capsule review

Bigstream streaming accessory

At a Glance
  • Personal Communications Devices Bigstream

    Macworld Rating

You have mobile entertainment devices in the form of iPods, iPhones, and iPads. You also have a very large and very stationary entertainment device in the form of your television. Increasingly, companies are trying to find ways for the two of them to interact. Personal Communications Devices hopes that when you consider such interactions, you’ll look at its $99 Bigstream wireless streaming product.

Bigstream comprises two major components—a large transmitter dongle that afixes to your iPod, iPhone, or iPad’s dock connector port and a remote receiver that plugs into your TV via a composite video/analog audio connection. Charge the dongle (a charge lasts just more than two hours), switch on the receiver, choose from among three channels to transmit on, select a compatible application on your iOS device or iPod, and video and/or audio streams to your connected TV.

Is this really necessary?

When I heard about the Bigstream, the first thought that naturally came to mind was: Why would I want this when I already have an Apple TV? In some cases, the answer was: I wouldn’t. After all, my Apple TV ( ) already supports streaming without a dongle, it uses a high-definition HDMI connection instead of a lower-quality standard definition cable, and in addition to streaming content from my iOS devices, it can access some Internet content.

But the Bigstream offers some advantages over the Apple TV. The first is that it may be a better travel companion. An Apple TV requires that both the iOS device and Apple TV share the same Wi-Fi connection. If you don’t have such a connection, you’re out of luck. Secondly, although the quality of composite video is no great shakes, that connector is commonly found. If you have an old TV or projector that doesn’t support HDMI, the Bigstream is an option. It also supports a broader range of devices. You can connect a current iPod nano and stream slideshows. With a third-, fourth-, or fifth-generation iPod nano, you can stream videos as well as photos. And it can stream content coming over a 3G connection.

Quirks

But while it can do some things an Apple TV can’t do, it’s not perfect. You must charge the dongle as the host device doesn’t provide it with enough power. Ideally you’d be able to do that via the receiver, which has a cradle for it, but that cradle doesn’t include a power connector. Instead you power it via the included USB cable attached to a power source such as an iOS power adapter. The dongle is a little large and ungainly, which can lead to you bumping and disconnecting it. Also, although the Bigstream offers three different channels, it’s still subject to interference. The TV is my office is surrounded by other gadgets including a broadband modem, wireless router, Apple TV, and any number of AV devices. I saw a lot of flicker when the receiver sat next to my TV. If I pulled it as far as possible from my other gear, the flickering stopped. It’s regrettable that it’s not better shielded.

And finally, there’s the question of how much you’re willing to pay for a wireless solution. For $39 you can purchase Apple’s Composite AV Cable, which does nearly everything the Bigstream does without interference or the need for additional power. What the Bigstream adds is the ability to have your device across the room rather than tethered to your TV or projector. For doing presentations this is worthwhile, but for situations where you’re simply going to press Play and watch, I’m not convinced that the Bigstream is a particular value—particularly when for that same $39 you could purchase Apple’s Component AV Cable and present a better-looking picture.

Macworld’s buying advice

Your decision to purchase the Bigstream depends on very specific needs and your ability to overlook some faults. If you can’t do whatever it is you want to do with one of Apple’s AV cables or an Apple TV, can put up with a composite video connection, are willing to be watchful of interference, and don’t mind a largish dongle that require recharging, the Bigstream might suit you. Me? Not so much.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Supports some iPod nano models
    • Doesn't require a Wi-Fi network
    • Can stream supported media over 3G

    Cons

    • Subject to interference
    • Offers only composite video
    • Dongle is large and requires charging
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