From the Lab – BenQ InstaShow WDC10

From the Lab - Product Review:

BenQ InstaShow
WDC10

Hands-on testing of a wireless video / audio extender
masquerading as a wireless presentation solution

Review Date: December 2017
Software version: N/A
List Price: $1,599

The InstaShow WDC10 is a wireless video / audio extender that allows multiple presenters to share content wirelessly to a shared display.

Unlike traditional wireless presentation solutions that leverage some form of client software (meaning a Windows or Mac app), the WDC10 connects directly to the USB and HDMI video output ports on a notebook PC, desktop PC, or other source device.

The standard InstaShow package includes:

  • A host (base unit) with an HDMI output for connection to a shared display
  • External power supply (may not be needed)
  • Dual Wi-Fi antennas
  • Two wireless USB / HDMI dongles for connection to PCs and notebooks
  • A USB extension cable
  • A table-top dongle cradle

Our “test” setup included a standard WDC10 setup, two extra dongles, and a second table-top dongle cradle.

The Good

  • Attractive and well-designed device
  • Small footprint both on the table and near the display
  • Quick and easy connection for the base unit – requires only the following two connections:
    • HDMI connection to the shared display
    • USB connection (for power) to a USB port on the display or the included USB power adapter
  • Creates and uses a separate Wi-Fi network so traffic does not mix with IP traffic on production network
  • Supports 802.11ac (faster, more scalable, and spectrum efficient than 802.11n)
  • Very strong ease of use
  • Dongles are powered off the USB port on the user’s device so no batteries / external power required
  • LED indicator on dongle indicates device “status” (meaning readiness)
  • No software needed to wirelessly present the source device’s display
  • Can be used by both internal staff and guests as no connection to production LAN / WAN is required
  • Transmits both video and audio signals
  • Supported extended desktop on Windows and Mac systems
  • Provides strong content sharing performance
    • Extremely low latency (delay)
    • Presentation mode optimizes video resolution
    • Video mode optimizes frame rate

“InstaShow is easy to use, requires no software, and provides a solid experience.”

The Bad

  • Solution only works with devices with video outputs (e.g. notebook PCs)
  • Dongle uses HDMI connector (somewhat rare in current generation laptops, not found on mobile devices)
  • Package does not include adapters for other connectors (e.g. DisplayPort, USB-C, Lightning port, etc.)
  • If HDMI and USB ports are not close together (e.g. on different sides of a notebook PC), the included USB extension cable must be used
  • Creates and uses a separate wireless network in the meeting room (may cause issues with other wireless networks in the area)
  • Shares entire screen / desktop only – not a specific app or window
  • Supports the presentation of only a single content source on screen at a time (most current-generation wireless presentation solutions support four or more)

“Nothing is perfect …
but if you need to share an HDMI signal, InstaShow is a solid choice.”

The Bottom Line

The InstaShow WDC10 is an attractive device with a small footprint that is easy to install and easy to use.  Our testing showed that InstaShow is a very strong performer that offers solid shared image quality at up to 30 fps with very low latency.

Unfortunately, the device has a few limitations, some related to the fact that this is a wireless extender solution and not a wireless presentation solution, and others (only a few) from BenQ’s implementation.  For example, sharing from mobile devices requires special adapters, and only one source is shown on-screen at a time.

Given the ongoing trend toward collaborative meetings involving user-provided content from mobile devices, these limitations may be problematic for many organizations.

For organizations seeking the ability to quickly and easily share content from a notebook PC, the InstaShow WDC10 would be a solid choice.  Those seeking more advanced features may fare better with a wireless presentation system.

TESTING NOTES / COMMENTS / ADDITIONAL DETAILS

Announced in June 2016 at the InfoComm show, BenQ’s InstaShow is a wireless presentation system (WPS) of a different sort.  Technically speaking, InstaShow is not a wireless presentation system at all – it’s a wireless video / audio extender.

So, what’s the difference between a wireless presentation system (WPS) and a signal extender?  WPS offerings use software running on the content source device (e.g. user notebook, mobile device, etc.) to encode the signals to be shared.  The encoding software (or wireless presentation client or native sharing protocol) typically has access to all the apps and signals within the host device.  As a result, these solutions can support the sending of the entire user’s desktop or a specific application / window.

Signal extenders, on the other hand, are external devices that take a content source device’s AV output (e.g. HDMI) as an input and encode that signal.  Signal extenders, both wired and wireless types, are commonly used to move digital signals from one part of a meeting room to another.  Notably, these devices do not require software to be installed on the user’s device.  However, extenders have access to the AV output signals only.  As a result, such solutions do not support sharing of individual apps or windows.

So, the real difference is the type and location of the encoders – a technical nuance that can have significant impact on the use cases supported by the device.

InstaShow is a well performing video / audio signal extender that BenQ has positioned and is selling as a wireless presentation solution — a wise move given the strong demand for WPS offerings compared to signal extenders.

It took us less than a minute to connect the InstaShow Host (base unit) to our host device.  We like that the base unit can be powered off a display / projector’s USB port or using an external (provided) power adapter.  A few seconds after we made our connections, the base unit’s LED turned green and we were ready to share content.

We then connected one of the provided USB / HDMI dongles to our content source, in this case a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (SP4) tablet (see the drawing below).  However, the SP4 does not have an HDMI output, so we used a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter that we had on hand (see image below).

Given that most current generation notebooks do not include an HDMI output, we expect many enterprise users will have a similar connectorization problem.  Ideally, BenQ would modify the dongle to accept different cable configurations (e.g., one with an HDMI cable, one with DisplayPort, etc.).  BenQ should at least include a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter in the package.

Once we resolved our cabling issue, the dongle powered up quickly, displaying a red blinking light as it connected to the base unit (see image).  A few seconds later, the dongle LED turned green indicating that we were ready to share content (image right below).

Author’s Note – our device arrived with the four (4) dongles pre-paired to our base unit.  However, the process for pairing dongles to a base unit is simple and painless.

InstaShow shares content over a dedicated Wi-Fi network in which the InstaShow Host (base unit) acts as the wireless access point, and the dongles act as wireless clients that automatically connect to the InstaShow Wi-Fi network.  This makes the system setup very quick, and allows the system to support both internal users and guests without access to the corporate network.  However, the InstaShow Wi-Fi network could interfere with a company’s production Wi-Fi network.

Sharing content was as easy as pressing the green button on the dongle.  All in all, including the need to find and connect the DisplayPort to HDMI adapter, we were up and running and sharing content in less than 10 minutes.

InstaShow’s video and audio content sharing performance was quite strong.

  • Presentation Mode – first we tested presentation mode (the default mode optimized for image quality over frame rate) and sent both static content (a PPT presentation) and motion content (a YouTube video clip). In all cases, the system performed as expected, offering solid image quality at 8-10 fps.
  • Video Mode – we then pressed the “Mode” button on the dongle to change to video mode (optimized for frame rate over image quality) and sent both static and motion content. Once again, the system performed quite well, but in this mode the system supported 30 fps.

We were also impressed by the system’s low transmission latency of ~100 ms in presentation mode and 110 – 120 ms in video mode.  This compares very well against most wireless presentation offerings.