Chris Drage is impressed by a new wireless way to link your PC to a screen
The ubiquitous data projector and interactive whiteboard or large screen have become the dominant means of sharing video and other resources on PCs and digital devices with students and other audiences. Wouldn’t it be great if a teacher could walk into a lesson with a laptop, switch on a large LCD TV or monitor and share that same conent but with no physical connections required?
Well now you can. Veebeam allows you to do just that – and more.
Veebeam is a simple, affordable way to wirelessly deliver resources stored on your laptop or from the web, to a TV or monitor. Indeed, whatever the source, if your laptop can play it, Veebeam can display it on the TV or monitor. By simply sharing the contents of your laptop screen you can share the richness of internet video services, from YouTube to iPlayer, with a wider audience.
Veebeam comes in two flavours: standard definition (SD) £81.67 (plus VAT) with a single USB port for connecting media drives and a high definition (HD) version £114.75 (+VAT) with two USB ports. It is very simple to use and well appointed with connections: composite video for standard definition in the case of the SD version and HDMI for the HD version. There's a even pair of stereo (RCA type) jacks and an optical S/PDIF for audio output, and a pair of USB sockets too.
The Veebeam package comprises a USB transmitter dongle which plugs into your laptop, a base receiver which connects to an HD TV/monitor, and a power supply unit. The HDMI or composite video cable is an additional extra and the Veebeam software is downloaded from the Veebeam website and installed on your computer.
Once this is done, the USB dongle is removed from its cradle and plugged into the laptop and the base unit is connected to the TV/monitor and powered up. You are ready to start. Switch on the laptop, and once the base unit and USB dongle ‘see’ each other, transmission can begin. As the system is using wireless USB (WUSB) connection everything is transparent and straightforward. It ensures that the system will not interfere with, nor receive interference from, adjoining wireless networks etc. The system is compatible with Windows 7, Vista, and Mac OSX.
In use the system doesn’t really care what your laptop is displaying, whether it's a desktop utility, a media player window or any software: it will transfer and display it. There are two modes of operation: ‘Screencasting’, which is best for sharing websites or photos, and a ‘Play-To’ mode for highest quality video playback. This latter mode allows you to play files directly without having to display them on the laptop's screen.
Veebeam needs a computer with a fast processor for optimum performance
In terms of performance, Veebeam is a bit of a curate’s egg. I tried it on a modern Windows 7 laptop and soon discovered that the USB dongle has a range of about 10m and requires line of sight with the base unit. I also discovered that the laptop’s output settings need to match the LCD TV to ensure all the laptop’s screen can be seen to advantage and not to crop the display. A bit of trial and error and I soon hit on the best settings – achieved via the Veebeam software. Once set up, that’s it. It retains the setting for next time.
Overall everything streamed quite smoothly, and the picture quality appeared quite crisp, colourful and free from artefacts. However, this certainly is not the case for all laptops or PCs, and performance can degrade considerably if your machine does not have a fast processor. The makers recommend computers with Intel Core 2 Duo or Intel i3, i5, and i7 processors running at 2.2 GHz or faster. So don’t even think of using a netbook!
The problem lies in the sheer volume of video data and the compression/decompression that has to take place. In the case of a laptop using the Veebeam the processor must not only decode the incoming video (whatever its source) but also re-encode it on the fly to transmit it to the Veebeam base unit. With the BBC iPlayer (which does not permit any buffering) there are also problems with the video visually stalling whilst the system tries to catch up. With YouTube things are much better as buffering is allowed and the system has time to cope with the flow.
It's also important to note that Veebeam Inc recommends a maximum input resolution of 1,280x1,024 when you attempt Screencasting. The software-driven ‘Play To’ mode overcomes this with a ‘Play file’ option that permits video files of up to 1080p to be transferred seamlessly, even on an elderly laptop with lower processor power. When I tried Screencasting an HD movie from DVD, apart from the occasional glitch that looked like dropped frames or interlacing issues, the whole streamed very clearly. It was much better when reducing the window size to about three quarters TV screen size.
The Veebeam HD system does offer a flexible means of sharing good-quality HD video, stills and other media via Screencasting but also smooth, fuss-free video file streaming as well – with the proviso that it requires a modern, powerful laptop to make the best use of it. Although most classrooms today are equipped with interactive whiteboards and plugging a laptop into a wall-mounted projector socket is straightforward, there are spaces within the school, perhaps the library or LRC or group teaching rooms which may be equipped with large HD ready TVs or monitors and it is here where Veebeam will find its niche. The laptop continues to become the central point to access and store resources and Veebeam frees that content from the small computer screen and its tiny speakers and enables you to share it on large TVs or HDMI-equipped monitors (the most popular).
Overall it's an easy-to-use plug-and-play video streaming solution.
Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose 4
Ease of use 5
Value for money 4
Video streaming technology to wirelessly connect computers to TVs and flat-screen monitors. Standard definition (SD) £81.67 (plus VAT) with a single USB port for connecting media drives and a High Definition (HD) version £114.75 (plus VAT) with two USB ports. Package has USB transmitter dongle to plug into a laptop, base receiver tp connects to an HD TV/monitor, and a power supply unit. HDMI or composite video cable is an additional extra and the Veebeam software can be downloaded from the Veebeam website.