The Wireless Life
Whether its our home theater, camera or PC, companies are removing the wires from our lives. Here's a look at some wireless technology on display at CES 2008.
January 11, 2008 by Jeff Winston

CES ‘08.  Three days of walking, walking, and, well, you get the picture. After staring at yet another big-screen TV (Panasonic took the “biggest” prize with a 150” monster), I started looking for the new and the different. The most interesting new ideas I found were about connectivity (mostly wireless).  Here’s what caught my attention…

I’m really impressed when someone takes a number of readably available technologies and combines them for a totally new purpose (like TiVo).  At this year’s CES, a company called Radiient Technologies was demonstrating a concept product called Roomcaster that combines two technologies to finally eliminate all the speaker wires from a home theater. 

First, they use wireless USB to transmit the data digitally (up to 8 channels at 192KHz) over wireless USB, so there is no noise or loss of quality. Then, they use new “Class D”  audio amplifiers (up to 100W) to drive the actual speaker units.  These amplifiers are a relatively new breakthrough that provide traditional levels of audio quality in a very small space. 

Radiient is a technology provider, so they weren’t showing products, but as an add-on to a mid-range set of home theater speakers (5.1 or 7.1), the technology is ready for production and should be released in some systems by Christmas.  Although the technology isn’t cheap yet, in an integrated package it eliminates the need for the costly main power amplifier.  This makes it possible for home theater packages that fully utilize this technology to cost only a little more than conventional systems. 

It’s not just speakers that are going wireless.  A few wireless USB manufacturers showed wireless desktops that included a wireless docking station and wireless connection to the monitor.  The latter uses impressive, and very affordable technology from DisplayLink that adds only about $50 to monitor cost.  It was a little choppy on full-screen full-motion video, but it definitely cuts the display cord for normal computer use.  Look for it embedded in a lot of big-name monitors later this year. 

After years of promises, broadband-over-powerline made a resurgence this year, with new products from companies from the Universal Powerline Alliance (UPA), the HomePlug Alliance, and a new entry from Japan, HD-PLC.  Although they all quote data rates of 100-200Mb per second, when pressed they admit that in a typical noisy environment (i.e., when you’re vacuuming), they can’t do much better than a sustained rate of 30Mb/s.  Still, that’s enough for one compressed HDTV channel, or a few standard-def channels.  Thus, your bedroom, kitchen, or bathroom TV, or workshop stereo, could be connected to your main video or audio sources via only their A/C plug.  Look for products later this year from companies like Panasonic. (But really guys, do we need three standards?)

Cameras are also going wireless.  Sony announced a system that uses the same technology as wireless USB but in a proprietary manner.  It lets you “touch” your camera to your TV and transfer content at up to 375Mb per second.  Meanwhile, Panasonic went in a different direction, teaming with T-Mobile to let you upload from your camera directly to a Google site. 

Finally, many people were proposing to cut the cord between your cable box and your main big-screen TV.  There was enough activity here to warrant it’s own article (check back next week), but suffice it to say that the wireless home is closer than you think.

Check out our Photos from the CES Show Floor.

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Jeff Winston - Contributing Writer
Jeff Winston has been writing about home electronics since 1998. An electrical engineer, Jeff has contributed to the development of products in the computer, consumer electronics, and wireless industries. He spends his spare time with his wife, kids, and many PCs, sometimes in that order.

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