DVDO continues to add to its Air series of wireless HD transmission systems, first introduced back in 2012. (Brian Kahn reviewed the original DVDO Air that year.) The Air3 came along in 2013, adding MHL support and the ability to power the receiver unit via USB. Now the company has added the Air3C ($189.99) and Air3C-Pro ($299.99), the latter of which is the subject of today’s review. These two models share the same basic design and technology, but the Pro version adds a few setup/configuration tools that might be beneficial in more challenging installations.
The Air wireless products are based on the WirelessHD standard, which operates over the 60GHz band and allows for the transmission of 1080p/60 video (with 3D support) and eight-channel high-resolution audio (up to 192 kHz). The 60GHz band isn’t as crowded at the 2.4- and 5-GHz wireless bands, which cuts down on potential interference. WirelessHD claims “near zero” lag time, making it suitable for gaming applications. WirelessHD is an in-room solution, meaning it’s not designed to transmit signals around your home, through walls. Rather, it’s ideally suited for sending signals across one room–for instance, from your source device or AV receiver to your projector or TV.
The Air3C-Pro package includes a transmitter unit (DVDOG3T-PRO) and receiver unit (DVDOG3R-PRO), each of which measures roughly 4 x 3.5 x 1 inches and weighs about five ounces. The transmitter unit has one HDMI 1.4 input and one USB port, while the receiver has one HDMI 1.4 output and one USB power port. These units omit the MHL support found in the Air 3, but both the transmitter and receiver units can be powered via USB, so you don’t need a power outlet nearby if your AV gear has powered USB ports. I was able to power the devices directly from Epson and BenQ projectors, a Samsung UHD TV, a Harman/Kardon receiver, and a Dish Hopper DVR. The Air3C-Pro kit comes with two HDMI cables, AC power plugs, and wall/ceiling mounts to affix the tiny units to the area around the gear or to the gear itself.
In-room wireless HD solutions often require line of sight between the transmitter and receiver; the simple act of walking in between the two devices could disrupt the signal, and past products have been painstakingly slow to establish the HDMI handshake and produce a picture on your screen. Neither of those issues presented itself here. The DVDO system can bounce the signal off of walls and ceilings, allowing the transmitter and receiver to be tucked away in more discreet locations. No, you can’t place them in an enclosed cabinet or another room, but you do have a little more freedom to place them out of sight. Also, the RF-based “beam steering technology” automatically scans the room (up to 60 times per second) and looks for the best path from transmitter to receiver to ensure a reliable connection. The maximum recommended distance between transmitter and receiver is 100 feet if they have line of sight and 35 feet if they don’t.
I tested the DVDO system in a variety of configurations in my theater room. My primary setup was from the HK AVR 3700 receiver to an Epson Home Cinema 3500 projector (review coming soon) about 15 feet across the room, with line of sight between transmitter and receiver. I also experimented going direct from sources (OPPO BDP-103, Dish Hopper) to different projectors (BenQ HT1085ST and Epson HC3500), from the OPPO player to a Samsung UN65HU8550 TV, and from the OPPO player to the HK receiver. With line of sight, the DVDO system reliably served up a signal in all of these circumstances, with no dropouts and stutters. No matter how many times I swapped out devices and moved cables around, I always got a signal upon powering up the DVDO system, and I didn’t have to wait an eternity for the transmitter and receiver to establish a handshake. There was a slight lag when switching between resolutions or sources through my receiver, but it was of minor consequence. I was able to pass 3D video signals without issue, and I was able to pass the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack from the Gravity Blu-ray disc from the OPPO to the HK.
When I experimented with “hidden” placement of the DVDO products, signal reliability was often still very good, but of course it fluctuated depending on where I chose to hide the device(s). Metal obstructions were always a no-no, but otherwise I had a lot of flexibility to try different placements. Needless to say, line-of-sight is ideal, but it’s nice to have a little wiggle room.
All of the above tests were conducted with the DVDO system in its default configuration out of the box. The Air3C-Pro is the only model in the line that includes PC configuration software that allows you to change the pairing method between transmitter and receiver to prevent or resolve connection issues. To use the PC tool, you need to connect the DVDO devices to your PC via USB. You can connect each one individually or both at the same time. The PC tool has a simple layout, showing you the following information: signal strength of the connected device(s), which is very helpful during placement; the current firmware version, with the option to update; and signal information, including video resolution, color space, color depth, audio format, and sample frequency. There are three pairing modes: WiHD is the default, and in this mode the transmitter and receiver remember the last mate they were paired with and search for that mate upon powering up. The Soft Pair mode allows you to use the link buttons on the devices themselves to quickly pair a specific transmitter and receiver, while the Whitelist mode dictates an “only allow these partners” setup to lock receiver/transmitter pairs together by their MAC addresses–which would be helpful in a professional install where you’re using multiple Air3C-Pro systems at the same time and you need to lock down the different pairings.
• The DVDO Air3C provides a very reliable in-room wireless HD solution–ideal for sending your HDMI signal from your AV components to your display.
• I did not see any resolution loss in test patterns when comparing a direct, wired HDMI signal with the wireless DVDO signal.
• DVDO’s RF technology bounces signals off walls and ceilings, so you don’t need perfect line of sight between transmitter and receiver.
• You can power both the transmitter and receiver through your AV gear’s powered USB ports, and mounting hardware is available to easily wall- or ceiling-mount these tiny devices.
• The Air3C-Pro version has helpful tools for a more advanced installation. Firmware updates are easier through the software, the signal strength indicator helps a lot to find the best placement, and you can change the pairing mode if needed.
• The transmitter has only one HDMI input, so you need to run everything through an AV receiver or HDMI switcher to connect multiple sources. It also lacks an HDMI output to pass the signal through to a local display, which is good for situations where someone uses both a projector and an HDTV.
• The system supports resolutions up to 1080p/60, but not Ultra HD.
• The Air3C system doesn’t let you use multiple receivers with a single transmitter (or vice versa) simultaneously.
• The supplied USB power cords are very short. So, if your AV gear lacks powered USB ports and you need to connect these products to power outlets, you will need to purchase longer cords.
Comparison and Competition
Other in-room wireless HDMI solutions include the BenQ Wireless Full HD Kit ($350, review to come), the Gefen Wireless for HDMI 60GHz Extender System ($449), and the Zyxel AeroBeam Wireless HD Video Kit. Some front projectors are bundled with a WirelessHD kit, like the Epson Home Cinema 5030e. If you need a whole-house wireless HDMI solution instead, consider the Actiontec MyWirelessTV Kit, the IOGear GWHDMS52 matrix system ($300) and GW3DHDKIT non-matrix system ($200), the Belkin Screencast AV 4 ($275), and the Gefen Wireless for HDMI Extender LR ($399).
If you’re looking for a dependable in-room wireless HD solution, the DVDO Air3C should deliver the quality and reliability you need, even if your setup has less-than-optimal line of sight between transmitter and receiver. For most of us, the lower-priced, consumer-oriented Air3C will do the job just fine, and its $189 asking price makes it a great value in this category. However, custom installers will definitely benefit from the PC software that comes with the $299 Pro version. The signal-strength meter makes it easier to find the ideal placement from the get-go, and the different pairing modes can help ensure that you’re building the best, most reliable wireless system for your client.