Wireless USB: Was it worth the wait?

WUSB promised the ability to print, save data and show presentations without cables. Does it work? We've tested five peripherals to find out.

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Wireless USB video

Video cables have finally met their match. Whether it's for a desktop PC monitor or a notebook that connects to a projector, WUSB video technology can put video on screen without the wires. However, if you want to hear what you're playing, you're going to have to stay wired -- today's products can't work with audio. (Later this year, IOGear plans to introduce a WUSB video kit that includes a separate receiver for audio.)

I looked at Imation's Wireless Projection Link and the IOGear Wireless USB to VGA Kit. Both can connect just about any PC to a display or projector without a cable. Both came with a USB dongle, a receiver for the monitor, an AC adapter and a software CD.

The Projection Link's dongle snaps into the receiver for easy travel and can be used with a PC or Mac without loading any software. It works better with the drivers (which only work with PCs); you get smoother video, less lag and lower-system requirements.

Imation's Wireless Projection Link
Imation Wireless Projection Link

Getting it set up is a bit rough, though; the installation procedure is complicated and requires running several different programs. Set aside 20 or 25 minutes to get it working. By contrast, IOGear's installation was a breeze and took 5 minutes.

Each video extender paired with its USB dongle in between less than 15 seconds, and quickly connected with my Dell 17-in. monitor and a Vizio 47-in. TV.

You can't imagine the feeling of liberation that comes with connecting to a monitor or projector wirelessly. Free to roam about the room, it's perfect for trainers, presenters and those who just can't sit still. Both products have a slight lag between an action on the notebook and when that action shows up on screen, but it is tolerable.

IOGear Wireless USB to VGA Kit
IOGear Wireless USB to VGA Kit

Both video products gave me the choice of extending my notebook's desktop or mirroring it, and each device has customization software that sits in the system's task tray. The IOGear video kit is the resolution winner, with the ability to display 12 different monitor settings and up to 1,600 by 1,200 resolution, including several wide-screen options. By contrast, the Projection Link has only three choices that max out at 1,280 by 1,024 and is limited to the traditional 4:3 aspect ratio formats.

However, the Imation Projection Link has three features that the IOGear lacks: it can freeze the view, blank the screen and add a personal start-up image. It also frequently warned me that the system was running out of virtual memory, a problem I didn't encounter with any of the other four WUSB products.

The IOGear video kit has antennas on both the dongle and the base that can be aimed and removed, while the Imation gear only had an antenna on the base that can be aimed, but not removed. With a range of 30 feet, the IOGear bested the Projection Link's 15-ft. range. Both reconnected automatically and worked with the Fujitsu LifeBook A6220.

Of the two video products, my choice is the IOGear equipment for its easy setup, superior range and removable antennas. Personally, I can't wait for the version that adds audio, making it a clean sweep.

Conclusion

For the most part, WUSB is an impressive technology that can put an end to the tyranny of cables. It's reliable and has just enough range and throughput to be useful in an office. However, there aren't yet enough devices to make it worthwhile at this point. Basically, the technology needs to mature and become more widespread before it can enter the mainstream.

If that happens, in a few years, we might live and work in a Wireless USB world, where cables seem so 20th century. When you get back from a business trip, for instance, your notebook would sense the WUSB signal, automatically dock and put all your files where they need to be while connecting to a big-screen monitor, keyboard and mouse. In other words, as near to mobile nirvana as it gets.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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