If you’ve ever wanted to use your computer on your TV without lugging it across the room or play movies off streaming sites like Hulu and YouTube on your TV, then the McTiVia has answered your prayers.
Though it has slightly overcomplicated things. You can normally plug a new PC straight into a TV via HDMI to use it as your monitor, or even hook your MacBook up to your home cinema via DisplayPort. For the sake of convenience, McTiVia has made the process a little more wireless with a little less legwork – but the whole process isn’t without its drawbacks.
The $299 McTiVia unit itself is a compact receiver of sorts that hooks into your wireless router or straight to a computer or laptop, mirroring what you see on the screen onto your TV. The unit is a sturdy combination of metal and glossy black plastic, screwed together in an attractively slim and sleek design. Two detachable antennae screw into the back and their placement slightly off-centre gives the small unit that extra edge. The build looks and feel sturdy, with an attractive face we wouldn’t mind seating in front of our TVs.
The connections are all neatly housed around the back of the thin unit. They include the power socket, HDMI output for connecting your sound and visual straight into the TV, and a USB port. The USB port isn’t for playing media but for attaching a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard to control an attached computer. You’ve got to give them a bit of praise for not overlooking this one – if you’re mirroring your home PC with the McTiVia, it’s because you don’t want to shift the whole PC next to your TV to hook it up direct or just don’t have a long enough HDMI cable, so you’re hardly going to be running back into the next room to use your usual keyboard.
There’s also an Ethernet port for connecting to a router to give the McTiVia the wireless touch. From here, up to eight computers can jump onto your router or the McTiVia directly as an extension of your router (similar to the way a Wi-Fi extender acts as portal to your router if you’re too far away) and mirror their screens on the attached TV (one at a time, of course).
Quality varies from good to okay, never hitting great, as you move from wireless to wired. Wireless freedom comes at a price of lowered resolution and frame rate, with the best quality coming from an Ethernet connection wired straight from a computer/laptop to the McTiVia unit. Here you get a resolution of roughly 720p. It isn’t the best for watching HD movies off your PC, but it’ll cover the quality of most online streaming sites.
MirrorOp software runs the process on your computer on either Mac or Windows, and automatically resizes your desktop resolution to match the strength of your connection to the McTiVia box. It’s an annoying trait, but it automatically switches back to normal once the application is closed. Trouble is, you may want to tweak the resolution and aspect ratio manually, and will thus have to do this every time.
It runs in a video and an ‘app’ mode. In the video mode, audio and video are synced up though the mouse won’t move 1:1 with the speed you’re moving it. For this, you can run the app mode that gives you better video tracking but audio falls out of sync as the picture attempts to run smoother.
The perk the company’s been spruiking is the ability to bring video streaming sites’ content onto your TV (otherwise doomed to exclusivity in your browser) – and it does this in a bit of a dodgy way. You get a trial membership to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service that lets you get around the geographic restrictions websites like Hulu put on Australians. Copyright issues restrict a lot of catch-up TV content on sites like Hulu and music videos from Vevo on YouTube to US or UK only. A VPN tricks these sites into thinking you’re accessing them from the US, opening up a magical portal to content you probably shouldn’t be able to pick up.
Once you get past the promises of watching TV from around the world on your TV and see the McTiVia in its basic, practical form, the promises seem a little less magical. It’s mono-function device that doesn’t do its function that well thanks to a dip in video quality, and you’ll otherwise find much greater functionality out of many rival devices in the halls media servers and media centres. If you can’t hardline your laptop or PC straight into your TV for whatever reason and watching online video on your TV is really that important to you though, then the McTiVia should do the trick. If you have an intricate workplace presentation that warrants hooking together a bunch of computer screens to one TV, then you’ve also got an attractive option here.
The McTiVia doesn’t do anything special. You get a watered-down-resolution version of your whole computer, smack bang on your TV. It isn’t a content manager or media server. It doesn’t bring its own content to the table. But it gives you enough hints on how to access content you probably shouldn’t and in a convenient enough way to make you see the value in it that other, more advanced units don’t deliver.