The ASUS WiCast

Since it landed, Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) technology has been something of a mixed bag. There's a lot to mull over: you have to consider latency, the 720p limitation, being stuck with Intel HD graphics, buying the wireless box for your television, and maybe the biggest question of all, whether or not it's really practical. WiDi has resulted in a split decision here; Vivek is a big fan of it, but I have a hard time understanding why someone would deal with all these limitations instead of just plugging in a five dollar HDMI cable and calling it a day.

If we take practicality off the table and focus on the technology itself, we're still left with some frustrating limitations, and mercifully it's those limitations that ASUS seeks to ameliorate with their new WiCast setup. ASUS promises near-invisible latency, full 1080p video, and compatibility with anything that has an HDMI port. We received the WiCast as part of a review kit including two notebooks, but we felt it was worth reviewing on its own.

The setup is probably the biggest hurdle for the WiCast, because when you open the box you're greeted by a remarkable number of little pieces of hardware. There are the two WiCast boxes—the transmitter and the receiver—followed by two HDMI cables (one three inches long, which may be used either at the receiver or transmitter side), two AC adaptors, and a USB cable. At least there are no software discs and a fairly thin instruction manual.

Gallery: ASUS WiCast

The transmitter and receiver boxes are fairly similar; the transmitter's just the smaller one, but both have an AC adaptor, HDMI, and mini-USB ports. On the receiver the mini-USB port is covered, but it can be used to power the receiver if for some odd reason that's more convenient than just plugging it in. I'm going to assume your television is stationary, though, which means there's a reasonably close power outlet. For the receiver, though, the USB is probably going to be your preferred way to power the transmitter. Mercifully that means that the second AC adaptor isn't essential, but is just an alternative power source if your USB ports are all used up on your notebook/desktop/whatever.

That's honestly pretty much it, too. Connecting everything is fairly self-explanatory, and once you have your HDMI cables plugged in you're just about set. It's one of the nice things about WiCast compared to Intel's WiDi: there's no software to install or configure, and no hardware limitations outside of the HDMI port. That makes for a concise review, though: it either works or it doesn't. So let's see if that's the case.

WiCast in Practice
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  • cactusdog - Monday, November 01, 2010 - link

    Haha, thats funny. Wireless that introduces more cables than a wired connection? Sounds like a big hassle. Reply
  • Sihastru - Monday, November 01, 2010 - link

    I agree, 2 power bricks (with power cables), 2 new boxes, and 3-4 wires for them, just to replace 1 simple cable... It's just that wireless should reduce clutter, not add to it. Reply
  • Solandri - Monday, November 01, 2010 - link

    I can't help but think that all this is trying to reinvent the wheel.

    Most HDTVs already have over the air digital receivers built in. All we need is for the FCC to open up one or two of the digital TV channels for public broadcast at low wattage like they did the 2.4 GHz spectrum. Then you can just make a doohickey which plugs into your laptop which converts the screen image to a DTV signal and broadcasts it in one of those OTA channels.
    Reply
  • jonup - Tuesday, November 02, 2010 - link

    That's actually a good idea. I like it! We do not even need an FCC approval. We can just order it from China. Reply
  • RangerDave - Tuesday, November 02, 2010 - link

    in my line of work (custom home theaters, home automation etc....) there are quite a few installs where we are laying down 50 ft HDMI cables that cost a fortune (aspecially if where trying to stick to hdmi 1.4 standard for 3D) and other installs where we use hdmi to cat5e to hdmi. anyways that being said, i can see this being a viable solution to some setups that i have done but in a typical home theater setup, is completely useless. Reply
  • Homerboy - Tuesday, November 02, 2010 - link

    Cost a fortune?
    Hell I just bought a 35ft HDMI cable for $23.
    Reply
  • enderwiggin21 - Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - link

    For in-wall or in-attic runs you're not going to use the $10 cable from monoprice. That's better suited for runs within your rack. You're going to want CL2 or CM rated cable.

    When you have customers and the responsibility to pander to the lowest common denominator, using cable that's tested out to the required length leaves less room for error. The longer the run, the more difficulty at passing the speed tests, ergo the more expensive the cable. Even though the cheaper cable could get the job done just fine, this is an installer's livelihood. Better to use tested, durable cable for such runs than not.

    Bluejeanscable sells CM cable tested and rated cable for $135 for 50ft. To me that's not ultra-expensive; not for 50ft. But even then, it's only tested for Category 2 speeds to 25feet, and Category 1 speeds to 45feet. So imagine how expensive it would be to test out to Category 2 to 50feet. And they're considered a great bang-for-your-buck vendor.
    Reply
  • enderwiggin21 - Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - link

    For clarifcation, CL2 and CM ratings are "to code" for in wall cable runs.

    Someone who makes their living installing has to be "up to code." If they weren't they'd be at risk if something went wrong (a fire, water leakage, etc) and the cable was a catalyst. Or if the owner of the house decided to sell it at some point and it was determined the wiring wasn't up to code, that could jeopardize the home owner's sale as well as open the installer to liability claims.

    If you're DIY'ing it, then you could do whatever you want. Caveat emptor.
    Reply
  • mikeyD95125 - Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - link

    You actually can get CL2 rated cables at monoprice.Here's 50ft for $56. <a href=http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id... Reply
  • enderwiggin21 - Wednesday, November 03, 2010 - link

    That's a great bargain and I would be tempted to try that in my own installation so I could easily undo it if there were problems. However, it's only rated for "Standard Speed," which is Category 1.

    I know some of the price premiums are snake oil like Monster Cable, but if I run a business I'm using something tested for the product running through the cable and its distance, not leaving something up to chance, *if at all possible.*

    Forgive the length, but...

    Per HDMI.org,

    * Standard (or “category 1”) HDMI cables have been tested to perform at speeds of 75Mhz or up to 2.25Gbps, which is the equivalent of a 720p/1080i signal.
    * High Speed (or “category 2”) HDMI cables have been tested to perform at speeds of 340Mhz or up to 10.2Gbps, which is the highest bandwidth currently available over an HDMI cable and can successfully handle 1080p signals.

    Q. Will my Standard cable work in High Speed applications?

    Although a Standard HDMI cable may not have been tested to support the higher bandwidth requirements of cables rated to support high speeds, existing cables, especially ones of shorter lengths (i.e., less than 2 meters), will generally perform adequately in higher speed situations. The quality of the HDMI receiver chip (in the TV, for example) has a large effect on the ability to cleanly recover and display the HDMI signal. A significant majority, perhaps all, of the HDMI TVs and projectors that support 1080p on the HDMI inputs are designed with quality receiver chips that may cleanly recover the 1080p HDMI signal using a Standard-rated HDMI cable. These receiver chips use technology called “cable equalization” in order to counter the signal reduction (attenuation) caused by a cable. We have seen successful demonstrations of 1080p signal runs on a >50 ft. cable, and a 720p signal run on a >75 ft. cable. However, the only way to guarantee that your cable will perform at higher speeds is to purchase a cable that has been tested at the higher speeds and labeled as “High-Speed.”

    1. Standard cables (referred to as Category 1 cables in the HDMI specification) are those tested to perform at speeds of 75Mhz, which is the equivalent of an uncompressed 1080i signal.
    2. High Speed cables (referred to as Category 2 cables in the HDMI specification), are those tested to perform at speeds of 340Mhz, which is the highest bandwidth currently available over an HDMI cable and can successfully handle 1080p signals including those at increased color depths (e.g. greater than eight bits per color) and/or increased refresh rates (e.g. 120Hz).
    Reply

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