Wireless HDMI has been around for a few years now, but it’s had trouble making the leap into mainstream consumer culture.
It brings the promise of wireless 1080p video on your TV with no discernible lag or loss of quality. It also brings you one step closer to ridding all of those cables lying around your house.
While it’s great on paper, how about in practice? If it’s so great, why isn’t so more popular? What’s holding it back?
What Is Wireless HDMI?
Wireless HDMI is the generic name for transmitting HD video and audio from a source device — such as a BluRay player, a PC computer, or a gaming console — to a TV without any wires.
It is a literal replacement for the standard HDMI cables that currently connect all of your media gear. You plug in a transmitter to the HDMI port of the source device, and a receiver to the HDMI port on your TV, and away you go. There’s no setup or configuration. The two halves automatically detect one another and connect.
It’s as easy as plugging in a cable without any of the in-between hassle. The receiver and transmitter units may need power cables, but some of the more recent models can draw power directly from the devices they plug into.
The wireless range varies depending on the technology used, and where your TV and source devices are located. It’s normally between 10 and 30 meters, and in some cases line-of-sight is necessary.
Most wireless HDMI products also include infrared ports, either built-in or through a dongle, that enable you to control the source device even when it is located in another room. Wireless games controllers can also be used.
Why Wireless HDMI Isn’t Mainstream
As with most fledgling technologies, wireless HDMI has to deal with multiple, incompatible standards that compete with each other. For it to make the leap into the mainstream, the industry will eventually have to settle on one of these standards. Here are the main ones to know about:
- WHDI. This operates on the 5 GHz frequency, which is becoming more common among wireless routers, so may be susceptible to interference. It has a 30-meter range and latency of less than one millisecond, so it’s good for gaming. WHDI is supported by Hitachi, LG, Motorola, Samsung, and Sony, among others.
- WirelessHD, or UltraGig. This standard runs on the higher 60 GHz frequency, which enables the streaming of uncompressed HD video and lag-free gaming. However, the signal has a much shorter range and needs line-of-sight — not just walls, but even furniture can disrupt the signal. WirelessHD’s supporters include LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba.
- 802.11ad, or WiGig. The 802.11ad wireless standard also supports the 60 GHz frequency and can deliver speeds of up to 7 Gbps over short distances — which is enough for 4K video. Managed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, WiGig Certified products are expected to become available from 2016.
4 Reasons to Use Wireless HDMI
The main benefits of wireless HDMI revolve around convenience and lack of clutter:
- Go wireless. It’s safe to say we’d all like to get rid of some of the wires around our homes, and especially around the backs of our TVs. This is what wireless HDMI enables you to do. It’s even more essential if you have a wall mounted TV.
- When your source is in a different location. Whether you want to stream Netflix from a console in the bedroom to a TV in the living room, or connect a projector in your office boardroom, you can. There’s no need to have the devices alongside each other and no need to run long lengths of cable to connect them.
- Your TV ran out of HDMI ports. Most TVs have at least two HDMI ports, but that isn’t always enough. The good news is that some wireless HDMI receivers have multiple input ports, so you can easily connect extra sources. Others can even stream to multiple TVs.
- Workplace applications. There are many applications for the workplace, from outputting a presentation from your laptop to a conference room TV, to installing digital signage in your shop window.
To be clear, wireless HDMI isn’t a Chromecast or other related streaming device. It’s nothing like Miracast or Intel’s WiDi. These are predominantly used for screen mirroring between devices and often suffer from much higher latency.
Wireless HDMI is just a direct replacement for HDMI cables. It transmits a signal from a source to an output device, and nothing more.
Are There Any Downsides?
The idea behind Wireless HDMI is pretty great. So what’s holding it back?
The first downside is the price. You’re looking at a couple hundred dollars for a typical wireless HDMI setup, compared to a couple of bucks for a few meters of HDMI cable. As such, it’s not something that you should get on a whim. It’s more of a “get it if you need it” product.
The next issue is that wireless technologies always have the potential to be less reliable and stable than wired connections. With a traditional HDMI cable, you don’t have to worry about reduced video quality due to compression or loss of signal due to interference. With any kind of wireless tech, you do.
And finally, there’s the fact that the technology is still young and immature. The competing standards are muddying the waters, but the devices themselves are somewhat clunky, too.
Ideally, new TVs and other gadgets will come with built-in wireless HDMI support, removing the need for an external receiver, but that may not happen until 60 GHz networking really takes off.
Getting Started with Wireless HDMI
IOGear makes well-reviewed wireless products, including the Wireless 5×2 HD Matrix. This WHDI system supports up to five source devices, can transmit to two HD TVs, and has built-in infrared capability. It costs a hefty $399 and can be extended further with additional transmitters, priced at $159 a piece.
If you prefer a 60 GHz WirelessHD option, then the DVDO Air3C gives you one transmitter and one receiver (which can draw power from the TV) for around $189. More affordable options are available if you simply want to dip your toe in the water.
In spite of the challenges holding wireless HDMI back, the benefits are obvious. It puts you one step closer to making your home completely wireless, and with fast speeds and low latencies, it is as viable for gaming as it is for watching movies.
What are your thoughts on wireless HDMI? Do you use it? If not, what’s holding you back? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.