Kevin Hunt: Wireless HD: Confusing Formats, But Nyrius Aries Makes It Work


For this week's column, we'll ask 3D HDTV to please remain seated while we introduce an even newer technology, wireless HDMI, that has struggled despite its marriage of two contemporary digital heavyweights: wireless and HDMI.

The Nyrius Aries Prime Wireless HD Transmitter is a bargain ticket to beaming high-definition movies from a Blu-ray player, gaming console or laptop without a physical connection to an HDTV. It's often available online for $150, half its retail price, and seemingly similar in function if not design to the $399 DVDO Air auditioned here last fall.

Both eliminate the wire clusters from a wall-mounted HDTV, transmitting hi-def video (including 3-D) and most surround-sound audio. And both have a transmitter that connects to, and beams from, a Blu-ray player or other video source to a receiver connected to an HDTV.

That's the extent of the "wireless" parlor trick. The receiver and transmitter need wired, plug-in power supplies. (The Aries transmitter, a fit-in-the-palm dongle fitted with an HDMI connector, also can be powered by a USB cable when connected to a laptop.) The Aries, model No. NPCS549, uses a proprietary chip set equivalent to the Wireless Home Digital Interface standard that sends uncompressed audio and video, even through walls, in an unlicensed 5-gigahertz band. Wireless Home Digital Interface is designed for short-range transmission; the Aries' line-of-sight range, with nothing between the transmitter and receiver, is 30 feet.

The DVDO Air, meanwhile, is aligned with WirelessHD, which uses 60-gigahertz radio frequency transmission technology that avoids interference with microwave ovens and cellphones but cannot penetrate thick walls or sometimes even thick humans. It's unlikely the consumer will know the distinction between the products. The Aries manual doesn't even mention what type of technology it uses.

It's not just WirelessHD vs. Wireless Home Digital Interface. Intel's Wireless Display sends video up to 1080p and 5.1-channel surround sound specifically to computer monitors. The Wireless Gigabit Alliance uses another 60-gigahertz wireless technology. It recently was folded into the Wi-Fi Alliance, an association that certifies wireless products owns the Wi-Fi trademark.

Thanks for the consolidation. (Please don't stop there.) In the den or living room, wherever the HDTV resides, nothing matters except the execution. This is where wireless HDMI speaks the consumer's language. Even Apple couldn't make setup any easier:

1. Plug transmitter into cable box, Blu-ray player or gaming console.

2. Plug receiver into HDTV.

3. Stand back as transmitter and receiver pair automatically.

What appears next is almost indistinguishable from a typical wired HDMI setup. A trained eye might detect slightly softer video, but the first-time user will see not only 1080p video but soundtracks in virtually every available format except the high-resolution Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD.

During my trial period with the Aries, I noticed some occasional pixelation and, ever more rare, a transmitter-sync problem. Video quality was less consistent with a laptop, with the picture washed out or colors off. There's another Aries for that, the Pro Wireless HD for laptops ($230).

I could not get the Prime's signal to penetrate a wall, though, even from an adjacent room. But there's an Aries for that, too: The Home+ Wireless HD Sender ($200) signal penetrates walls, floors and ceilings, up to 100 feet away.

Soon after being reunited with an HDTV and a PlayStation 3, the Prime's transmitter and receiver stopped talking. Was it something the laptop said?

It's not perfect, but it's a useful technology and so easy to set up that it deserves a more united, coherent pitch from manufacturers to consumers.

khunt@tribune.com

What: Nyrius Aries Prime Wireless HD Transmitter

Price: $150, nyrius.com

Hot: Wireless HDMI at a bargain price, making it more affordable to mount an HDTV on wall without wires. High-quality video, excellent audio with no lag time.

Not: Occasional sync problems.

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