I've tested plenty of wireless AV streaming solutions before, and they've all fallen over in one way or another. The Screencast AV 4 is the first one I'd spend my own money on; here's why.
Why It Matters
HDMI has made a huge impact in the amount of cable clutter behind Australian TVs, switching any number of cables for a single one. Still, with the number of boxes we connect to our flat screens, there's still plenty of scope for cable clutter and tangled spaghetti messes, as our recent Screencast AV 4 competition showed. That's exactly what the $299 Belkin Screencast AV 4 is designed to combat, with the added bonus of making it possible to wallmount your TV and not worry about multiple boxes underneath.
What We Like
Installation of the Screencast AV 4 really is quite simple. Plug in up to four HDMI AV devices into the box labelled "transmitter". Plug the box labelled "receiver" into your HDMI-compliant TV, power both on and give it a minute or two. An onscreen menu system allows you to name each of the four ports, although this isn't mandatory.
An included IR relay allows you to take the remote control with you, and Belkin claims a range of up to 30 metres for the two devices. 30 metres from AV source to AV destination is one humungous house, and I couldn't lay claim to living in such a mansion, but in my tests through several walls the Screencast's AV performance was near flawless with 1080p material. The Screencast AV 4 claims to support 3D material, and it does so quite nicely, at least from my small scale 3D testing — but that's more to do with my own aversion to 3D material than any shortcoming on the Screencast's part.
I decided to give the Screencast a slighly unfair test, plugging in an Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 for some gaming as well. That's an area where not only visual quality but also input lag plays a part, although the Screencast's not capable of retransmitting a Bluetooth signal such as the PS3's Dualshock controllers transmit.
To my great surprise, both worked without a hitch, with controls across a range of games from Twisted Metal to Halo 10th Anniversary Edition responding with good accuracy. The one caveat here; without some kind of monster USB cable, you wouldn't be able to extend that kind of gaming to Kinect or Move games — and introducing a lengthy USB cable would reintroduce the exact kind of cable tripwire clutter that the Screencast is designed to combat.
What We Don't Like
It's not completely flawless. At the Australian launch, Spider-Man 3 was used as the demonstration movie, and in conversation afterwards, almost every journalist I chatted to had the same complaint; it looked good, but there was a small quantity of digital "snow" onscreen every once in a while. To be fair, that particular day was gifted with a particularly violent and heavy rainstorm, which I'm sure played a part. Still, there's the capability for interference, as there is with any wireless product. During my testing I never hit quite the same amount of snow, but did notice the odd pixel flick here and there. I've seen worse in cinema screenings of late, but if you expect an absolutely flawless presentation you may hit very tiny spots of annoyance.
My games testing was highly enjoyable, but it was noticeable that some loading screens — especially when testing with the PS3 for both games and blu-ray discs — confused the Screencast, forcing it to declare that there was no signal for a second or two. It always caught up before gameplay or movie playback actually commenced, but it was mildly irksome.
The onscreen UI is clear enough to use, but it also looks like it fell off the back of an Amstrad CPC 464. Ideally you shouldn't see it much beyond initial setup, and that's good, because it's quite ugly.
As mentioned in the introduction, HDMI's done a lot to combat cable clutter, but there's plenty of legacy equipment that doesn't use HDMI, and never will. The Screencast AV 4 can't do a single thing for Nintendo Wii owners, although again there you'd be stymied by the need for the sensor bar. Ditto anyone who keeps a VCR, older set top box or retro games consoles around. Even a single component or composite RCA port on the Screencast AV4 would do a lot to service that particular market.
Should You Buy It?
The Screencast AV4 joins a long list of inhome AV retransmitters that are designed to combat cable and box clutter and save you from having to drill conduit holes in your walls. It's not a one hundred percent guaranteed solution, but then nothing wireless could ever be that. For what it does, it does so spectacularly well under most circumstances, and for those who want a simple lounge room setup sans cables, it comes highly recommended.