Intel Wireless Display: A Sight for Sore Eyes

When I first heard about Intel’s Wireless Display technology after this year’s CES, I was intrigued. This technology, which is built into your laptop, lets you view the contents of your computer on your HDTV. All that’s required is a small adapter, the Netgear Push2TV, that stays connected to your TV. There’s no cable to snake, content to transfer, or file compatibility to worry about. It sounded great.

Now that I’ve spent some time testing out the Intel Wireless Display system, I can say that it lived up to my expectations — for the most part. The system was not without the occasional hiccup, but overall, it provided one of the best ways I’ve found for viewing PC-based content on your TV.

The system is only available on three laptops: the Toshiba E205-S1904, Dell S15Z-2249CPN, and Sony VPCS111FM/S, all of which are available exclusively from Best Buy. As of this writing, the retailer is offering the Push2TV adapter as a free add-on when you purchase one.

Once you have a compatible laptop and the Netgear Push2TV adapter (I tested the system out on the Dell model), the setup is quick and easy. You connect the Push2TV, which is about the size of a small external hard drive, to your TV using the included HDMI cable and then plug it in. (Alternatively, the box can connect to your TV via component A/V, but you’ll need to supply your own cable.) You then turn it on, and you’ll see a screen on your TV telling you the device is ready to make a connection.

The Push2TV box came with a note suggesting that you update the Intel Wireless drivers on your laptop before using the Intel Wireless Display software. As it turned out, updating the drivers was the most time-consuming part of the setup. After I installed the new drivers, I was unable to connect my laptop to any wireless networks for several minutes. It took several reboots before my computer was up and running again. (NOTE: I’ve asked Intel about this and they are looking into it.)

Once my laptop was back in working order, I launched the Intel Wireless Display software using the handy shortcut button on the top of the keyboard. You press a button to scan for available adapters if yours is not showing up in the list of devices. (On subsequent connections, the device should already appear when you launch the software.) You click a button to connect, and, if it’s your first time making a connection, you’ll need to enter security codes that appear on your TV screen into the software on your laptop.

Once the Intel Wireless Display is connected to the Push2TV box, you’ll see your laptop screen mirrored on your TV. You do not have the option to extend your computer display over to your TV, thereby leaving you with space to work on your laptop; both displays show the exact same contents. If you bring up your e-mail, you’ll see your e-mail on your TV. If you bring up your Facebook page on your computer, you’ll see it on your TV.

And if you bring up Hulu and launch a video, you’ll see it on your TV. You’ll also hear the sound on your TV — and through your laptop, so you’ll want to mute your computer in order to have the best audio experience. 

I watched an episode of Lost from ABC.com and it looked and sounded very good on my TV. In fact, the video looked just as good –- if not better –- on my TV than it did on my computer. Audio and video were perfectly in sync, and I noticed only one small instance of the video stuttering. The only oddity was that I was unable to get the white cursor of my computer to disappear, so I saw it on my TV screen, even when I was watching the video in full-screen mode.

The experience was even better when I used the Intel Wireless Display system to watch a video that was stored locally on my hard drive. I used VLC’s excellent media player to watch an episode of 30 Rock that I had downloaded, and when I put it in full-screen mode, I was able to forget that I was actually watching it via my computer — that is, until my screen saver launched, obscuring the video.

The Intel Wireless Display and Push2TV box are designed to play back almost any kind of content, including YouTube videos, Flash content embedded in Web sites, video from Hulu, and content purchased from iTunes. The Best Buy sales rep that I spoke to said that the system would not play back content from commercial DVDs or Blu-ray discs, though, as they were copy protected. But when I inserted a DVD in my laptop (a new copy of the Disney Pixar movie “Cars”), it played back on my TV without a problem. In fact, it looked stunning. Video was crisp and clear and very, very bright.

It supports video resolutions up to 720p, which may seem low if you have a 1080p TV. But keep in mind that the video resolution is more likely to be restricted by the source content anyway. Netgear’s instructions tell you to keep your laptop and the Push2TV box within 12 feet of each other, and say that you need a line-of-sight between the two. I tried putting my laptop in another room, though, and the video played back flawlessly.

Oddly, though, on another occasion, when my laptop was sitting less than five feet away from the Push2TV box, the Intel Wireless Display lost the connection between the two. It was unable to find the Push2TV box again until I rebooted.

This was a minor annoyance only, though, and one that seems even less consequential when thinking about how easy this system is to set up and use. Right now, the biggest weakness of the Intel Wireless Display/Netgear Push2TV combo package is how limited it is in availability. You need to purchase a brand-new laptop in order to take advantage of it. If Intel could offer the Wireless Display technology as an add-on for existing laptops, it would make this system more appealing — and affordable.

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