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Can Amimon’s New WHDI Chipset Help Usher in the Over the Top Video Revolution?

We have said before that, for Over the Top Video to truly achieve mainstream adoption, it needs to find its way to the HDTVs in the house either by using the existing home wiring or through cost-effective wireless solutions for distributing HD video. While we have covered home video distribution methods using coaxial wiring, such as ZeeVee’s ZvBox and MoCA, most of the investment so far has gone towards new wireless chipsets and standards. We are in the early stages of a battle of in-home wireless video standards, with the main combatants being Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), WirelessHD, Utlrawideband (UWB), and the latest and most powerful version of WiFi—WiFi N. All of these approaches have some of the same challenges: range and ability to go through walls, ability to transmit HD quality video, ability to broadcast point-to-multipoint so multiple boxes are not needed, and a host of other issues not the least of which are consumer education and pricing.

Announced yesterday, Amimon’s latest AMN 2120/3110 transmitter chipset and 2220/3210 receiver chipset are a leap forward for a WHDI solution that has the power and range to get the job done. It packs enough of a bandwidth punch to handle uncompressed 1080p video (with a rate up to 3Gbps) at a range of 100 feet. I had a chance to see the older Amimon chipset in action, embodied in the Belkin FlyWire solution (which alas, is now delayed until August this year). I was amazed to see that there was virtually no latency and Blu-ray content played without any artifacts at all (caveat: I saw the demo in a controlled trade show environment showing only a range of 20 feet, but the quality was still quite impressive). Considering how long it takes to bake this technology into new consumer electronics, I would not expect anything using Amimon’s new chipset until next year some time.

With these latest improvements, Amimon’s technology rivals what you get from wired solutions, making it possible over time to replace the mess of video cables connecting your HDTVs to their source devices.

There a few problems I see that will continue to hinder this WHDI solution, and the competing standards as well. The first is price. At $45-$65 for the transmitter/receiving chipsets and related hardware/software, it will be hard to sell a finished product at less than $300. Indeed, the Belkin FlyWire solution is targeted around $1499 (not sure why it has to be so expensive), which will limit its adoption to folks with deep pockets and really problematic wiring challenges (think stone walls). The fact that Amimon’s first-generation solution only sold about 100,000 units, after closing high profile design wins with companies like Sharp and Sony, demonstrates that this technology still has a way to go before becoming mainstream. There is some talk that Amimon might be able to get its price down to the $10 range at volume, a sweet spot that could allow it to be baked into next-generation HDTVs without the need for a separate set-top box or connecting device. This would be quite a coup, but it remains to be seen whether this is really achievable or a pipe-dream. I know from experience how hard it is to reduce the cost of your bill of materials, and an 80% drop from the existing price seems unbelievable.

Another problem is standards-based interoperability. Most of the CE manufacturers I know of have embraced a “connected home” strategy that is mostly geared towards interoperability within their family of products (and maybe some select partners) so you are compelled to buy more of their devices that work together. And while WHDI has become standardized, different manufacturers can still implement distinct security protocols to maintain a “walled garden” that only works with their stuff. In this latest version, Amimon was smart to bake in support for digital rights protection using the Hollywood-friendly HDCP 2.0 standard, but this just goes to show how many puzzle pieces need to fit together before a solution becomes interoperable both in the eyes of the industry and the consumer.

The last major roadblock I see has to do with the very fragmented nature of this market. Consumer electronics manufacturers still have no reason to commit to just one standard, instead hedging their bets across Ethernet, WiFi, WHDI, and other standards. And you know how standards go. Amimon has a long list of silicon competitors, including Alereon, Broadcom, Celeno, Pulse~LINK, Quantenna, Realtek, and Sigma Designs among others, all pushing their own implementations. All the while, there are rumblings that Intel will come out with a new chipset panacea that it will drive with its considerable channels and marketing might. All of this has combined to cause a prolonged fragmentation of the market and thus delaying the point we might see more consumer-friendly $10 price points for a chipset that can be baked into a variety of CE devices. A low price point is so crucial for this market considering how many different types of devices in the home will need transmitting and/or receiving chipsets. Consumers could afford an extra $10-$20 or so to buy their HDTVs, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, and game consoles, but they won’t bite off on multiple $300+ devices scattered throughout their homes.

Another rotten fruit growing from industry fragmentation is consumer confusion. It is hard enough for industry insiders to keep straight the dizzying array of home video distribution technologies, never mind the average consumer. In order for consumers to embrace anything the WHDI industry is trying to sell, in addition to a low price point, a major marketing campaign will be needed to educate the market. And it will take a cross-industry approach similar to the early WiFi campaigns to get consumers comfortable opening up their wallets.

This is precisely why some say the latest WiFi N (802.11n) standard has the potential to derail, or at least delay, the mainstream adoption of WHDI. WiFi has the support of the industry and consumers. It is understandable. It is already point-to-multipoint. And while it incurs the additional expense of codec technology at both ends, the total cost could be cheaper if it achieves a scale WHDI cannot. If WiFi N can demonstrate good quality HD video distribution at longish range, without interference, without latency, and without onerous requirements for memory or hard drives to buffer and/or download video before playing—and the verdict is still out on this—then it could derail the WHDI train before it gets far from the station. Until that can be proven, expect major industry players to continue to experiment with WHDI if only for its raw power. And even if the WiFi N boogey-man rises, expect WHDI and its UWB and WirelessHD brothers to compete for a place at the table in the high-end market. Price is important. Marketing awareness is important. But for high-end video consumers who have already demonstrated a willingness to pay for high-end HDTVs and Blu-ray players, quality trumps all.

To better understand how the evolving pay TV and OTT will be shaped by these and other issues, Trender Research will be publishing a report entitled “Pay TV, Internet Video and the Growing OTT Threat.” Authored by me and Directing Analyst Robert Clark, the report will be available in June for $2499 ($2999 for report sponsors) and will also include input by a panel of everyday Trenders to help us sort all this out. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more: bmahony@trenderresearch.com.

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