Monitors don’t cost a fortune anymore. I remember buying my iiyama 21″ TFT in 2004 and I also remember that it wasn’t cheap.
With the advent of technologies like Eyefinity even non-professional users crave for more screen estate – and the industry is happy to oblige. But there’s one big problem: There’s no room left on my desktop. Mobile phones, laptops, trinkets, joypads of all sorts as well as beverages fight for their spots. But hey, what if we could just recycle some of the screens we already have on our desktops?
Enter Maxivista, a software that allows Windows systems to extend their screen estate by utilizing other Windows/OSX|iOS systems’ screens. The idea isn’t new and there’s also a free program called ZoneOS ZoneScreen that basically does the same (minus the OSX|iOS compatibility) plus a few mediocre solutions geared towards tablet/smartphone compatibility.
Papers and tech demos are fine – but does Maxivista really work well in everyday use?
Let me write up front that I tested MaxiVista v4 Mirror Pro which is the latest and greatest version with all the bells and whistles. If it’s not in here, it ain’t there. With a price tag of 99 EUR the software is not exactly a bargain, add a few more Euros and you could get a nice new monitor.
There are a few limitations with MaxiVista:
- Aero will not work while MaxiVista is active.
I don’t really care for blurred windows and transparency, so I’m fine with this. However – this also means that kinky stuff like overlays or accelerated graphics operations won’t work either. So while you can watch a movie on your host’s screen, you cannot drag the window to a MaxiVista screen and continue; there’s no cpu-based drawing fallback. This means that applications like XSplit will not work on MaxiVista screens.
- You can use a maximum of 3 machines as slaves.
If I interpret the FAQ correctly each of these machines can have up to 2 screens connected to them, giving you a maximum of 6 additional screens. Personally I wouldn’t exactly call this a limitation since this gives you a lot of extra screen estate to play around with.
- There’s an OSX/iOS version but no Linux/Android port.
While I understand perfectly well that supporting a variety of platforms can be tricky, I’d really love at least an Android version of MaxiVista.
Bartels Media states these limitations on the MaxiVista homepage, so they don’t come as a surprise and we know what we’re getting into.
MaxiVista features a WDDM driver, enabling the program to work perfectly on a 64bit Windows system and is just so much more comfortable than ZoneScreen. Once the software is installed you can generate a viewer program for either 32bit or 64bit systems. Copy the viewer program onto the target machine (i.e. your laptop), run it and you’re pretty much done, Aero gets disabled automatically – zero configuration is required.
There is one thing that makes MaxiVista absolutely great: There are plenty of compression options to ensure you get the best performance out of your network. Whenever you feel that an applications displays too sluggish you can run an integrated optimization tool that really does a wonderful job of adapting the compression options to suit the application.
In the default settings MaxiVista isn’t much of a killer, this is most apparent when you’re trying to scroll through webpages on a MaxiVista screen for the first time: The scrolling is choppy, there’s tearing and general slowdown. Optimize the application by following the process’ instructions and you will barely notice that you’re working over the network. The screen will get a little choppy if you fill it completely with dynamic content which is expected and still above your average RDP, NX or VNC performance.
The performance and quality is good enough to watch videos fullscreen on a 1680×1050 screen over network in very good quality – if your CPU is powerful enough to handle the decoding in software.
While MaxiVista always gets demonstrated with WiFi (see demo videos on their homepage and on YouTube), I highly recommend a wired connection to get sharp, crisp images.
On the topic of picture quality: There is absolutely nothing to complain about. From your usual JPEG-artifact-ridden compression up to lossless, there is a setting for everyone. I got great results just optimizing for Google Chrome with great sharp fonts and bright, vibrant colors that do not bleed into neighbouring areas.
One thing I noticed during my test period are some infrequent crashes on the viewer. If you opt to install the viewer as a service that’s not much of a problem since all your programs still reside within the MaxiVista screen but annoying nevertheless.
There seems to be some weird outage whenever the resolution on the host machine switches (think: games starting up) that result in the MaxiVista screen losing connection, applications flying back to the host’s screen and immediatly back to the MaxiVista screen. Yuck!
For some reason applications will always start up on your host’s screen and migrate to the MaxiVista one. Again, it’s an annoyance, not a problem.
MaxiVista allows you to hide the expanded screen on a client so you can continue to use the machine. While the idea is a good one it does miss an option to disable the client’s keyboard/mouse and also lacks an option to prompt for a password before hiding the expanded screen.
If you’re planning to get the most basic of MaxiVista’s editions you can stop reading here because that’s all there is to it. The bigger editions come with some sort of Synergy-slash-InputDirector-slash-Multiplicity-esque software KVM feature that allows you to share a single keyboard/mouse plus the contents of your clipboard across multiple machines. While the idea of integrating this feature is a good one, the execution lacks the flexibility of the former programs. An option to switch machines via hotkey is not available, neither is sound transfer to the controlling machine (Multiplicity shows how to implement these features in a sane manner, imho).
Now if you remember the title of the post, you probably wonder when we get to the “Mirror” part. Well, additionally to the main screen-extension and software-KVM feature you also get a small feature to display the contents of your host’s screen on the client. It utilizes the same technology as the screen-extension feature so the image is crisp and the refresh rate is still good. A nifty feature would have been to integrate the option of actually controlling the MaxiVista/host screen from one of the clients (think of it as a reverse KVM) – but sadly that’s not possible, thus making VNC a more affordable and flexible option for these use cases.
Bottom line: is MaxiVista worth the money? The answer is a big “yes” with a small “but”. If space on your desktop is limited or you are under constraints by your device (old laptop or desktop machine) and you keep the limitations of the software in mind you’ll find that MaxiVista is a fantastic piece of software with a few minor annoyances. The extra features you get with Mirror Pro are nice but not really a big deal, especially considering that there are other solutions that outperform MaxiVista in the aspects of KVM and display mirroring. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a software that works as easy and well as MaxiVista’s core.
If you’re on Linux you’re out of the game. MaxiVista is proprietary software and the protocol is not open.