I’ll cut through the hype and say at the outset that a wireless video transmitter isn’t something everybody needs — if your set-top box or Blu-ray player is on a shelf next to the HDTV, running a short HDMI cable takes care of it. But there are specific situations when a wireless transmitter is the way to go — for example, you have a Blu-ray player in the bedroom and want to watch movies or streaming video from it on the bigger TV in the living room. Or you don’t want to run wiring from your home theater components at one end of the room across the floor to the front projector or HDTV at the other end.
Since the video transmitters on the market vary in price and functionality, as opposed to the technology which primarily features a 5 GHz signal for stability and distance, the decision you’ll need to make is whether the transmitter can do 1080p Full HD video and surround audio (should you have 3D-capabilities, you’ll also want it to be 3D compatible). But what about needing more than one device to be transmitting wirelessly?
Enter Belkin’s ScreenCast AV 4. Physically it’s just a transmitter box and a receiver box — but the “4” stands for the total of devices it can accept A/V signals from. So if you want the capabilities to switch between transmitting video from a Blu-ray player AND a game console and a set-top box (etc.) without having to pull out and insert cables every time, this is your new option.
The transmitter is about the size of two paperback books placed side-by-side, with the receiver even smaller. Both have a slightly raised antenna panel on the top and for cooling there’s slots on the bottom (a good suggestion is to always allow for air circulation around any electronic device, of which these two are no exception). The power button on both transmitter and receiver should be turned on and left on — no reason not to — and the addition of a USB port on their back for future updates is a nice touch.
Belkin touts the simplicity of using their ScreenCast, so I’ll give it a go. In the bedroom, I connect my Xbox 360’s HDMI cable (used for watching streaming movies and playing games) to input 1 on the transmitter’s back. I follow this with the output from my Dish Network satellite receiver, going into the transmitter’s input #2. The transmitter goes on the corner of the TV stand and I connect the power for it. You’ll notice that I’ve made no changes to the setup systems on either of the two devices — I’m expecting the A/V of each to make its way through the transmitter with the same results as if they were still plugged into the HDTV: being 1080p high-def resolution of the video and 5.1 surround audio.
The only real effort is to connect the included IR (infrared) cable to the transmitter’s IR socket. I line up one of the 4 bulb-tipped ends in front of each of the device’s IR panels (rather than just placing them in front to “strike” the panels, I secure each with a piece of cellophane tape). And since I can run 3D films on my PlayStation 3, and the ScreenCast includes that in its specs, I’ll connect this game console to input #3 — keeping in mind that its Bluetooth remote reception won’t work with one of the IR cables.
Setting up the receiver is similar to that of the transmitter — actually it’s even easier. I place it next to my front projector’s switcher in the living room, plug one end of a HDMI cable into the output socket and then swap the other end for the input on the amplifier that works as both a switcher for the projector as well as providing the audio through a 7:1 channel speaker setup. The transmitter’s power plug then goes into an AC outlet.
Now you might have noticed that I didn’t have to worry about there being line-of-sight between the transmitter and receiver. That’s because the wireless signal works through walls and can connect up to 100 feet away (I’m less than 90 feet in distance here). Also, I didn’t need to press the syncing buttons on the back of the transmitter/receiver because they’re already paired. And there’s no channel switching or other technical things to worry about.
There’s a manual “Source” button on the receiver for switching between the devices playing, but you’ll find using the credit card-sized remote, as I did, more useful for this. For controlling the devices from a distance, just aim its remote control at the receiver so that the IR signal can be transmitted back to the transmitter and outputted through the IR cable (the solid blue light on the receiver will flash when a remote’s signal is entered). The ScreenCast remote is pretty simple too: Up/Down arrows for cycling through the outputs, with an onscreen confirmation, and an “OK” button. The remote will be used with the receiver when it has first been turned on to cycle through a short setup.
So here we go. I turn on the amplifier and fire up the projector. As soon as the light hits full illumination (2 minutes), I press the ScreenCast remote to bring up its menu. The only thing I want to do with it is select names for the inputs from the pre-formatted list so I don’t have to rely on memory as to which input is connected to what. Once done, I select the Xbox’s input and then aim the Xbox remote at the receiver, punch “On” and there in all its glory is Microsoft’s baby. I cycle through to the Netflix app and run through a few scenes of films and TV episodes I’m familiar with. Predictably, the image looks good and if there’s any lag in the transmission from the Xbox to what the projector’s outputting, I can’t see it.
Switching to the Dish receiver (first using the ScreenCast remote and then the Dish remote), I play some movies from HBO and even though the TV signal is a compressed one, the video displayed on the projection screen is free of artifact and “noise” — it doesn’t look any better than what I’m used to, but it certainly doesn’t look any worse. I also go into some of the Dish’s static menus to check out whether the text is breaking up — it isn’t. So for all practical purposes, it’s like I have the Dish hooked up directly to the projector. And the audio is no less dynamic or multi-channel than it would be in the bedroom.
Now I don’t want you to think that I’m just sitting on the couch for all of this. During the transmission tests I’ve kept my wireless network on to see if that would interfere with the signal — some 6 hours of testing while using the wireless network didn’t seem to faze the ScreenCast any. Nor did turning on the microwave do anything either. Finally, I walked around the living room having a conversation on my cell phone and the cellular signal didn’t seem to have any impact on the ScreenCast or vise versa. So okay, after an hour of walking, I did sit back down — sue me.
The last test was to switch to the PS3. I ran the 2D version of Iron Man and, as expected, it looked great on the projection screen. I then ejected the disc from the PS3 and replaced it with the 3D version and, other than the fact that the image was now in 3D and I had to put on 3D glasses, there was no difference in the image being presented. This was also the case when I ran a few other 3D discs that I had 2D versions of. The end result is that the ScreenCast handled 3D transmissions with no more difficulty than it did 2D.
Bottom Line: At a price point of $249, the ScreenCast is a good choice for those who find wiring their components distasteful, difficult or impractical (a display in the basement needing the set-top box from upstairs comes to mind). Technophobes will find the ScreenCast no more complicated to set up and use than that of a DVD or Blu-ray player — and yes you can connect other types of video creating devices to the ScreenCast too, providing the PC or tablet or smartphone can output a HDMI-compatible signal to connect to one of the ScreenCast’s inputs. Add the ScreenCast’s dependability and its being able to connect to multiple HD devices, and you’ve got just so much icing added to one tasty cake.
- Multiple A/V inputs
- Option for additional transmitters/receivers
- Wall mount kit for receiver included
- Switching between inputs can take up to 20 seconds
- No paper-based manual
- Credit card-sized remote is easily lost
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.