Monday, July 28, 2008

Electronics Heavyweights to Support Wireless HD Standard

Samsung, Sony and other consumer-electronics firms are uniting to develop a technology that could send high-definition video signals wirelessly from a single set-top box to screens around the home.

Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Corp., along with Sharp Corp. Motorola Inc. and Hitachi Ltd., will develop an industry standard around technology from Amimon Ltd. of Israel called Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI).

Amimon has been selling chips that fulfill part of that promise. However, the creation of a broad industry group makes it more likely that consumers will be able to buy WHDI-enabled devices from different manufacturers and have those devices all work together. According to Noam Geri, co-founder of Amimon, we can access any source in our home from our TV, whether it is a set-top box in the living room, or the DVD player in the bedroom, or a PlayStation in another bedroom. In addition, Geri expects TVs with Amimon's chips is costing about $100 more than equivalent, non-wireless TVs, and it will reach stores next year.

Wireless streaming of high-definition video is a relatively tricky engineering issue that many firms are trying to tackle. It can be done with the fastest versions of Wi-Fi, a technology already in many homes. However, it requires "compression," or reduction of the data rate, with picture quality degrading as a result. Moreover, there is also a delay in transmission as chips on both ends of the link work to compress, and then decompress the image.

Wireless streaming of high-definition video has prompted much research into radio technologies that are faster, requiring less compression. A leading contender is WirelessHD, centered on technology from SiBEAM Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. It uses an open portion of the radio band, at 60 gigahertz, for ultra fast transmission of uncompressed video. However, it could be years away from commercialization. The range of the technology is limited, meaning that it would be used for in-room links rather than whole-house networking, like WHDI.

Sony is part of the WirelessHD group, the firm is supporting WHDI to have "wider options. On the other hand, Samsung looks at WHDI as a stopgap technology until the higher-picture-quality WirelessHD takes over. According to JaeMoon Jo, Samsung's vice president of TV research, the company believed WirelessHD would be the ultimate solution in the end.

Another contending wireless technology is ultra-wideband (UWB). It requires less compression than Wi-Fi. However, its range is more limited, generally to in-room networking. Monster Cable Products Inc. has planned to introduce a kit that produces a wireless video link using UWB. Actually, WHDI is less exotic than either UWB or WirelessHD. WHDI uses a radio band at 5 gigahertz that is used by some Wi-Fi stuffs that means it can take advantage of research in that field. Amimon uses a clever trick instead of compression to get around the limitations of the limited bandwidth.

Amimon's chips separate the important components of the video signal before transmission, the ones that really make a difference to the viewer, from the less important ones, like tiny variations in color over a small area. Then, it gives priority to the important parts, while putting less effort into getting the fine nuances to the receiver. It means the transmission works over relatively long distances, albeit with lower snap quality as the distance increases.

According to Paul Moroney, a Motorola research fellow who works with WHDI, Motorola has looked at competing technologies. However, WHDI is the only group it is joined because of Amimon's "extremely unique" approach. In addition, Moroney said Motorola has planned to build the technology into its set-top boxes that are used by many cable providers around the country. However, the first product will likely be a pair of adapters that talk wirelessly to one another. One could be attached to a set-top box, the other to a TV set.

Sony has announced a similar set for its TVs and Belkin International Inc. has already been selling a pair of adapters based on Amimon's chips for $1,000. Moroney said Motorola hopes to sell a kit for significantly less than Belkin's price next year, as the technology matures.

An analyst at Parks Associates, Kurt Scherf, said that wireless video technologies have been talked up for years, but have not lived up to their promises so far. Professional audio-video installers surveyed by his firm are not excited about wireless, because they are afraid of reliability problems. He noted that WHDI's range should give it an edge, since WHDI allows the technology to do more than just replace a cable in the entertainment center.

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