The axiom that nothing's better than a copper cable for making a reliable connection is as applicable to home theater gear as it is to data networking. However, for those situations where running an HDMI cable is impractical or undesirable, the DVDO Air3C-Pro stands ready to bridge the gap with a wireless link that delivers pristine audio/video (AV) quality with ease.
In the box
The Air3C includes everything needed for most installation scenarios. The similarly sized transmitter and receiver are slightly larger than a deck of playing cards and weigh 107g (3.75oz) each. Also in the box are USB power adapters, USB cables, and a pair of HDMI cables (4 feet long each).
Air3C setup is as simple as connecting the HDMI cables and adding USB power to the transmitter and receiver. After the units automatically make the initial connection (aka "mate"), they are able to reconnect within a few seconds after powering up.
The Air3C units have two holes for affixing them onto a flat surface with screws or similar fasteners. An included clip-on bracket and adhesive Velcro pads can be used to attach the receiver to the back of a TV. Ideally, the units will be positioned within line-of-sight, but the Air's 60GHz radios can bounce signals off of a wall or ceiling to maintain a connection with slightly obscured transmitter and receiver placement.
In addition to the Air3C-Pro, DVDO offers a more budget-friendly non-pro version. Both models feature identical wireless technology and basic performance features that include:
Up to 1080p60 HDMI video transmission
Up to 7.1 channels of HD audio
Very low latency
What makes the Pro version unique is a software configuration tool that can confirm connection status, evaluate signal performance, and create custom device parings including whitelisting for restricting connections between specified units.
The software also features firmware update capabilities for both versions should the need arise.
The biggest improvement of the Air3C compared to the original DVDO Air is that it can be freed from a wall outlet! The unit still requires a separate power source, but improvements in efficiency enable it to siphon juice from any nearby USB port that is rated for at least 5V/1A output.
In the lab, the Air's receiver was powered perfectly by the four USB-equipped TVs I tested it with. Adequate USB power was also obtained when connecting the Air's transmitter to a late-model Yamaha AV receiver and PlayStation 3 game console. However, when I tested the transmitter with power from a USB port on a Samsung Blu-ray player, a link was established with the receiver but it was unable to maintain the connection during video playback. A check of the player's USB port specification indicated that it maxed out at 5V/500mA - about half the required amperage. Switching the transmitter to a wall adapter quickly restored video output from the Blu-ray player.
The Air's 60GHz radio system was able to pass a usable 1080p signal through a wood framed wall at a total distance of about 11 feet, but the connection wasn't 100% reliable. The included documentation clearly discourages through-wall use, and it recommends keeping the transmitter and receiver within 10 meters of each other for best performance. With uninterrupted line-of-sight, I was able to nearly double that distance.
I found it best to mount the units high enough to minimize interference from people walking between the transmitter and receiver, but the Air's signaling proved robust enough to handle almost anything short of a completely covered unit.
Ultra low lag
Console gamers will be pleased to note that the Air3C added a miniscule 4ms of lag to a 1080p60 video stream as measured by the Leo Bodnar LagTester - a fraction of a frame of added delay with a 60Hz video source! Given the adequate USB power output of the PlayStation and its Bluetooth wireless controllers, the Air could regulate it to a nearby closet while retaining full functionality.
For all intents and purposes, the Air's wireless video quality is identical to that of a wired HDMI connection with a maximum claimed throughput of 4Gbps. 1080p 24Hz and 60Hz signal tests from a DVDO AVLab TPG (read my review) and Blu-ray reference materials were delivered unaltered. RGB and YCbCr444 color spaces were supported although color depth beyond the common standard of 8 bits-per-pixel appeared unsupported.
Audio transport was similarly clean when listening to the Blu-ray album Sea Change from Beck that features a 24 bit/192kHz 6-channel PCM audio track with a sustained bitrate of 27.6Mbps. Obviously, the Air had no trouble handling the less data-intensive lossless soundtracks of Blu-ray movies.
I had nothing but praise for the original DVDO Air, and the Air3C-Pro adds impressive energy efficiency that enables it to be powered with a common USB port without degrading performance. The more affordable non-pro version of the Air costs about $100 less, but the pro version's software proved useful for determining optimal placement of the transmitter and receiver. No, nothing beats the reliability of a copper cable, but the DVDO Air3C-Pro is my recommended way of doing a 1080p HDMI link wirelessly.