Is Sling about to be outslung? We like to reward innovation, and there’s no question that Sling Media popularized the concept of location-shifting TV with the original Slingbox. In fact, we awarded the new Slingbox Pro a nine verdict in our February issue. Monsoon Multimedia’s Hava Wireless HD trumps Sling’s product in some very important ways—but trails it in others.
On the upside, the Hava Wireless HD gives you the option of connecting a video-streaming box to your network either with or without Ethernet cables—addressing one of our biggest reservations about the Slingbox line. And staying true to the HD in the product’s name, you don’t need to pay extra to feed high-definition video to the Hava device and pass that signal on to your TV: While Sling charges $50 for an I/O dongle, Monsoon builds component-video in and out connections right into the box. The Hava is also equipped with composite- and S-video inputs and outputs. Audio is analog stereo only, and the box supports only one IR blaster.
We found the Hava Wireless HD to be much more flexible than the Slingbox, but that flexibility—and Monsoon’s less-than-stellar documentation—renders the setup much more complicated. There are three scenarios for configuring the Hava Wireless HD: In a wireless-only configuration, which you would use if your set-top box is far from your wireless access point and a hardwired Ethernet connection is impractical, all communications are wireless (duh). The Hava can stream MPEG-2 video (at 720x480 resolution) to multiple wireless PC clients on your local network and can stream MPEG-4 video (at 320x240 resolution) to one remote client over the Internet. PCs hardwired to your network cannot receive video streams at all.
In the second scenario, in which the Hava is hardwired to your wireless access point, any PCs hardwired to your network can receive MPEG-2 streams, and one remote client can receive MPEG-4 video over the Internet. Local wireless PCs don’t get any video. Lastly, if you have a mixture of wired and wireless PCs on your network, you can follow the same procedure to configure the Hava as a wireless device and then hardwire it to your wireless router. In this scenario, local wireless PCs get MPEG-2 streams over the air, local wired PCs get MPEG-2 streams over Ethernet cable, and one remote client gets MPEG-4 streams over the Internet.
Monsoon’s “multicasting” feature—the Hava’s ability to stream to numerous local clients simultaneously—is something else Sling Media doesn’t have an answer for. This competitive edge becomes less compelling, however, when you realize that all local clients get the same video. The Hava’s Tivo-like ability to record video programming to your PC’s hard drive and then—assuming the content is not DRM protected—burn that recording to a DVD is pretty damned cool. Too bad it doesn’t work over the Internet.
But when you’re talking about being able to watch TV anywhere, there’s nothing quite like watching a ballgame on your smart phone, and that’s where Sling still has a major edge: Monsoon demonstrated this feature for us, but the software wasn’t available at retail at press time. In our mind, the ability to watch TV on a smart phone outweighs the benefit of not having to string Ethernet to a set-top box, and that cost the Hava Wireless HD one point in our final verdict.
Component video input and pass-through; slick multicast and PVR features.
Setup can be complicated and awkward; only one IR blaster port.