Device gives wireless zip to an old TV

April 17, 2003|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

WHENEVER I bring a new gadget home, my wife gives me a look that says some kind of household technical apocalypse is, indeed, close at hand.

I can understand her point. Scattered around our family room are nine remote controls, only four of which I can associate with some device that we actually use.

The basement also is littered with a variety of small, odd boxes, cameras, circuit boards and cables, all of which were supposed to be the next great thing when I tested them out but obviously weren't -- otherwise, I'd remember what they were supposed to do. I try to convince my beloved that these are not junk, but valuable artifacts.

Given her suspicion of new gadgets, I snapped to attention when she actually asked me to buy one for her a few weeks ago. What she wanted was fairly simple -- a device that would allow her to watch CNN on the little television on our kitchen counter.

The problem is that the Cable News Network arrives by cable, and we don't have a cable outlet in the kitchen. Nor was there any way to run a cable from the family room to the kitchen counter without major drilling. And even if I were willing to play electrician, the 17-year-old television on the counter was not cable-ready.

Assuming that my wife wasn't the first person to want cable television where none existed, I made the rounds of electronics outlets and stumbled upon a nifty little gadget from Terk Technologies called the Leapfrog Wavemaster 20.

The Wavemaster is a wireless system that broadcasts standard video and stereo audio from a source in one room to a television in another. It consists of two black boxes, each about 4 by 5 inches square and an inch high. One is a transmitter, which connects to the output from a cable box, VCR, DVD player or sound system. The other is a receiver, which hooks up to a television somewhere else -- up to 100 feet away.

The Wavemaster operates on the 2.4 GHz band, which means it shares a chunk of the spectrum with cordless phones and wireless computer networks. We have both, but the Wavemaster didn't interfere with either.

It took all of five minutes to hook everything up, align the flip-up antennas on both units and tune the television to Channel 3 (in some areas, you'll have to use Channel 4). I also had to buy a $5 adapter to connect the receiver to the exterior antenna jack on the kitchen television, but that was only necessary because the television is a relic. Most new sets have inputs for audio, video and coaxial cable.

When I finished, CNN was playing on the little televisionwith a signal that was crisp and clear. No fuss, no muss.

The only drawback of the Wavemaster 20 is that you can't change cable channels from the television with the receiver -- you have to return to the room with the cable box and use the remote control there. This isn't a big issue if you want to watch a movie or a show, but the device is not for channel hoppers.

Terk and several other firms make wireless remote control extenders to handle the job. A newer LeapFrog model, the Wavemaster 30, includes a remote control extender in the package. With this kind of setup, you can watch cable with full use of the remote control in any room. Just remember that the same program will be playing in both locations.

If you have trouble with a wireless connection because of crosstalk from other devices, Terk makes a version of the Leapfrog that operates over home phone lines -- the transmitter and receiver plug into wall jacks. The major disadvantage of this system is both sets must be close to a phone jack.

Even with these limitations, the Wavemaster 20 is the kind of technology I like -- it works out of the box, exactly the way it's supposed to. And my wife has already thanked me several times -- it's nice to be a hero.

The Wavemaster 20 lists for $99.95, but you can find it on the Web and in stores for anywhere from $60 to $90. For information, visit or call 800-942-8375.

Department of corrections: In a recent column I assigned the wrong terminology to an acronym describing a security system built into wireless networks. A couple of readers noted it.

While the system uses a wireless encryption protocol, the acronym WEP actually stands for Wired Equivalent Privacy. It gives wireless systems the same kind of protection that wired networks enjoy, which isn't much if there's a serious hacker around, but better than nothing.

If you have a wireless network and don't want outsiders freeloading on your Internet connection or poking into your computer files, it's a good idea to enable WEP through the management software that came with your wireless access point.

Department of omissions: A while back I wrote about inexpensive Windows programs designed to create PDF (Portable Document Format) files that can be displayed with Adobe's ubiquitous Acrobat Reader.

Not long afterward, several Mac users sent the usual irate e-mail accusing me of being a Microsoft toady. It seems I didn't mention that the newest version of Apple's operating system, OS/X, includes a driver that creates PDF files without external software.

Actually, I didn't know about the Mac's built-in PDF driver. Neither did most of the heavy Mac users I talked to in our graphics department. So now you know. It's certainly a useful feature, and Apple deserves credit for bundling it with the operating system.

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