Wireless Display Testing - Intel WiDi

WiDi is Intel's proprietary protocol for wireless audio and video. WiDi was released in 2010, a year before AirPlay included mirroring support, and two years before the first Miracast devices were available. At first it was limited to 720p, but is now able to stream 1080p with 5.1 audio. Additionally, as of WiDi 3.5 it is compatible with Miracast, and supports USB over wireless. In theory a WiDi receiver could be connected to an HDMI television or projector and a USB device.

The USB support was definitely intriguing. One scenario I considered was using a media center remote to control a video on the computer using a USB infra-red receiver located near the display. The other scenario I thought about was connecting an interactive whiteboard in a classroom. I imagine there would be many teachers happy to not have to worry about the computer needing to be located close to the interactive board. Unfortunately it does not seem that there are any receivers that support WiDi's USB over wireless feature. 

Although WiDi has been around for three years, and has had several major version upgrades, getting it working was far from easy. Compared to AirPlay, it is just downright frustrating and I'm not surprised that few people I know have ever used it. I tried using WiDi "out of the box" on two separate laptops (a Windows 7 based Dell and a Windows 8 based Lenovo), and neither would work. In both cases the WiDi software would detect the receivers, but never successfully connect. The installation instructions for WiDi direct you to install the newest Intel video driver, then the Intel wireless chipset driver, and finally the Intel WiDi software, of course with restarts after each step.

I started with the Windows 8 laptop (my personal laptop). Even after following the prescribed steps, WiDi still would not make the final connection to the receiver. Some searching finally lead me to a page directing me to use the Windows 7 wireless drivers for Windows 8. Sure enough this worked.

Oddly, I did not get WiDi working on the Windows 7 laptop. I tried a couple of different versions of the WiDi software and then gave up. I wasn't about to waste even more time trying to get another laptop working. The following video shows what happens on this laptop when trying to connect to a receiver.


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When connecting to a receiver for the first time, the display will show an 8 digit number that you type into the WiDi software. This pairs the laptop to the receiver. Subsequent connections to the receiver are as simple as AirPlay. All you have to do is run the WiDi software, choose a receiver, and click Connect. You can even choose to have WiDi connect automatically to a paired receiver when the software is run.

Next I'll look at the two WiDi receivers I have available to test, the Actiontec ScreenBeam and the Netgear Push2TV-3000.

Actiontec ScreenBeam Kit

The Actiontec ScreenBeam Kit includes a receiver compatible with WiDi and Miracast, and a proprietary USB transmitter that can be used with Windows laptops that are not WiDi compatible. I managed to get the kit for $63 on sale, so it is a pretty good deal if you need the transmitter.


As you can see in the photo, there is a USB port on side of the receiver. I hoped that it might support USB over wireless, but it seems the port is just for firmware updates. The receiver is powered by a non-USB source, so you will always need access to a plug and be sure to have the adapter with you. An HDMI port and pinhole reset button are next to the power connection, and there is a single status LED on the top. At 77mm x 73mm x 17mm it is quite a bit smaller than an Apple TV, but quite a bit larger than the Netgear Push2TV-3000. The silver printing on the front and top, and the silver ringed vent on the top make this device much more noticeable than both the Apple TV and P2TV-3000.

In use, the ScreenBeam seemed to have slightly lower latency than the Netgear Push2TV-3000, but suffered more graphical and audio glitches. It also was quite warm to the touch, bordering on hot after using it for a few minutes. This was surprising considering it seems to be well vented.

To get started, just plug in the power and HDMI connections, and make sure the display is set to the correct HDMI input.


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Netgear Push2TV 3000

The Push2TV 3000 (P2TV) is a very small and light WiDi and Miracast receiver that is available for $60 US. It weighs in at 48 grams and is roughly the size of a credit card (obviously thicker). Much like the Apple TV, it has a very basic, clean look with a glossy black finish. It can easily go unnoticed just sitting on my television's base. There is a single white LED on the front. The back has a mini-USB port for power, a full-size HDMI port, and a recessed reset button. There is a nearly-flush button on the side that is barely noticeable. The button was originally used to switch between WiDi and Miracast mode, but firmware updates removed the need to manually switch between modes. Now the button is used to put the P2TV into firmware update mode.

Netgear Push2TV 3000

The P2TV had no problem being powered by the USB port on my television. Although I would recommend having a USB power adapter with you if travelling with the P2TV, it's nice to know that it can be powered so easily. As with the ScreenBeam, to get started just plug in the USB power, connect to the HDMI port of your display, and make sure your display is switched to the appropriate HDMI input.

Watch the videos below to see how to connect to the P2TV from Windows using WiDi, and to get an idea of the video performance. Note that I had previously connected to the P2TV and configured it to automatically connect.


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Conclusion

It is hard to believe that WiDi is a technology that has been around for three years. WiDi installation was far from user friendly, and I'm guessing that many WiDi receivers are unjustly returned to stores as "defective".

WiDi is only available on laptops with newer Intel processors, Intel network chips, and Intel graphics. There are reports that Windows 8.1 will include Miracast support, and that it will be a free upgrade for Windows 8 users. Miracast support directly in Windows would open up compatibility with far more hardware configurations, and make WiDi redundant.

As for the two tested WiDi receivers, I would definitely choose the Netgear P2TV-3000. It is smaller, easier to power, slightly cheaper, stays cooler, and seems to have better image and audio quality at the expense of slightly higher latency. The ScreenBeam kit does include a USB transmitter if you want to use wireless video on a computer that does not support WiDi, but that seems to be its only advantage.

I will be testing these two receivers again in the near future with a Miracast-capable Android device.