Monsoon Multimedia HAVA Wireless HD

Sometimes cutting the cord is a mixed blessing.

Certain catch phrases from my youth have stuck with me more than others. I was never a "Where's the beef?" fan, but lately, the one that keeps coming to mind is, "I want my MTV." It's not so much for the images of hyperactive rock stars and animated moon missions so much as the underlying fervor with which individuals demanded their favorite programming. That could pretty much apply to all TV these days, as well as movies or even video games—and the options for a media-hungry generation have never been as varied, or as powerful. I won't call the Slingbox a revolution for the same reason I won't apply that term to my beloved TiVo. Their uses of technology are bold, but the Slingbox has been a tad slow to penetrate the mainstream, as was the DVR in its early years. The Slingbox, if you don't recall our November 2006 review, is a network-ready place-shifting device that streams the audio and video from a connected home theater component, making it available on a PC connected to the Internet. Rather than start a game of Me Too with the more established Sling Media, competitor Monsoon Multimedia has upped the ante in two significant ways that you can probably figure out from the moniker of this particular model from their HAVA line.

"Wireless HD"
Once unpacked, the first difference becomes apparent: a pair of rear-mounted antennas enable Wi-Fi, for a simpler, wireless connection to the host PC—or so I thought. Further inspection reveals the other major step-up feature: component video passthrough, a set of inputs to a source component flanked by a three-port output back to the TV. With its prominently touted high def delivered by way of component video, I was expecting a set of now-ubiquitous component cables. Instead, Monsoon includes S-video, composite video with analog stereo, and coaxial/RF video cables, plus an IR blaster to control digital cable/satellite set-top boxes and DVD players. You can wire an analog cable/ antenna TV signal directly into the HAVA Wireless HD, which offers its own NTSC tuner inside.

But the "wireless" designation is a bit optimistic. Because it offers no onscreen display of its own when connected in the home theater—and no keyboard—you'll have to briefly wire the box into the host PC via Ethernet and run an occasionally frustrating setup wizard to perform the necessary Wi-Fi configuration. Ultimately, I needed to explore the Advanced submenu and fiddle with the Network button, as well as the Wi-Fi and IP tabs. It was a tedious process, and I had to delve into my router's utility program and pull up seldom-used information before I faced a daunting choice: "Changing network settings on HAVA may make it inaccessible." I took the leap of faith, and it worked out fine.

The setup wizard is also where you'll find the most up-to-date list of compatible hardware devices for which the HAVA Wireless HD can emulate the remote control. My intention was to connect to my Xbox 360 Elite because its hours of downloaded videos and HD DVD playback made it seem like an ideal match for distant high-def viewing. But alas, the HAVA only supports the original Xbox, released six years ago. I could view the Xbox 360's output and even capture it as a video file on my PC's hard drive; I just couldn't control it in any way. Well, the classic Xbox was a multimedia machine in its day too, so I patched the HAVA Wireless HD into the component video/ analog stereo, ran the dreaded IR blaster, and completed the final few tweaks on my PC, including hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast from their preset levels.

HAVA Good Time
The first time I launched the HAVA Player and watched my Xbox power up right there, my effort seemed to be well worth it. From there, I navigated the myriad Xbox options using the virtual remote control. The HAVA offers a variety of virtual remote styles. But although Microsoft's add-on remote-control kit for the Xbox is designed specifically for DVD playback, the HAVA's "DVD" remote layout did not resemble that black-and-green plastic controller—and it was often unresponsive. Some buttons worked but always with an annoying lag time added, while other commands did not register at all, suggesting that the issue was not the IR blaster. I was repeatedly tempted to just click directly on, say, a DVD's menus with my mouse, as I can do with a PC DVD-player application, but obviously the HAVA Player is not designed like that.

During the Xbox's boot-up, the HAVA Player window had an aspect ratio of 4:3 that then automatically adjusted to 16:9/720p. In addition to full screen, you can view the HAVA Player in 1X and 2X sizes. The video quality wasn't particularly impressive in either size; it displayed either an undeniable softness or outright unpleasant horizontal lines that were not evident in the home theater passthrough of the same content. Onscreen text was difficult to read, and the image would sometimes shake within its window. Here again, you can capture the video stream and save it as an MPEG-2 file with just a click. You can even create a DVD via the simple red Burn button. It leads you through the burn process in a somewhat roundabout, yet still effective, exploitation of the now-fabled analog hole.

I seldom connected my PC to the HAVA without having to do some sort of trouble-shooting. The most common problem was an inability to find the HAVA device itself; I'd have to return to various wizards and menus and submenus to work it out. A Help button is conveniently integrated along the top of the player window, but this just drops you into the 33-page user guide to fend for yourself. Operational glitches aside, my main beef with the HAVA is that you have to depend on active support of potentially compatible devices, although Monsoon tells me that remote-control codes are on the way for Xbox 360, Apple TV, and more. Taking place-shifting someplace new is an admirable goal; I just wish there weren't so many bumps along the way.

Highlights
• Puts home theater audio/video on your computer, to watch, pause, or even capture
• Wi-Fi enabled; supports high-definition up to 1080i over component video

COMPANY INFO
Monsoon Multimedia
(866) YES-HAVA
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