Why WiDi wins and loses for your computer/TV connection

Wi-Fi Direct is finally arriving in significant numbers of laptops, but it still has a way to go before being a perfect way to get video from your computer to your TV.

When I first got started with personal computers, I often used a TV to show computer video. Well, to be more exact, I didn't have any choice but to use a TV as a monitor to display CP/M-80 command line interfaces. There's been a lot of changes since the 80s, but getting your PC video to your TV is still something of a pain. True, you can hook up an HDMI cable to do the job, but I've never been a fan of having cables running across my living room. I'm also no fan of using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, with their limited range, to talk to the PC media server. No, what I really wanted was a way to just have my laptop in front of me and then just throw my video from my 15.6” laptop display to my 42” HDTC TV without any fuss. That's what Wi-Fi Direct (WiDi) promises. Unfortunately, there's still trouble with it delivering the goods.

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WiDi has been certified for over a year and a half now. Based on 802.11n technology, WiDi is backwards compatible with the 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi networking family and uses WPA2 security. However, it's used more like Bluetooth, albeit it with much greater range, than a LAN technology.

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It's meant to make direct connection quickly and easily from PCs to printers, displays, and so on. To do this, instead of switches, routers, or access points, WiDi devices incorporate software access points to enable ad hoc point-to-point networks. The case I care about is the one of connecting my WiDi-enabled laptop with a similarly equipped TV.

To make this work, of course, you need standards and the Wi-Fi Alliance has joined with the Digital Living Network Alliance to get computers and TVs on the same connection. It's only now that we're finally seeing products in any significant numbers, though. Most of these are using Intel's Wireless Display. Late 2011 and 2012 consumer laptops with Intel Wi-Fi chipsets now include WiDi support.

Having the hardware and being able to use it isn't the same thing, though. Currently, to use Intel's take on WiDi you need to run Windows 7 and you must download the latest version of the Intel WiDi Widget. Not many TVs are shipping with WiDi support yet though. To get them to work, you'll almost certainly need a WiDi adapter for your TV. These include the Belkin ScreenCast; the NetGear Push2TV, and the D-Link MainStage.

At this point no one that I know of is incorporating WiDi into a media-extender like a Roku or an Internet-enabled DVR. Darn it!

So, once you have all that, and the latest firmware updates, you'll be ready to make your laptop the hub of your TV entertainment center, right? Well, not quite. Thanks to legal entanglements, you can't play a DVD or Blu-Ray DVD on your PC and watch it on your television  (PDF Link). Of course, the way things are going with Windows 8, you'll have to upgrade it to watch DVDs using Windows anyway.

I find this lack of DVD support annoying. I been getting my hands dirty with TV technology since I was a kid in my dad's TV repair shop. Even so, I get annoyed at having to jump through hoops to just get video from my PC to my TV. And, if I get vexed at it, I know for a fact that Joe User, who thinks he can just watch TV from his PC without any trouble thanks to WiDi, is going to be ticked off the first time he runs into the DVD problem. Maybe someday, we'll have easy TV, computer, and Internet integration, but we're still not there yet.

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