3 Wireless Ways to Connect Your Laptop to Your TV

Want to watch all of Hulu.com on your TV without paying for Hulu Plus? Then you should connect your computer to your TV screen. Don’t want deal with plugs and cables? Then you might want to take a look at new ways to wirelessly stream your video straight from your laptop to the living room big screen. A number of manufacturers are now offering devices that help you to do just that. We examined three of them: the Imation Link, (s IMN) Netgear’s (s NTGR) Push2TV and the Veebeam. Read on to see how they work and which one will work best for you.

Check out this episode of Cord Cutters for a demo of the Imation Link, or continue reading below:


Why It’s a Good Idea

Apple TV (s aapl), Roku and Boxee: These days, you’re going to find a ton of devices in stores that promise to bring Internet video to the TV without the need of an additional computer. However, all these devices are restricted by various licensing terms. Some offer the paid Hulu Plus service, but not the free Hulu, while others can’t access web sites at all. The only way to watch all the video you know and love from your PC on your TV is to use your PC.

Unfortunately, it’s a hassle to connect your laptop, adjust screen sizes — and some of us actually have work to do while the rest of the family watches TV. Enter wireless connectivity: Devices like Veebeam or the Imation Link promise to display your computer screen on the TV, making it possible to open web sites and watch videos on the biggest screen of the house.

How It Works

Let’s say you’re watching an HD stream on your computer via your home’s wireless network. This usually works fine, unless you’re in a dead spot. But if you wanted to send that same HD signal to your TV, you would risk saturating your network. That’s why most wireless streaming solutions use separate networks, or in some cases, even completely separate networking protocols. Each networking technology comes with its own downsides, so you should make sure you understand what you’re buying.

Most wireless streaming devices require you to use a USB dongle that functions as an antenna to send signals to a receiver box, which can be plugged into your TV. The exception from the rule is Intel’s (s intc) Wireless Display technology, which is already built into a number of Windows laptops, meaning you won’t need to plug anything into your USB port.

For a detailed look at different approaches, check out the Imation Link, the Veebeam HD and the Netgear Push2TV, which works with Intel Wireless Link. We’ve listed some of the key differences below, followed by our take on each of them:

Imation Link, Veebeam HD and Netgear Push2TV compared:
Imation Link Veebeam HD Netgear Push2TV
Wireless technology Wireless USB Wireless USB Wifi Direct
Supported OS Windows / OS X (no HD) Windows / OS X Windows
Outputs HDMI, VGA, analog audio HDMI, composite AV, digital audio HDMI, composite AV
Suggested retail price $149.99 $149 $119.99

Imation’s device looks a little like a shark fin, and it’s supposed to work with both Windows (s msft) and OS X. However, 720p HD video stuttered when I played it on my 2010 Macbook Pro, likely due to the lack of hardware acceleration under OS X. The product worked better with Windows, even though setting up the right screen size and figuring out how to route the audio output was somewhat of a hassle.

The one thing that sets Imation apart from its competition is that you can use your TV screen as an extended desktop, much in the same way you would if you connected a second computer screen to your laptop. This allows you to surf the net or chat while you stream Hulu to your TV, which is a big plus.

The Imation Link uses Wireless USB (an Ultra Wideband flavor), so you’re gonna want to make sure you have a clear line of sight to the TV, as obstructions interrupt the video playback. The overall video quality was very good, and the device was capable of playing HD video with up to 720p on Windows.

Review: Veebeam HD

Veebeam’s device comes with a little place-holder in the front that is meant to store the USB adapter when not in use, and it offers up to 1080p video playback in two different modes: Users can either mirror their desktop or stream video files straight to the device.

The mirror mode displays your entire desktop on your TV, so there’s no way to use your laptop while you’re watching a video on Hulu. The file playback mode utilizes a special Veebeam player, which frees up the desktop for other use. The player software doesn’t support many codecs out of the box, and attempts to play back .mkv or .xvid files failed. Veebeam advises its users to install third-party codec packs, but it would have been better to have these things work out of the box.

Veebeam’s device works with OS X as well as Windows, and the video quality was pretty good. Veebeam uses Wireless USB, which requires a clear line of sight. Obstructions regularly caused the device to lose sync, and it took some time to get it to play again.

Review: Netgear Push2TV

Netgear utilizes Intel’s Wireless Link technology, so you don’t have to clutter up your laptop with a USB antenna. The downside is that it won’t work with older laptops, and there’s no support for OS X at all. The device itself comes with both a reset and an on-off-button — and there seems to be good reason for both: I had a hard time getting it to sync with the test computer, which even crashed at some point, complete with a blue screen of death. However, once you have it up and running, it’s actually dead-simple to use.

Push2TV also simply duplicates your desktop, making it impossible to use the laptop for anything else while you watch TV. Unlike its competitors, it doesn’t use UWB, but Wi-Fi Direct, essentially opening up a second Wi-Fi connection that doesn’t interfere with your home network. The upside of that is that a line of sight isn’t quite as essential as with the Veebeam or the Imation Link. Moving further away caused the picture quality to go down, but I was still able to stream from a separate room. Netgear’s Push2TV can stream up to 720p HD (a 1080p capable model is also available, but wasn’t tested). The video quality was good overall, but there was occasionally some degradation visible.

Which One to Buy

Choosing a wireless video streaming solution for your living room depends in part on the computer hardware you’re using. If you’re a Mac user, the Veebeam is currently your best bet. If you already have a Windows laptop with Intel Wireless Link, you might as well give the Netgear Push2TV a try.

However, both these devices have one huge downside: You won’t be able to do anything else on your computer while you watch TV. That may not be a big issue for some, but personally, I don’t really see a good reason why I shouldn’t plug my laptop directly into the TV if I won’t be able to use it anyway.

The Imation Link is the only device of the trio that works with extended desktops, making it possible to multitask while watching TV. That’s clever, and it makes up for the slightly more complicated setup. So if you have a Windows laptop, take a look at the Imation Link — but otherwise maybe just buy a display port adapter.

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