Making the Wireless Connection: New HP 3D, TV, and Audio Solutions

Over the past couple of weeks Hewlett Packard has rolled out a huge pile of new consumer products, among them a clutch of all-in-ones, touchscreen PCs and tablets, Beats-enhanced laptops, and even a curious little Wi-Fi mouse.

What caught our eye at a recent demo, however, were three loosely related gadgets - the 2311gt 3D monitor ($299), HP Wireless Audio ($99.99; additional receivers $59.99), and the revamped HP Wireless TV Connect ($179.99) - that together, seem like they should amount to a nifty little wireless entertainment ecosystem. . . but do they?

Individually, this is an interesting group of products from HP, extending the media experience from the desktop (or laptop) that's been their primary focus to the rest of the home theater.

TV connect uses WHDI to wirelessly stream up to 1080p video (including 3D, if your PC and TV support it) from a connected computer to a receiver that you can locate up to 10 meters away. There are no drivers; the system is platform agnostic and should work with any PC that has an HDMI output, and should let you display whatever your machine is capable of outputting - whether a second screen or a mirrored screen - on any TV you plug the receiver into.

The new, slimmed-down computer-side dongle, (in a configuration that will either make you long for HDBaseT or make you nostalgic for portable hard drives of a few years back), requires two ports, an HDMI output for streaming and a USB port for power. The receiver unit has also shed some bulk as compared to the 2010 version, and sports a single HDMI output.

Operation was smooth and glitch free in the demo I saw; HP's had more than a year to fine tune this system since it's introduction, and aside from the 3D pathway there's probably not much functional difference - but the new, smaller dongle is a distinct improvement over the old box (which was meant to be hung from the rear of a laptop screen).

The Wireless Audio unit uses Kleer to broadcast from a single USB dongle to up to four receivers, located up to 30 meters away (you get a single one with the $99.99 starter pack; more receivers'll cost you $59.99 a piece). This is a single-zone system, though volume is controllable for each channel (think AirPlay). A full range of outputs are available: stereo analog, optical and coaxial S/PDIF, and a 3.5 mm minijack.

We didn't have extended listening time, but audio signal delivery seemed very stable (as we've come to expect from Kleer devices), and the lossless transmission was indistinguishable from a wired connection over the pair of small powered monitors in use. Kleer's worked well in the applications we've seen, and this is no exception.

Sadly, the Wireless Audio and Wireless TV Connect systems aren't cross-compatible. The dongle will pair with other Kleer devices, and the receiver will field signal from other Kleer sources (such as HP's new Beats notebook, which has a built-in Kleer transmitter), but the fact that the audio system can't be used to connect additional speakers to a computer being used as a video source is a bit frustrating.

The 23" 2311gt 3D monitor's an interesting unit as well, aimed squarely at the personal viewing space Sony's exploring with their 24" PlayStation 3D unit. Compared to the $499 Sony, this 1080p passive 3D set is a nice deal at $299 (which includes two pairs of passive glasses), though it doesn't have any fancy dual-screen tricks up its sleeve. The HP monitor is meant for use with a computer, however; there's no specific console support.

While the 2311gt's a 3D unit it's meant more as a dual-purpose personal monitor; working days and playing nights, and the accent is on 3D upconversion (it ships along with Cyberlink's PowerDVD software, to perform that task for movies, and TriDef Ignition Game Player, for. . . well, games). HDMI connection is HDMI 1.3, which, according to HP's Pete Ellis, means that the Wireless TV Connect system may not, in practice, be able to pass a 3D signal to it in it's current version. We were unable to test this at the demo, but it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity if that's the case. Check it out first if that's what you have in mind.

Overall, HP's new home theater/gaming/HTPC offerings are intriguing, and should you need a single solution - be it wireless audio, wireless video, or inexpensive desktop 3D - you may well want to investigate. For most folks, a simple, lightweight, low-cost solution that lets you stream from your laptop to your TV will be a welcome addition. In that these units imply a unified home entertainment system without actually delivering such, they're a bit frustrating, but let's see where HP goes with these units in future incarnations.