Home Theater Review

 

Gefen Wireless for HDMI System Reviewed

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HTR Product Rating

Performance
4 Stars
Value
3.5 Stars
Overall
4 Stars

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As for picture quality, I saw no blatant degradation with either system. These are pass-through devices only, so no scaling or deinterlacing is involved. Resolution test patterns revealed no meaningful loss of detail with either unit; the finest lines in the resolution patterns were perhaps a shade dimmer with the Wireless for HDMI products in the chain, but it was nothing significant. Real-world HDTV (720p and 1080i) and Blu-ray (1080p/24) content had excellent detail, and there were no dropped frames to lead to choppy motion. Fine black details were still evident in demo scenes from The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Blu-ray disc (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) and The Bourne Supremacy DVD (Universal Studios Home Video). The only minor issue I noticed was with the UWB model, which does use compression. In the opening of chapter 17 from the Kingdom of Heaven Blu-ray disc (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), I saw a slight banding, or uneven transition, from light to dark blue in the sky, which was not evident with a hardwired HDMI connection. This suggests a lack of bit depth. I did not see the same issue with 5GHz sample, which uses an uncompressed transmission method.

Beyond the main performance parameters, the primary reason to adopt a wireless system is convenience, and these products are certainly convenient. As I said, they're very easy to set up and it takes just seconds to move them around the house to accommodate different A/V gear. I successfully used both models with lots of different components; I even added a distribution amplifier and used both models simultaneously to wirelessly transmit the signal to multiple displays. As an example of just one set-up, I own a single DirecTV HD DVR, located downstairs in my theater room. In the upstairs rooms, I use basic HD satellite receivers. The 5GHz multi-room model allowed me to watch recorded content from the downstairs box in any other room in the house just by moving the receiver unit and using my RF universal remote. Similar functionality in the wired world would require running cable through walls all over the house.

The UWB model, meanwhile, is a good solution for those who want to mount their flat panel on a wall away from the equipment rack or for those who want to ceiling-mount a projector without having to run video cables through the walls. Once again, there's a freedom to move things around that you just don't get with wired solutions.

Low Points
The biggest drawback to both the UWB and 5GHz models - one that could very well be a deal-breaker for many - is that neither unit supports a 1080p/60 resolution. They support 1080p/24, which suits them for most new Blu-ray players, but the inability to pass 1080p/60 is problematic for people who own early-generation HDMI products. If your Blu-ray player lacks 1080p/24 output or your TV won't accept 1080p/24 input (which is very common with older HDMI sets), then you're forced to set your player to output 1080i instead. Most 1080p-capable upconverting DVD players don't output 1080p/24, nor do cable/satellite set-top boxes. The latter may not matter as much now, but it may become more of an issue as cable and satellite providers offer more 1080p video-on-demand content. Given the price premium that these wireless products demand, the fact that they can't support the same resolutions as their wired counterparts is less than ideal. It's worth noting that this is a technology issue, not a Gefen issue. Competing standalone products, which have not yet hit the market, don't support 1080p/60 either. Also, Gefen has announced plans for the July/August release of a 1080p/60-capable wireless HDMI solution based on WirelessHD technology; WirelessHD works in the 60GHz band and can send uncompressed 1080p/60 up to 30 feet.

Even if you do own a 1080p/24-capable Blu-ray player, you need to make sure it's set up correctly, or it might confuse the Gefen products and lead to "invalid format" messages and handshake errors, which was the case with one Panasonic player I used. Go with the Auto resolution setting (as opposed to a locked 1080p setting) and, of course, make sure to enable 24p playback.

The Gefen products also don't support the transmission of uncompressed multichannel PCM audio, like decoded Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtracks from a Blu-ray player. This is less of a concern in my book. It's really only an issue if the destination of your wireless signal is not a TV or projector. Most TVs have a two-channel (and usually sub-par) audio system anyhow. However, if for some reason you wanted to send the signal wirelessly from a remote Blu-ray player to your A/V receiver, then you'd have to sacrifice the higher-quality audio experience.

Both products are somewhat slow to switch between resolutions, which is more of an issue with a satellite/cable box than it is with a disc player. You can remedy this by configuring your set-top box to output a single resolution (some set-top boxes only let you output a single resolution) or by feeding all of your sources into a receiver or video processor that outputs a single resolution. Also, the Auto switching function on the UWB model doesn't work reliably, especially if one of your sources is an always-on HD DVR.

Finally, all of those bright, blue LEDS on the UWB sender and receiver units can be pretty distracting in a dark or even a moderately-lit room, so you'll want to make sure to hide the units as best you can. The UWB units also have an audible hum that's quite noticeable in a silent room and may distract during quiet scenes, so be mindful of how close you place them to the listening area.

Conclusion
The wireless HD revolution has arrived, and Gefen deserves props for helping to usher it in with two standalone product solutions, both of which have convenience, reliability and good performance on their side. As with any hot new technology, though, the price of being an early adopter is fairly steep. The 5GHz model's $899 asking price makes sense, as you could easily spend that much to run cables through your walls to remote locations and still not have the flexibility you get here. Additionally, the 5GHz model costs several hundred dollars less than the competing Belkin multi-room unit that has yet to arrive on the market. However, the $999 asking price for the UWB model is harder to justify, compared with a 30-foot HDMI cable. Even when you factor in the three-source HD switching and IR repeater functions, it's still a pricey in-room solution. If you don't need the switching and IR features, it makes more sense to get the 5GHz model and use it as an in-room solution: it costs $100 less, it's quieter with fewer distracting LEDs, and it offers slightly better video performance. Otherwise, you might want to wait and check out the WirelessHD model, which will do 1080p/60.

For those of you who simply can't abide the sight of A/V cables and are unwilling or unable to run wires through your walls, the good news is that there's finally an easy, high-performing wireless HDMI solution. But, until the technology trickles down to the mainstream, be prepared to pay for it.

Additional Resources
• Look at plasma HDTV and LCD HDTV options for Gefen's system.
• Find a Blu-ray player to integrate with this system.

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