IOGEAR Puts Wireless HDMI into the Matrix

When my kids were born, the obstetrician let me cut each one’s umbilical cord. Those cords were surprisingly tough to sever, even with a pair of super-sharp surgical scissors. Still, it’s no where near as easy as that was to cut through the clutter of cables we use to connect our AV gear together. (You didn’t see that segue coming, did you?) HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) simplified things quite a bit from the multiple-cable analog way of making connections; but, at the end of the day, an HDMI cable (regardless of its version number, speed rating, or whatever confusing denomination it happens to be a member of) is still a flippin’ cable. IOGEAR says its new $399 Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix (GWHDMS52) offers a way to get rid of one of those HDMI cables in your system – specifically one of those long suckers that are both costly and annoyingly difficult to run from component A to display B. To prove it, IOGEAR recently shipped a Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix for me to give a brief tryout. Considering the fact that I needed to rejigger the cable configuration running from the main system in my theater room to the 46” outdoor SunBriteTV still battling the elements on my back deck, I figured I had the perfect scenario to put the new wireless switcher to the test.

Sending high-def signals wirelessly from one place to another isn’t new, of course, nor is there only one wireless protocol vying for industry domination at the moment. IOGEAR uses WHDI here (more about that to follow), but there are also WirelessHD (WiHD) and Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) technologies, to name two others. (WiGig was recently consolidated into the Wi-Fi Alliance.)

What makes the IOGEAR Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix unique is that it is one of the very few wireless HDMI devices at the moment that has matrix source-switching capabilities. Matrix switchers, in case you’re not familiar with them, are source-selection components (commonly with four, eight, or more inputs) that include multiple, independent outputs. In the case of IOGEAR’s Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix, for example, the main transmitter/switcher has five inputs (four HDMI and one component video) along with one HDMI output on the back. The kit’s separate wireless receiver has its own HDMI output. The “matrix” design of the switcher gives it the ability to either send the same signal to both of the HDMI outputs or send independent signals from different inputs to the HDMI outputs simultaneously.

The idea here, as laid out in a nice illustration on IOGEAR’s product page, is that the Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix’s transmitter/switcher can be used as the main switching component (rather than an AVR or HDTV, for instance) in a relatively basic system in which the primary HDTV is located close enough to the transmitter/switcher – next to or on the equipment cabinet, perhaps – that it’s easy to run a short HDMI cable from the HDMI output on the back of the transmitter/switcher to the HDMI input of the TV. (Since only one of the HDMI outputs is transmitted wirelessly, it might be more appropriate to think of the Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix as a “One-Half Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix”.) The kit’s wireless receiver can then be connected to an HDTV in a remote location, such as a bedroom or, as in my case, a backyard. In addition to transmitting the HDMI signal, the system has built-in IR pass-through capabilities – and conveniently comes with two IR blaster cables – so you can control whichever particular source component you happen to be watching on the remote HDTV via the wireless connection. There’s a USB port on both the transmitter and the receiver that enables the use of a wireless keyboard and/or mouse to remotely operate a computer or laptop connected to the transmitter. The kit also includes two IR remote controls for basic operations, such as source selection, for the local and remote displays.

IOGEAR says the Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix “supports full uncompressed HD 1080p, 3D content, and 5.1 channel digital audio”. As I’ve mentioned, the system uses Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) technology and specifically operates in a 40MHz channel in the 5GHz unlicensed band potentially delivering the “equivalent video data rates of up to 3Gbps (including uncompressed 1080p)” over a range of “beyond 100 feet, through walls” with a latency of less than one millisecond (<1ms). The transmitter/switcher is a slender and shallow black box with all the connectivity ports lined up in a single row along the back of the chassis and buttons for power and source selection located on the top next to four source LED indicators. The receiver is about one-third the size of the transmitter (not much bigger than three Hershey’s Kit Kat bars stacked on top of one another – except without the delectable crunchy insides…at least I don’t think the wireless receiver is crunchy and tasty on the inside…) with four removable rubber feet on the bottom, power and source buttons with indicator LEDs on the top, and the connectivity ports on the back. Both devices incorporate internal wireless antennas.

Please Do Not Adversely Affect, Hinder Or Eliminate
Being as small as it is, the receiver is very easy to hide behind a TV. In fact, in terms of depth and width, it just fit inside the waterproof compartment that protects all of the SunBriteTV 4660HD’s input jacks and cable plugs on the back of the display. Although the stated spec for range is a rather vague “beyond 100 feet, through walls”, there are a few caveats to that. For example, IOGEAR warns that “the transmitter can function properly inside of many cabinets, but depending on the cabinet materials.” Furthermore, while “wireless signals are able to penetrate walls made of standard drywall/gypsum board with wood framing…concrete, brick, cinder block, steel and water (such as aquariums) may adversely affect, hinder or eliminate the wireless signal.”

As it happens, in my main theater room I have an RE42 equipment rack from OmniMount. It’s a Faraday cage-like monolith made from heavy-gauge steel that’s a wonder to behold and use. I initially placed the transmitter/switcher on a shelf inside the RE42 and set the receiver on the floor beneath a wall-mounted Samsung plasma TV about 20 feet away. In this configuration, the connection appeared to be flawless, providing pristine image and sound quality. The system is stupidly simple to set up and use, too, since the receiver automatically syncs with the transmitter when both are powered up. In addition to making the initial install quick and easy, the auto-on and auto-sync features allowed me to take advantage of the energy saving features of a Belkin Conserve Smart AV power strip by plugging the receiver’s power supply into one of the master-controlled outlets on the power strip. When the TV was turned off, the power strip cut power to the wireless receiver and, likewise, provided power when the TV was turned on. Once put together this way, I never had to touch or adjust the wireless receiver regardless of the number times I turned the system on and off. The wireless receiver’s boot up and channel scan process takes almost no time at all to complete.

With the receiver buried inside the SunBriteTV’s protective compartment and the transmitter entombed in the OmniMount equipment rack, however, the system’s performance was a slightly different story. Although the transmitter and receiver were less than 35 feet apart, I was definitely taxing the system to its limit by throwing so many obstacles – a TV chassis, an equipment cabinet, and, especially, a thick exterior house wall - in between the two devices. For the most part, the picture looked good, but there were noticeable dropouts in the image at times. The connection killer, however, turned out to be me. Even though I’m not an aquarium, there’s enough water content in my body that the signal would be completely interrupted whenever I stood directly between the transmitter and receiver. Fortunately, the problem was easy to resolve by putting the transmitter/switcher on the top of the OmniMount cabinet.

With its unique matrix switching capabilities and great wireless performance, IOGEAR’s GWHDMS52 Wireless 5x2 HD Matrix is a mighty impressive, competitively priced kit. If the matrix switcher isn’t important to you (meaning you’ll have to watch the same thing on both the remote and local TVs) and you can live with only two HDMI inputs (and no component video), then you can save about $150 using IOGEAR’s equally impressive $249 GW3DHDKIT Wireless HD Digital Kit. While neither kit will totally eliminate the wires in your system, both are top-notch at keeping them short and cheap.