At a Glance
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If Apple’s AirPlay and the Apple TV haven’t provided a broad enough hint, allow me to put it plainly: The family HDTV is the next great frontier of media connectivity and consumption. Developer after developer is trying to find ways to direct media from the various portable and set-top boxes you own to that TV. Among them is Awind, maker of the $199 McTivia, a device for wirelessly transmitting your Mac’s audio and video to a connected television.
Configuration and operation
McTivia is a receiver about the size of an ice-cream sandwich that you connect to your TV via an HDMI cable. You then install the McTivia software on your Mac and launch it (Awind lists the Mac models it recommends on the company’s website). You’ll be asked to choose a network for the McTivia hardware and software to connect to. Do this and the software configures the Mac so that it can stream its video and audio to the McTivia box and thus to your TV. McTivia offers 720p video, 44.1kHz audio, and supports up to eight computers (Mac and PCs) on your network.
You have a variety of ways you can attach the McTivia to your network. The ideal setup is to use an ethernet connection with both the McTivia box and your Mac. Do this and data will move between the two devices as briskly as possible. You can also connect the McTivia to ethernet and access the box wirelessly from your computer (the box supports 802.11b/g/n and 10/100base-T). And finally, each device can use Wi-Fi without a wired connection. A completely wired connection offers the best throughput whereas a wholly wireless setup provides the worst performance because of the amount of data flowing over the connection. When you attach the McTivia to your network via an ethernet connection, it becomes another wireless hotspot on that network. You can configure that hotspot (including password protecting it) using a configuration tool you access with your Web browser.
Normally when you attach an additional display to your Mac you can configure the second display using the Mac’s Display system preference. That’s not the case here. The McTivia can only mirror your Mac’s display, not extend it. This means that if you want to change the resolution on the TV, you must also change your Mac’s screen resolution.
McTivia will choose a resolution when you first set it up but you may not be happy with that choice so prepare to fiddle with the Display system preference. Although your Mac’s highest resolution may look great on your computer’s display, it likely won’t look very good on your TV. For this reason, it’s worth your while to open the Display preference and try the many display options to see which you like best. I found a display setting of 1280-by-800 looked the best on the plasma TV attached to the McTivia.
If you want to make other video adjustments you can. The McTivia software provides many functions you need including an option for selecting a resolution quality as well as another for adjusting the boundaries of the Mac’s display on your TV, similar to the Overscan feature that appears in the Display system preference when you use a TV as a second monitor. (When I first attached the McTivia and used it with my MacBook Pro, the Mac’s window exceeded the boundaries of my HDTV.)
McTivia additionally includes a USB port on the back. You use this to attach a mouse or keyboard (or both by chaining them together). Used in this way you can have your computer in another room yet still control it from in front of your TV. (If you have wireless input devices such as a mouse, trackpad, or keyboard, and they’re close enough to the computer to communicate with it, you could use them instead.)
McTivia has two display modes—one for applications and another for video. The difference is reflected in latency—how responsive the Mac’s image is on the TV screen. When you choose the video setting, you’ll see a very discernible delay when you move the cursor. If you’re working with an application or playing a game, this is not the setting to use as you’ll find that delay frustrating. As its name implies, the video setting is the one to choose when you’re projecting videos (such as those in your iTunes library) to your TV. The applications setting is for when you require better response. While there are still latency issues—particularly when you use a Wi-Fi connection rather than a wired one—you’ll find the latency far less distracting as the cursor moves in a more responsive way. I played Angry Birds on my Mac Pro with a wired connection and found it easy to do when choosing this setting.
How good the picture looks on your TV depends on a couple of factors. An LCD TV looks better than a plasma, just as such TVs do when you connect the TV directly to your Mac using the appropriate adapter. And then there’s your network. Again, if you depend entirely on wireless, the results won’t completely thrill you. You can do something about this by dialing down the quality settings on the unit so that you improve latency, but then the picture quality suffers.
Otherwise, McTivia works as advertised. Audio and video were completely in sync when I played movies and games and I was able to use a mouse and keyboard that were attached to the unit via USB. Similarly, I had no problem using a wireless mouse and keyboard that were paired to my Mac.
Appropriateness for the job
As with many wireless products like this, the suitability of the McTivia depends on how badly you need a wireless or network connection. If you have a Mac laptop or Mac mini that you’d like to use as a media center, you’ll find it far less expensive to do this kind of thing by purchasing the appropriate adapter (Mini DisplayPort to HDMI, for example), using that adapter to make the connection between your Mac and TV, and then controlling the works with wireless input devices. And you’ll get better results because latency isn’t an issue as the TV is simply acting as a large display.
However, if you have a desk-bound computer such as a Mac Pro or iMac that isn’t convenient to move close to a TV for direct cabling and have a network robust enough to provide good results, the McTivia is an interesting choice. It’s also an intriguing option in conference rooms that increasingly house HDTVs. Just install the McTivia software on any Mac or Windows PC that happens into the room and you’re ready to project from that computer to the TV.
Macworld’s buying advice
McTivia works as it’s supposed to, although it takes a measure of fiddling to get the best from it. The appropriateness of a purchase depends entirely on your need for its services. Again, if you can accomplish your goal with wires, you’ll find that a cheaper and higher-quality solution. However, if a wireless or networked connection to your TV is your only option, McTivia is worth your consideration.