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WHDI Podcast: Can WHDI Become the Video Version of WiFi?


In our latest podcast, we chat with Leslie Chard, President of WHDI, LLC. In it, we talk about WHDI’s release of the new WHDI 1.0 specification, and what this means for the industry. Click here to listen and read on for our thoughts.

For over the top video (and for that matter any home HD video/media) to truly achieve mainstream adoption, it needs to find its way to the TVs in the house either by using the existing home wiring or through cost-effective wireless solutions. We are in the early stages of a battle of home video distribution technologies, with the main combatants being Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), WirelessHD, Utlrawideband (UWB), MoCA, 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.

Of these, one of the most promising new technologies for home video distribution is the Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) standard based on Amimon’s multi-stream chipset. WHDI recently announced the availability of the 1.0 spec, with the first expected WHDI-enabled CE devices available as soon as Q2/Q3 in 2010. WHDI represents a potential break-through in that it can wirelessly deliver multiple high definition video streams (1080p/60Hz) and computer graphics to a range beyond 100 feet and through walls, so it can reach all of the home’s TVs. Already a long list of manufacturers are planning to bake WHDI into their HDTVs, set-top boxes, PCs, and other consumer electronics, including Motorola, Hisense, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Sharp, Sony, Vestel, Haier, and TCL.

WHDI operates in the 5GHz unlicensed band and is the first to wirelessly distribute uncompressed 1080p HD video to multiple HDTVs spread throughout the home. “Uncompressed” is the key word here since, according to Les, it is the “lingua franca” of consumer electronics. WHDI also boasts virtually no latency (less than 1 millisecond), supports Hollywood approved HDCP 2.0 copy protection, and can work on low power consumption modes (2 watts) for portable devices such as mobile phones.

Hulu on TV Anyone?

The applications here are endless. With WHDI consumers can view their entire PC screen on their TVs, including Internet video, flash media, digital photos, and PC games (though even a millisecond can be a killer for some action games). This means you could finally have an easy way to get Internet video to your TV without a new STB such as Roku or the newly announced BoxeeBox. Service providers could reduce the number of STBs customers need, and make it easier to distribute applications such as “whole house DVR”. Mobile phones could be made to wirelessly transmit media to the TV.

Challenges

There are several challenges at this point in the technology’s life cycle. One drawback is that the technology requires a WHDI dongle or card be attached to or embedded in each of the video source devices (PCs, STBs, DVRs, DVD players, game consoles, etc.). According to Amimon there are several companies working on WHDI dongles and video accessories/extensions that have multiple output types including VGA, HDMI, component, and composite. In fact, Amimon just announced the availability of WHDI modules which can be embedded into notebook PCs and netbook PCs. The WHDI modules are available today with a mini-PCI form-factor of 50mm*30mm and will also be offered with a standard Display-Mini card form-factor of 44.4mm*26mm based on the interface defined by the PCI SIG which uses Displayport. See below.


There is also talk about the production of dual mode chips with both WiFi and WHDI capabilities. WiFi and WHDI could work together in that WiFi would be optimized to handle data and WHDI would handle wireless video streams from source devices. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Another current challenge to widescale adoption of WHDI is price. At about $65 bill of materials (my estimate) for the transmitter/receiving chipsets and related hardware/software, it will be hard to sell a module that does not bump the finished product by $100 or more. 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. I know from experience how hard it is to reduce the cost of your BOM, and an 80% drop from the existing price would seem difficult. However, Les assures me that since WHDI shares many components with WiFi, it could eventually achieve mass adoption cost scales.

A final roadblock for WHDI 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 "WHDI Inside", 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. Maybe those dual WHDI/WiFi chipsets are needed sooner than later?

At the end of the day, WHDI is a very promising technology that has many benefits for consumers, CE manufacturers, and service providers. Assuming the major industry players continue to back it, and the necessary cost reductions and consumer education happen, WHDI could become a staple of the home video distribution lexicon in the future.

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