Review: Kanex mLinq

Easy to use USB to HDMI Audio Video adapter. (August 26th, 2011)

USB to HDMI Audio Video adapter designed with easy installation to connect your Mac to a second or third display in high-definition.

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Kanex

Price: $99.00 US

The Good

  • Adds a new display with large amounts of screen real estate.
  • Allows better multitasking and organization when working with multiple apps.
  • Provides solid HD video playback.
  • Allows older Intel Macs to output audio and video over HDMI.

The Bad

  • Flimsy build quality.
  • Difficulty syncing with some Samsung displays.
  • No OpenGL/3D capability.
  • Slight performance issues in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

The Kanex mLinq is a USB to HDMI-out video adapter that can be used easily to add a second, third, or even fourth display to a Mac. The HDMI output allows it to connect to modern LCD computer displays and LCD and Plasma television sets, as HDMI has become the primary audio-video connector in the consumer electronics industry. The mLinq also comes with an HDMI-DVI converter to connect to computer displays, where DVI is more prevalent. For example, my two computer monitors each have a DVI input, while the larger, newer display offers an HDMI input as well, but my HDTV only offers HDMI inputs. DVI was once used on consumer sets, but is essentially a thing of the past in the modern consumer TV realm.

The mLinq case is slightly flimsy in build quality, a tradeoff for being small and lightweight. In practice it held up to lots of re-installations, so it is hardy enough, but I'd still use care when handling it. The case puts off a lot of heat but isn't painful to the touch. It doesn't have 3D acceleration and offers a slightly sluggish response to a fast-moving cursor.

mlinq box

Installation is simple with a driver on disc supplied, though I did have to install the newest driver after I upgraded to Lion (Mac OS X 10.7). The link to the driver is on the product page on the Kanex web site and a new update appeared early in August. I tested the adapter on a Westinghouse 22-in LCD, a Samsung 26-in LCD, and an Insignia 32 HDTV. The device worked as promised on the HDTV and the Westinghouse, though I ran into problems with the Samsung. The maximum resolution supported by the mLinq is standard 1080P HD (1980x1020). However, the Samsung display offers slightly higher than 1080P resolution, at 1920x1200.

mlinq

The resolution discrepancy is major in mLinq's case, as it can't handle the native resolution of the Samsung display and each of the step-down resolution settings, 1680x1050, 1600x1200, 1280x1024 all function but distort the image. If you have a Samsung SyncMaster T260HD or its sibling, the T240HD, which also runs 1920x1200 native resolution, you will not be able to get satisfactory results using the mLinq.

My workaround when testing on a Late 2008 MacBook Pro and a 2006 Mac Mini was to use the Samsung with each Mac's main display output, using the MacBook Pro's Display Port and the Mac Mini's DVI-output to connect the Samsung. I used the mLinq to add my Westinghouse 22" display. With this set-up I could run dual displays on the Mac Mini for the first time and could have a three-display setup using the MacBook Pro.

In testing I found the added screen real estate to be very helpful when trying to do a number of tasks at once. Keeping text documents and IM feeds on the new third display allowed me to free up my main display for more powerful applications. I also found it easier to navigate between windows and apps, with fewer windows lost beneath another program. All my active apps were much easier to spot onscreen with the extra display.

mlinq

When I worked in Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) I found both Macs fairly snappy with only a small amount of delay in moving the cursor around. WHEN I tested the set up in Lion, the cursor movement was more sluggish and choppy, but still usable. The screen resolution and color are uniformly excellent, with no artifacts or crawling pixels. (I encountered a few of both on a flawed pre-production unit, but its replacement showed no sign of visual defects). The mLinq can play back basic games, such as the Mac's Chess or Solitaire, but has no capability to run high-horsepower games, with no OpenGL support, but it played back 1080P video flawlessly. Let us not forget that this is running over USB 2.0, and that has speed limitations. It struggled a bit with navigating iPhoto when I made the move to Lion, where it had done well in Snow Leopard, so there are likely some driver issues that need to be addressed for Lion.

I encountered occasional issues with displays not waking from sleep on the mLinq connection, but only with the Mac Mini. I couldn't replicate the issue on the MacBook. Initial connections with a new display often required the removal of the mLinq from the Mac's USB 2.0 port and reconnecting it before the display would recognize the mLinq, but future connections were stable.

mlinq

HDTV playback was excellent for watching movies, and the mLinq can pass through audio (which most pre 2010 Macs cannot do over their early DisplayPort connections. If you have a Mac Mini you want to use as a home theater HDTV server, the mLinq to HDMI out with audio may be a perfect fit. To set this up, you open System Preferences, set the Sound Preference to C-Media USB Headphone Set, instead of Internal Speakers, and you can hear stereo audio over HDMI.

The mLinq is limited slightly by its bus powered USB 2.0 connection, but it is a convenient, relatively inexpensive way to add a display or two. Its audio out over HDMI adds a feature that most older Intel Macs cannot manage over one wire and the convenience of the added screen real estate is welcome to anyone trying to multitask or track a number of applications or data feeds. The mLinq is compatible with Intel-based Macs only and Mac OS 10.4.11 (Tiger) and up. It is a strong four-star product.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by EV Hunt


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