Let’s get this out of the way first — ConnectHD is the name for this Warpia video streaming device, since there’s nothing else like it from the company, you can forget about the model # SWP400VC as far as this review goes. And sure some tack wireless video conferencing and PC to TV System onto the name, but who has the ink for that?
With that out of the way, what makes the ConnectHD different from the other video streaming devices that you can use with a laptop or computer? It’s not that the transmitter attached to the laptop or computer transmits 1080p Full HD wirelessly. Or that multichannel sound (as in “surround”) is being transmitted as well. Or even that it’s using USB technology that makes for a quick and comfortable installation that you can forget about afterwards. No, it’s because a video camera is part of the mix: providing a 720p high resolution means for chatting using audio programs such as Skype, MSN messenger, etc. Check out the box and you’ll see that there’s even a multi-directional external microphone to plug in and use for when more people than just your own set of lips are flapping. And since the lens is wide-angle, there goes the need for a remote to provide pan or zoom functions to m ake sure everybody aimed at is being seen.
Now everybody may be Apple-crazy when it comes to mobile devices, but to use ConnectHD, you’ll need a PC. As in Windows XP, Vista or 7. But other than having a 2.0 USB port, which all PC’s have today, that’s it (with the exception of the starter editions of Vista and 7 which won’t work).
Before breaking down ConnectHD into its component parts and setting it up, where’s the value of using it with your home theater? Consider this –even with all the apps that manufacturers have added to their TVs, you’re still under their guidance as to what you can and can’t have. Not to mention having a web browser, if there even is one, that’s mostly crippled compared to what you’re used to. ConnectHD frees you from all that, because for practical purposes what it is doing is providing you with the unfettered access to the Internet you’re used to — just on a much bigger screen. And one that doesn’t require others to huddle around in order to see what’s there (yeah, it’s fair to say that ConnectHD will be used more often with a laptop, but that’s just a general observation).
So lets do the installation already and move on: this means inserting the packaged disc in a drive and loading the contents into the Windows operating system — followed by a “restart” if you’ll take my suggestion. What you’ve done prior to that is having placed the video transmitter in one of the USB ports and the included external microphone in another (you can ditch the mike if you want to use a laptop’s built-in one). Once the installation is over, move over to the TV for the next step.
Now here’s where I differ with Warpia’s instructions. They’ll have you placing the video receiver — a dock if you will — to the top bezel with included springs. I get that you want the camera that’s part of the dock at or above eye level, but bezels are getting so thin that the weight of the HDMI cable could be a real issue (I forgot to say that you should first connect a HDMI cable to the dock’s output,as well as the plug from the AC power supply, with the other end of the cable going to an input on the TV and the AC plug into a wall outlet). I then placed the dock in front of the TV on the stand it sits on and angled it slightly up using some play-dough at the bottom: I can see some arguing that this might block sound coming from the audio speakers, but I’d rather deal with a muffling issue that have the dock fall over. Besides the TV’s output, in my case, goes to an amplifier and speakers anyway.
Turning the TV on, I select the HDMI input and then use the remote that ConnectHD comes with to mirror this action. This was followed by the screen from the laptop showing up, but it looked odd. To fix that I did the following things: change the screen to “extended mode” so that I could in effect use the laptop screen as a work station and have the secondary “monitor” be the only image appearing on the TV. The “Fit to TV” option should also be turned on here — look for it in the DisplayLink menu beneath the “Display” icon in the system tray.
Now the one caveat to the USB technology is that, unlike that of radio-frequency, there must be an unobstructed view between the transmitter and the dock — not exactly the strict “line of sight ” but close enough — with a range topping off at about 30 feet. With the laptop, being seated on a couch (or on a bed, if in the bedroom) pretty much obviates this being an issue since you’re facing the TV pretty much head-on, but should the transmitter be hooked up to a PC, this could be a problem. To see if I could get around this problem, I took an 8 foot USB cable, with the transmitter plugged into one end and inserted the other end into a USB port on the PC (no hub, FYI). I then moved the cable so that the transmitter could “see” the dock. This worked fine, although I couldn’t see what was on the TV myself unless I left the PC. All things being equal, I’d say using ConnectHD with a laptop is the best choice. But even with a desktop, I could just start a video playing and then walk over and watch the TV.
But the sense of using a laptop becomes even more evident if you decide to use ConnectHD’s video camera. You’ll choose the program (Skype, for example) and as part of the configuration you’ll select the camera so that it can “shoot” whoever is facing it and then stream the video to the laptop and then on through the program to those looking to see what’s what.
As to the camera itself, the image being captured looks sharp and clear — fixed focus and no zooming — and at a distance you’re seeing more of what’s in front of it than the single “talking head” that computer webcams have dictated (and smartphones too, by the way).
Bottom line: So what do you get with the Warpia ConnectHD SWP400VC for $199 retail? First, all the “apps” you can want to see on a large HD screen — for those whose TV has no Internet capabilities at all, this beats having to buy a new TV or some Internet-capable add-on all hollow. And you can now do video chatting and related using a bigger screen to see whatever’s on the other end. Not to mention how much better gaming looks when 13 or 15-inches goes over the “Dark Side” of 40 or 50+. With stereo sound or surround yet. And that ConnectHD has nothing to do with a wireless home network means even the novice who doesn’t have a network can “get it” when it comes to how it can enhance one’s home theater setup.
- Easy installation/operation
- High-resolution video camera
- Included external microphone
- No Macintosh compatibility
- Spring-loaded clamps will loosen over time
- No remote
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.