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Another Contender Looks Good for Wireless HD

Another Contender Looks Good for Wireless HD

With digital high definition TV (HDTV) now becoming firmly entrenched in consumer’s living rooms and the battle is engaged for which wireless technology emerges victorious in the next frontier in wireless video networking.

The demand for wireless video networks only increases as large flat screen TVs are destined to hang on walls and not sit in entertainment units. Without the benefit of a professional install, what are homeowners to do with all those unsightly wires? With the proliferation of DVRs, gaming consoles, attached storage and other devices, there’s also probably a growing need for more flexible placement in multiple locations. These scenarios naturally cry out for wireless in-room solutions that can zing your content around from any and all digital toys at very high data transmission rates.

There are a number of technologies in contention for the delivery of high definition content streams wirelessly to digital TV sets. These include Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), Ultra Wideband (UWB) and Wireless HD (WiHD). See Trender Research's post on Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI).

But one emerging wireless HD technology in particular grabbed my attention after attending a panel session on innovations at this year’s Cable Show where SiBeam of Sunnyvale, CA presented its vision of the wireless HD future with the WiHD standard. First introduced at CES 2008, SiBeam’s technology also demonstrated interoperability with other CE devices in its suite at this year's show and its technology was part of LG and Panasonic’s wireless HDTV exhibits.

Do Industry Awards Translate into Market Share?
SiBeam made its bones as a pioneer in the 100 GHz CMOS millimeter wave semiconductor business. It has been winning lots of awards lately for its “OmniLink 60”--a wireless HD solution that transmits uncompressed digital video, audio and data within a 30-foot range using unlicensed spectrum in the 60 GHz frequency band. SiBeam has designed standard chipsets that embed a number of advanced technologies that overcome the key limitations of transmitting in the 60 GHz band.

So what’s so special about these chipsets? Repeat after me: adaptive beam steering and phased-array antennas—technologies that have been used in the mobile broadband and satellite industries. OmniLink 60 gives any device non-line of sight capability—sending out signals in all directions in order to find the best transmission path for a wireless stream.

This technology imbues the signal with the capability to:
• discover what digital devices are in a room, and which new ones enter a room
• know what the device’s capabilities are, and what kind of content it has
• determine at what resolution the device wants to transmit , how to transmit and control that content

It then establishes a beam from the selected device for an uncompressed link at data rates up to 4 Gbps from the source to the TV display. The beauty of adaptive beam steering is that it moves the content stream around the room, bouncing off walls, ceilings and floors without interruption. So even if a direct path becomes blocked, say, by someone walking through the beam, it quickly “adapts” and finds an alternative path for continuous streaming without any breaks. That’s the job of the small “phased array antennas, which constantly survey a room for all available paths to the TV display.

Drawbacks to 60 GHz
If there any drawbacks to using 60 GHz as part of WiHD, it’s that it can only operate within a short-range of 30-feet and can’t to pass streams through walls, unlike 802.11n WiFi technology. So the technology is likely to be limited to in-room solutions.

Also, what about interference? SiBeam’s CEO John LeMoncheck said they are working closely with standards bodies (IEEE) to develop a standards plan for interference detection and avoidance and have submitted to an IEEE sub-committee for 802.xx PAN standards.

Availability at Retail
Panasonic has already started selling WiHD TVs in Japan and they expect to roll them out at retail in the U.S. by the end of the summer 2009. Geffen will also make a WiHD adapter available later this year.

If you’re not in the market for a new hi-def TV that has WiHD built in already, then you’ll have to get an external adapter. This enables wireless HD streaming as a retrofit for all existing consumer electronics devices.

As part of its product roadmap, SiBeam chipsets are going into TVs and adapters/dongles first-- with other devices like DVRs, HD disk players, audio/visual receivers and other CE components to follow. Part of their roadmap is to get WiHD technology embedded into laptops, desktops and peripherals such as printers, as well as in mobile devices with a digital A/V interface.

Wireless Internet to TV

So the million dollar question is: when can I use it to stream HD video from the Internet directly to my TV. SiBeam’s WiHD looks like it can overcome cost, size and line of sight issues, but there’s still the issue of widespread adoption by the CE and PC industries. No PC manufacturers have announced the integration of WiHD capability yet and it’s still early days as far as getting it into other consumer electronics like gaming consoles or external storage devices.

Broadband Internet pipes are getting bigger with the roll out of wideband DOCSIS for cable and fiber connections via FiOS Internet, but their footprint is still small. Existing lower speed DSL and cable connections might not be robust enough to support a consistent quality for HD streaming. And then there’s the issue of HD online content.

I think it’s only a matter of time before the perfect storm comes together to make this all happen. Meanwhile, look for there to be consumer confusion until technologies and markets sort themselves out.

I guess it’ll be a while longer before we can transform our digital homes into real digital castles.

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