Whether you’re a student in a dorm room, a corporate marketing person, or a schoolteacher, there’s an undeniable appeal to be able to use your Mac’s display to watch TV, play video from a VCR or external DVD player, or even play or observe video games. Or perhaps you’d prefer to connect your Mac to a projection system or a large TV. To cater to that need,
AVerMedia has come up with the AVerTV Box, a device that rests midway between your Power Mac and its screen.
The AVerTV Box looks a bit like a part from a UFO: The device is tapered on its left and right edges, and is capable of sitting horizontally or vertically on a desk. Molded in a silver plastic material, the AVerTV Box is about the size of an external CD-RW drive — about 9 and 1/2 inches wide, 4 inches deep, and 2 and 1/8 inches high. When standing on its base, the device only take up about four inches of width on your desk. The AVerTV Box sports a front panel with a flip-down door and an infrared port used for the external wireless remote control. Basic access controls are on the top, and the backplane of the device is chock-full of inputs and outputs of varying types.
Lots of choices
Included with the AVerTV Box is a user’s manual, DC power adapter, mini jack to RCA stereo audio cable, and a VGA cable. A wireless remote control is also included, which provides you with channel changing capabilities and access to the various internal controls built into the AVerTV Box.
The AVerTV Box has been created to enable users of any VGA-equipped computer (Macs included) to connect to their monitor a variety of different home entertainment products. Because it connects inline through the VGA connection between your Mac and the display, no drivers or software need to be installed to get it to work — it’s all self-contained. However, because it’s VGA-based, you can forget about getting a Mac that uses Apple Display Connector (ADC) to attach to a flat panel display. Although I don’t have one to test, my understanding is that the AVerTV Box should work with CRT-based iMacs equipped with VGA Video Mirroring connections, too.
A coaxial connector is included if you wish to run cable television to your monitor, as is a component video interface (used on better DVD players and other high-end consumer gear). Two separate composite video inputs are available, one on the back and one on the front; both have been paired with RCA stereo input jacks. VGA input (from the computer) is on the back and S-Video input is also there.
Outputs consist of stereo audio RCA jacks, a single VGA out port, used to connect to your monitor, and a composite video output jack, used ostensibly if you want to display your computer’s video signal on a television or other similarly equipped device. If you have a Mac with a mic input, you can use the supplied adapter cable to use your Mac to listen to the Box’s audio output. You could just as easily hook up the AVerTV Box’s audio to an external audio source like a home entertainment receiver or an amplified speaker system with discrete inputs.
Real estate on the AVerTV Box is at a premium, and I wish that AVerMedia had made the box a bit taller to accommodate the outputs and inputs on the front. There’s no way to output a video signal or audio without having the front access panel open. If you examine the image above, the access door is that rectangular box that’s visible in the center of the front panel. This means that if you’re outputting video or audio, or using the Video 1 inputs, you’ll have the door open and cables snaking through the front. This is ugly and inelegant. It generates a lot of clutter on an otherwise clean design.
Plug and Play
Hooking up the AVerTV Box to your monitor is a simple process. You attach the supplied VGA cable to your Power Mac and the AVerTV Box. Then you attach your monitor’s VGA cable to the AVerTV Box. In truth, that’s all you need to get started. As you’re inclined, you can attach any combination of video devices you want, depending on how they’re equipped.
There is a downside to this, however: Once the AVerTV Box is attached, your Mac will lose its ability to sense your monitor’s specifically supported resolutions and scan rates. This can be a real problem if you’re not familiar with your monitor’s specific settings, since you can easily overdrive your monitor and force it to support settings it’s not designed for. Monitor makers will tell you that such procedures can ultimately damage a display. It’s also kind of a pain if you’ve gotten used to your monitor working at a specific resolution and scan rate: You’ll have to reset that when your Mac reboots, and hopefully you’ll find a setting that matches.
Once you’ve booted up your system and your monitor is active, you can turn on the AVerTV Box and begin to manipulate specific settings. The device is equipped with five built-in menu settings that enable you to adjust fine tuning, video and display modes; scan and memorize channels; affect picture settings like brightness, contrast, tint and more; adjust picture-in-picture format; or reset the system’s setup to its factory defaults.
AVerMedia has taken Mac users into consideration with the AVerTV Box’s supported video modes. The AVerTV Box supports different scan rates for both PCs and Macs when you’re in A/V mode — this leads to a much more flicker-free image when you have it configured for the Mac. The Box ships configured by default for PC users, but it’s simple to switch using the built-in menuing system.
The AVerTV Box’s included wireless remote control is sensibly laid out and thin enough to be unobtrusive when sitting on a desk near your computer. It enables you to switch between A/V and PC inputs, although manipulating the different video input selections on the Box will require you to navigate some menus. You can also use it to channel-surf if you have a cable or antenna TV input, use a picture-in-picture mode, and access a wide variety of other settings too. Although you can do most of these functions using the Box’s built-in buttons, it’s easier and more elegant to use the control instead.
I’m a video game junkie and I already have three systems plugged into my home entertainment system, creating a snake-pit of cables that I’ve disguised in a stereo cabinet in my living room. It was great fun to take three other systems that have laid dormant for a few months down to my basement office, plug them into the various input ports on the AVerTV Box, and use them on my Mac’s 17 inch display instead. The resolution and clarity of the video images was perfectly acceptable, and the cable antenna and S-Video inputs both work as advertised, too.
Every rose has its thorns
There’s one significant limitation for consumers that I’d be remiss not to mention. AVerMedia confirmed that the box isn’t designed to work with any Mac monitor resolutions beyond about 832 x 624 pixels (it’s even more limited on the PC side — 800 x 600 is as high as it’ll go on that platform).
Although the AVerTV Box certainly functions at resolutions higher than 832 x 624, the blurriness of the image is a marked degradation in clarity compared with the monitor’s native operation. The effect was as if I took off a pair of prescription glasses — trying to work in higher resolutions caused me to squint, and that obviously didn’t fix the problem, it just gave me a blistering headache.
1024 x 768 (or higher) resolution has been the gold standard for consumer computers for years, and because of this, the AVerTV Box misses the mark as a consumer device. If you depend on being able to view your Mac’s desktop at reasonably high resolutions, skip it.
At US$159.99, the AVerTV Box might save you from having buying a television set or specialty monitor that contains cable, multiple composite video and S-Video inputs. It’s also very handy if your goal is to display the Mac’s video signal on a television or projector. That will certainly make the AVerTV Box worth the price to companies, schools and others looking to leverage the investment they’ve already made in existing computer hardware — as long as it’s acceptable for them to present computer images in 640 x 480 or 832 x 624 resolution.