Pros: 802.11g Wi-Fi dongle allows for pure wireless setup and operation; good quality streaming over both local and remote connections; can record streams from local connections
Cons: no Mac software; can’t schedule recordings or record at all from remote connections
The advent of the digital video recorder has given us “timeshifting,” the freedom to watch our favorite TV shows on our own schedules rather than those of the networks without the legendary headaches of VCR programming. But to achieve true television nirvana, you also need “placeshifting,” the ability to use a PC to watch TV from any room in your home, or via the Internet, from anywhere you happen to be. The HAVA Titanium HD Wi-Fi ($249.99) is a device that does exactly that, and it does so without the need for an Ethernet connection to a wireless bridge or powerline network adapter, such as the one required by Sling Media’s popular and well-regarded Slingbox products.
Hardware and physical connections
The Titanium HD Wi-Fi is a nondescript gray plastic box approximately 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.75(WDH, inches) that’s devoid of logos or even labels for the array of indicator lights on its front bezel. Instead of 802.11g Wi-Fi integrated directly into the device, it uses a USB dongle and extension cable and weighted base that plug into one of two ports at the rear of the device. This approach has two benefits. First, it allows you to position the Wi-Fi antenna for optimum reception as opposed to having it buried in the bowels of an entertainment center. Second, modular Wi-Fi is also potentially upgradeable Wi-Fi. Hava says an 802.11n-compatible dongle is on the road map, although a release date and pricing have not yet been set.
Amid the plethora of ports on the back of the Titanium HD Wi-Fi are AV connector ports for RCA (analog) audio, plus composite and component video, as well as S-Video jacks. To make better use of the limited real estate available for connectors, the Titanium HD Wi-Fi uses single mini-style jacks in lieu of conventional composite and component connectors, and the special included cables provide the standard yellow or red/green/blue jacks that connect back to your AV equipment. (You won’t want to lose those cables, as they likely won’t be as easy to replace as standard ones.) The THD lacks a coaxial connector or internal tuner, so you can’t simply connect it to analog or digital TV signal coming out of the wall.
We tested the Titanium HD Wi-Fi with a TiVo Series 3 HD-compatible DVR, though it should work with almost any cable/satellite set-top box, Media Center PC, DVD player, or similar AV device (and you can connect multiple devices at the same time). To make the physical connections between the TiVo and Hava units, we went from unused component video and analog audio outputs on the former to corresponding inputs on the latter, and also connected the IR blaster for remote control functionality. The Titanium HD also has AV outputs, which are invaluable if your source device doesn’t have any available outputs, as it allows you to set up a pass-through connection (by connecting your source outputs to the THD inputs and then connecting the THD outputs to your TV).
Although the THD has an Ethernet port, you don’t need to use it, even for initial setup. When first powered on, the THD cleverly broadcasts its own wireless SSID which the setup software detects and connects to in order to configure the device. The setup wizard goes through the process of updating the THD firmware (if necessary) configuring the Wi-Fi adapter with parameters for your network, testing the video/audio streams and identifying your AV source device for the purpose of selecting remote control codes. The wizard also configures the THD for remote viewing by assigning it an ID (the default is a long and impossible to remember alphanumeric string—fortunately, you can substitute your own) and registering it with Hava’s central server, which acts as a directory allowing THD units to be found and accessed behind firewalls.
The wizard worked well and configured our THD without any problems, though the preview window used to tweak video quality settings is a bit too small. Once setup was complete, the unit rebooted and was joined to our existing WPA2-encrypted wireless network without a hitch.
The Hava PC Player is easy-to-use, with straightforward video and audio controls. (A minor annoyance—running the player software on Vista requires confirmation via UAC.) You can pause and rewind the stream thanks to a buffer whose size can be customized based on available hard drive space. Video streams can also be recorded for later viewing or copied to DVD using a built-in burning utility. The ability to record streams is handy. It would more useful if you could schedule recordings, but you can’t. The remote feature is also available only when connected to the THD via your local network.
You change channels and otherwise manipulate your AV device using a graphical image of its remote control that resides in its own window that you can move or hide as needed. Using the on-screen remote takes a bit of getting used to, because there’s a three-to-five second lag from the time you click a remote button until you see the command executed on your device.
We installed the Hava PC Player on several Windows Vista and XP PCs on our local network and found the video and audio quality to be quite good over both wired and wireless connections, even when we tried accessing the THD from two systems at the same time. The THD can’t display HD signals in their full-resolution glory (that’s not possible over an 802.11g link) but local clients do get a 720 x 480 MPEG2 streaming at 30 frames per second, and you can watch streams in 16×9 format. We were able to get streams of around 5 Mbps from wired clients, and about 3Mbps from wireless ones.
To see how the THD streaming quality would fare over the Internet, we hauled our notebook to a local hotspot-equipped restaurant. The Hava PC Player had no problem locating and connecting to our THD, which delivered an 800-900 kbps stream (remote clients get a more compressed 320 x 240 MPEG4 stream of between 15 and 30 fps) of good quality—although the video was a bit soft-looking, the frame rate was smooth and there were no audio dropouts.
We arrived at the hotspot just before the lunch rush, and as the establishment got busier (and more people joined the wireless network), the streaming rate began to fall. For the most part our remote stream’s quality degraded minimally and gracefully—only when the data rate fell to around 250 kbps was there a noticeable drop in quality, which was manifested by blocky compression artifacts in the video. (Much below 250 kb/sec, extremely low frame rates were the norm.) Suffice it to say you’ll need an Internet connection of at least a 300K upstream and preferably 512K or higher for best results with remote viewing.
In addition to the Windows XP/Vista player software (there is no Mac client), Hava offers versions (available for free download) for Windows Mobile 5/6 devices, Nokia S60-based phones, and the Nokia N8xx series Internet tablets.
The Hava Titanium HD Wi-Fi’s ability to stream high-quality, if not high-definition video and audio to around the house or around the world—and do it completely wirelessly—provides great television-watching flexibility. Anyone that wants to keep up with shows while on the move should check it out.
Joseph Moran is a veteran technology journalist and frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet. He is based in Florida. For more of his reviews, read “Netgear Skype Wi-Fi Phone,” “Review: Netgear RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N Router WNDR3300,” and “Review: Polycom SpectraLink 8002 Wireless Telephone.”