playstation 3. This time, we powered the transmitter using the included power plug. We fired up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and were fragging as if we had a hard-wired HDMI connection between the PS3 and the projector.
While Asus says that the transmitter only has a 33-foot range, it far exceeded that in our testing. While beaming a 1080p video from a notebook to an HDTV, we were able to move the laptop nearly 100 feet away without seeing any degradation in quality. The range of the WiCast is probably greater, but we ran out of room to test it.
For a first-generation product, the Asus WiCast got nearly everything right: It's easy to set up, has excellent range, and beams 1080p video without any noticeable delay. It blows the doors off Intel's Wireless Display technology, which can only handle 720p, is plagued by latency, and won't stream DRM-protected content. The one benefit that WiDi has over this product is that it's integrated into notebooks. At the very least, the $199 WiCast is an interesting alternative to the Boxee Box or Logitech Revue as a way to get personal content and Web videos onto your TV. While it's priced for early adopters and the transmitter is a bit too large, the WiCast is a very good first effort.