Belkin's brand new ScreenCast AV 4 is a wireless AV-to-HDTV adapter kit. That's a fancy way of saying it sends wireless audio and high-definition video signals from your home theatre components to your television.
Its chief benefit – the ability to clear the clutter of wires and boxes connecting to your television – will be realized primarily by people with clean, modern living rooms and wall-mounted televisions. I'm not one of these people (my TV sits on a big IKEA console and my family room's a mess), but the possibility of relocating components and minimizing some of the disorder around my television is appealing.
Setup takes a bit of time, but it's mostly just mild labour. You'll need to disconnect, move, and reconnect up to four of your HDMI-equipped home theatre components – the ScreenCast has no legacy ports, which means old DVD players will need to be left behind – to the transmitter. You can then place the transmitter and its attached components wherever you like, on a shelf away from the television or even in a cabinet in another room, so long as it's within reasonable distance (more on range in a bit).
Next you'll feed an infrared (IR) emitter cable around or under each of your components so that the transmitter can relay signals from your remotes picked up by the receiver in the living room. The four emitters that fork out from the end of the cable don't physically connect to your components. Instead, they lie flat on the shelf in front of each device and point up at an angle toward your components' IR receivers. This design does away with those sticky IR connectors you may have had to deal with in the past, but it also means you may occasionally bump the emitters and need to reposition them.
Then it's just a matter of connecting the receiver to your television with an HDMI cable (included). Folks with wall mounted sets will likely want to mount the receiver to the wall beside their TV – the kit comes with screws and mounting instructions – but it's not necessary and, given my TV is on a stand, I didn't bother.
The only problem I encountered during setup had to do with the ScreenCast remote, which is used to switch between sources and change basic settings, such as source labels. It's tiny and cheaply made, with stiff membrane buttons that click loudly when depressed. It became unresponsive a couple of times, forcing me to power cycle the receiver. It's almost certainly more a problem to do with firmware than the remote, but it was a nuisance.
It's a shame that a remote is necessary at all. The ScreenCast is, after all, an exercise in eliminating living room clutter. But if one is needed, it would be nice if the transmitter somehow sensed when only one device was in operation and automatically switched to that source. That would limit our need to interact with another remote.
All told, it took about 40 minutes of lugging, poking, and fiddling before I was finally ready to start transmitting and receiving HD signals over the kit's proprietary 5GHz band.
I set the transmitter and my HDMI components – a Rogers set-top box, a Blu-ray player, an Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3 – on a little cart so that I could wheel it around to test range, beginning in the same room as my television.
It worked flawlessly at a distance of about five metres with no obstructions between receiver and transmitter. The connection rated as excellent. My test Blu-ray movie looked great, and I perceived no lost or laggy audio.
I unplugged the power to my cart of components and wheeled it into another room about 12 metres from my television. The transmitter was obstructed from the receiver by drywall, metal studs, and some shelves. The wireless connection light on the receiver, normally blue, turned red, indicating a troubled signal. However, I noticed no degradation in quality. My test movie looked and sounded as good as it did before and suffered no interruption of signal.
Then I backed the cart out into the hallway leading to my apartment suite and plugged everything in once more. The transmitter was now about 20 metres away from the receiver and separated by two walls and a door. No signal could be established.
Belkin warrants a 30-metre range in its marketing material, but that's assuming no obstacles. Unless you live in a vast studio apartment, you'll likely need to keep the transmitter and receiver either in the same room or perhaps one room apart.
This ought to prove more than adequate in most circumstances, though it effectively puts the kybosh on a potential application for the technology that I find attractive: The ability to switch receivers. I'd love to connect all of my components to one transmitter, then choose to send the signal to any TV in the house. You could begin watching a movie or playing a game in one room, then retire and resume watching or playing on your bedroom TV. But this is moot, at least for the time being. While ScreenCast permits a receiver to connect to more than one transmitter (handy for folks who have more than four HDMI sources), it currently doesn't support more than one receiver per transmitter.
Gamers should also take note that latency isn't a problem. The experience of playing Mass Effect 3 with the console connected directly to my television versus a ScreenCast connection seemed identical. And wireless range for controllers outstrips that of Belkin's adapter kit; I noticed no performance degradation in game control with my console in another room.
There's room for improved range and enhanced features, but Belkin's ScreenCast AV 4 accomplishes its primary mission of clearing the clutter away from your television, and is an especially fine companion for wall-mounted displays. Just released in the U.S., it's yet to come to Canadian retailers. You can find it on Belkin's website, www.belkin.com, for US$249.99. Canadian-based sellers can be found on Amazon.ca, but they're currently charging $50 to $100 more.