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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  • mmatis - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    Well, for the way some folks play it, this might even be an improvement!
  • Exelius - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    So would the range be bad for say, connecting a laptop to my TV from the couch? Is there any way this can be improved with a directional antenna?

    All I'm really looking for is a way to connect my laptop to the TV from across the room. I could stretch an HDMI cable, but that's annoying. I just dislike having to maintain an HTPC; I have 2 other desktops to keep going and the HTPC never gets maintained since I only ever use it like once a month.
  • Akdor 1154 - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    Yep, lag testing would be nice, as would some measure of the picture quality beyond "it looks darker". This article is okay, but not up to Anandtech's usual meticulous standards. A surround sound test would also be nice...
  • clarkn0va - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    " 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."

    It may be a minor difference to some, but there are reasons to use the USB power connector.

    -your power bar is full or too cluttered
    -taking DC from a powered device is more efficient than powering yet another wall wart
    -it shuts off when the device its plugged into shuts off, like a smart switch.

    Waste not, want not.
  • strikeback03 - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    But that USB has to either come from a USB wall wart or have the USB cable plugged into a USB port on a TV or computer that you don't want to use for other things, and that assumes those ports provide enough power, which is questionable if they are designed for a flash drive. I'm also not sure how the transmitter gets by on USB power, as 5.3-5.8W is significantly above what you would expect 5V*500mA to get you.

    Ultimately I still think WiDi makes more sense for the target market, which IMO is more about presentations and quickly showing off figures or photos than about being able to play Blu-Ray or game. In something like a smartphone or netbook it could make a lot of sense to quickly pull up some photos of the kids on TV or similar actions. Other than the projector scenario mentioned before I'm not sure what use WiCast is, as I don't see people keeping the transmitter handy to pull out and hook up much when needed.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    The transmitter uses *two* USB plugs via an adapter cable to get the necessary 5.7W. I'd think the receiver side would need to do the same, as most USB ports are only specced to provide up to ~2.5W (500mA @ 5V), and presumably the wall wart has some conversion inefficiencies that a direct DC connect over USB wouldn't have. So call it 5W from two ports.
  • mars2k - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    This isn't just about running a long HDMI cable to your HT rig. I would gladly install the sender and receiver boxes if the distances were more than 5 ft. My main computer area is well over 50 feet from the media room. Never going to run Cat 5 that far let alone a bulky HDMI its just out of the question.
    This WiCast would be a perfect solution for a hi end theater setup if it had good wireless performance.
    All those power supplies and usb connections don't mean a thing if you can stash them out of site and avoid a long run of any type of wire.
    Problem with this is the shaky wifi.
    By the way my wireless Roku works great but it streams in a different way but still it works pretty much flawlessly.
  • Wardrop - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    Unless something really miraculous happens in the field of wireless data transmission, it's really a dead horse for high-bandwidth applications, especially as bandwidth demands continue to increase. Compared to fibre, or even copper, wireless is inferior on so many levels. The only convenience is the lack of wires and the portability that comes with that. But for most high-bandwidth applications, portability isn't really critical, it's more the lack of wires which becomes the main attraction. The main reason being, is probably because people don't want to run ugly cables around their house, or drill holes in their wall.

    But... that's only because the houses of today are built with the same limitations as the houses of last century. To run a cable out of site, you need to someone to drill holes in your wall, and climb in your attic or under your house. The process needs to be repeated any time you decide to move your equipment.

    What would be nice, is if building were made to accommodate easy routing of cables to any room, via duct or tray systems. The skirting along the bottom of all your walls could easily be made hollow and easily removable, to accommodate installation of cables by simple home users. How you get the cable into and out of this skirting could be achieved in any number of ways. Drilling holes is one option, but I'd like to see pop-out plugs or something every one or two feet, either at the top of the skirting, or just on the face of it. If done cleanly, it should just look like a faint repeating pattern on your skirting. Over time, it will become accepted, much like power points, and light and fan switches are today (I bet they looked petty ugly when they first come to be).

    So my point is, instead of relying on wireless technology to get around limitations of today's homes, why not build homes which are designed to accommodate flexible cabling configurations. It just seems like the logical thing to do in the 21st century.
  • somedude1234 - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - link

    You're asking the home builders to incur an extra cost so that some homeowner (not necessarily the original buyer) at some undetermined point in the future will have an easier time re-wiring for A/V/Data/whatever?

    Never going to happen. Home builders are the cheapest / greediest individuals you will ever encounter. If the original buyer isn't paying cost + an insane markup, why would the builder waste their money? Hint: the original buyer has the option to get cables, conduits, and/or trays run wherever they like, no need for a whole-house generic solution.

    I would settle for a minimum requirement that each building have a core that can be used to get cables between floors, and then let me worry about the horizontal runs.

    In lieu of that, I have a 4' flexible drill bit, and my drywall patching kit =/
  • mckirkus - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 - link

    I was going to buy two PCs, one to power my work PC and one as my HTPC. Now I can just invest in one solid PC and set up wireless HDMI on my second monitor out port. Audio over HDMI should work and with a bluetooth keyboard I can control media center from a distance.

    I think this just saved me $1000.

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