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It's a Wireless World

THERE'S A TERM THAT MAY BE FOREIGN to AV, but it's well known in both in telecom and IT engineering: wire speed. It describes the maximum data rate that a particular cable technology can support. But it's also shorthand for ?very, very fast,? setting a high bar for wireless technologies to clear before wireless can gain market acceptance.

WHERE'S THE MARKET?

WHDI and WirelessHD have another thing in common: Both are aimed primarily at the consumer market, although their backers see opportunities in the pro space, too. “WirelessHD has the flexibility to work well in HDTVs, adapter products, as well as enterprise AV applications, like high-end cameras and business projectors,” Marshall says. WirelessHD technology is designed for use [by] consumer electronics manufacturers, PC manufacturers, network infrastructure providers, and others to incorporate into their product lines for wireless communications.”

WHDI's and WirelessHD's ability to grab market share depends partly on their ability to compete on price with other wired and wireless technologies. That ability hinges on a variety of factors, one of which is spectrum.

For example, WirelessHD's choice of 60 GHz is a mixed blessing. The band is practically virgin territory, which means there are no other commercial technologies to compete with it there. But no other technologies also means no off-the-shelf RF components to leverage in order to reduce the cost of WirelessHD.

“There are no commercial technologies at that frequency, so my big concerns are can they commercialize it, and can they do it at a price that will entice consumer electronics makers?” says O'Rourke.

Another issue is ease of connection. With cables, it's easy to establish a connection. But with wireless, one device has to literally find the other. That hunt is a major reasons why Wi-Fi projectors and displays have languished as niche plays in the pro market. With few exceptions, there's no easy way for a presenter to walk into a conference room, open her laptop, have it find the wireless projector, and establish a connection.

WirelessHD addresses that issue with a concept that its backers call an intelligent Wireless Video Area Network (WVAN).

“The coordinator, often the HDTV in the home, sends a signal to identify the other WirelessHD-based devices in the room,” Marshall says. “Once they are identified, the devices send information about their capabilities back to the coordinator or TV. With this information, users can manage the WVAN network with a remote control using the TV as the interface.”

Vendor interest and support is another concern. WirelessHD's founders include some industry heavyweights: LG, Matsushita, NEC, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba. By comparison, WHDI is backed mainly by Amimon thus far, although it has managed to attract interest from at least one major AV vendor. Amimon also wants to create a consortium to make WHDI an industry standard, and it's interested in fostering an ecosystem of devices that bridge WHDI and legacy connectivity standards.

“There's also a lot of interest in the pro AV market,” Geri says. “[At InfoComm 2007 and CES 2007,] Sanyo showed a wireless projector using WHDI technology primarily for professional and commercial uses.”

Amimon is selling WHDI chipsets now, and the company expects AV products that use the technology to debut in first quarter 2008. If that outlook becomes reality, WHDI would have a head start over WirelessHD, whose SIG was founded only in October 2006.

“Our current estimate is that WirelessHD-based products could begin shipping as early as Q4 2008, with volume ramping up in 2009,” Marshall says.

WIRELESS HDMI: THE PHANTOM TECHNOLOGY

The arrival of two wireless technologies with HD in their brands begs a question: What about Wireless HDMI? The answer: Even though Googling the term brings up dozens of products and references, there is no such technology.

“That's actually a misuse of our trademark,” Chard says. “They usually call it ‘Wireless for HDMI' because there's no one standard. HDMI didn't bless one single wireless solution.”

Instead, HDMI Licensing focuses on a wireless technology's support of the HDMI spec, such as in terms of content protection. But what happens on the air link between two compliant devices is out of HDMI Licensing's control. “I can't be the compression police,” Chard says.

Tim Kridel is a freelance writer and analyst covering telecom and technology based in Columbia, Mo. He can be reached at tim@timkridel.com.



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