Cables are, it has to be said, Satan's own work. Put two cables together behind your TV, give them five minutes alone, and when you return they will have knotted themselves into an impenetrable mess. Returning them to two cables will take a life, either yours, or theirs. We hate cables. They are from hell.
So you won't be surprised to learn that when Zyxel offered us the chance to try its wireless HDMI kit, we bit its hand clean off. After all, spare hands are always useful in the battle against cables.
The idea is simple here. Take 1080p video and send it a modest distance through the air at a very high frequency. It's a system called wideband, and it's been deployed in TVs by Sony and Panasonic in the past, but usually at some considerable expense.
Who needs wireless HDMI?
There are a lot of people who would benefit from having wireless HDMI. We, for example, keep our AV gear away from prying kiddie hands and judgmental spousal eyes, in a lockable cupboard. This is a little distance away from our TV, and running a cable is possible, but long HDMI cables can be expensive and are certainly quite bulky.
It's also a great help if you have a projector, on a shelf or mounted on the ceiling, where it's not practical to run a lot of cables, and easier to have just one box.
With these Zyxel devices, you hook up to the transmitter the things you want to see on the TV, and the TV itself to the receiver. There's a short period in which the two boxes need to "find" each other, but once that's done the signal will just magically - it's not magic, it's 60GHz wireless - appear on your TV set.
It's basically a plug-and-play process, so there's no complicated configuration or other technical messing about. We did encounter some problems - the two units didn't instantly sync for us - but after a bit of head scratching we determined that it's worth introducing them to each other at close range, and making sure you have a working signal going in to the transmitter, and your TV plugged in to the reciever. It makes it a lot eaisier, and the handshaking then happens much quicker.
What can you send?
The good news is, there's plenty of bandwidth here. So you can send 1080p video, and even 3D material. That's handy, because there are a decent number of 3D sets knocking about these days, and to omit it would be daft.
It also supports 7.1 surround sound, so you can get the best from your audio, too. Although we suspect most people will put this "after" their AV receiver, rather than before it, sending sound is much less of an issue.
HDMI is digital. So assuming there's no problem with either the cable, or in this case, the transmitter, then the signal will either appear on your TV, or it will not. We found that, for the most part, the picture was solid on screen. However, there's a bit of a "but". We did notice, on some text, that there was sparkling when we pushed the transmitter a bit further away. Sparkles are noticeable when an HDMI cable is defective. It's always obvious, and isn't related to the quality of the cable, but usually indicates something has gone wrong.
We don't have the technical expertise to know quite why we saw signal problems, but when we were using the devices at this distance we also noted that walking in the signal area, between the two devices, would cause the TV to black out.
For safety then, you'll want to make sure the transmitter and reciever have line-of-sight with each other, and that no one can walk between them. This is probably a bit easier than it sounds, but it's still a bit of a faff.
As well as being handy in the wirless signal sending stakes, the ZyXEL also has a four-port HDMI switch. That's very handy if, as we expect a lot of people will, you want to use the wireless system with a projector. These generally have quite limited inputs, but you may very well want to send lots of different inputs to it. This would work especially well for spontaneously connecting a laptop. Of course, many projector users will be running everything through an AV receiver, which will give one output from many.
You get a remote control to manage the switch too, so there's no need to mess about pressing buttons anywhere, just hook up your four devices and you're good to go. The only problem is, the remote is quite small and fiddly, so it won't be any good in the dark, and will slip down the back of the sofa before you know it.
The market for these wireless HDMI systems might be quite small. But in truth, everyone could derive some benefit from having a pair of them. It makes your cable hell a lot more manageable, and it means that you can put your AV gear a long way from your TV and still enjoy 1080p video.
At about £170, this system isn't cheap, but if you've just spent £2000 on a TV or projector, and £1000 on an AV receiver and £3000 on speakers, it's really just pocket change. Certainly, it's a better way of doing things than wires, and it makes our hearts a little happier knowing somewhere HDMI cable isn't getting made because of these. Although thinking about it more, the ZyXEL actually increases the number of HDMI cables you need from one, to two.
Cables. Can't live with them, can't live without them.