Wireless HD - The Next Generation of Connectivity?
Belkin, Sony, Gefen, Monster Cable, and others are offering a slew of new wireless HD solutions.
High-definition is finally coming of age. Some experts think there will be 30 million HDTVs sold this year alone, and sales of Blu-ray players are starting to pick-up as well. Many of these new HDTVs will be flat-panels – either LCD or plasma – and a quarter or so of those TV purchases will end up on the wall. Very futuristic! Once you hang something on the wall, however, connectivity to other components becomes an issue right away because no one wants several cables dangling down from their new flat-panel TV tethered to A/V receivers, set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, DVD players, and etc. It could be a cluster of spaghetti wires, or an expensive plaster job of placing the wires within the stud cavity. What to do?
For the past couple of years or so, a handful of companies have been experimenting with sending video signals wirelessly around the house. For awhile now, we’ve had wireless music systems featuring a main transmitter and several receiving stations located in different rooms of the house. Well, it seems that the capability to send video signals – and high-definition ones at that – will be coming to a living/family room this fall. Right now, there are several – and completely different – schemes to accomplish the sending and receiving HD signals around the room and around the home. According to a new, optimistic study from ABI Research, there could be one million wireless HDTV installations worldwide by the year 2012. That’s the same year that Blu-ray sales will supposedly be on par with or exceed DVD, and, of course, the world will end according the ancient Maya. Who knows what will come first?
Meanwhile, a “battle of technologies” is quietly being fought in the background to see who/what will emerge as the dominant Wireless HD technology beginning later this year. There are several companies, who are developing widely different technologies, vying to create the wireless HD standard. These companies include: Amimon (WHDI), Tzero (UWB WiMedia), Samsung (802.11n), Radiospire (AirHook), Sigma (UWB), and SiBeam (Wireless HD 1.0). In turn, each technology is tied to specific manufacturers, e.g. WHDI is being championed by Belkin, Sharp, Sanyo and Sony; Gefen and Hitachi favor UWB WiMedia; Samsung likes 802.11n; Philips looks to AirHook; and Monster believes in UWB. At least two of these technologies will be available shortly and coming to a home theater near you.
The WHDI Protocol (Wireless High Definition Interface) was developed by an Israeli company – Amimon, and is designed to wirelessly transport high definition video signals between CE components within a single room or throughout the whole house. WHDI is capable of sending signals with a maximum resolution of 1080p/24 frame rate @ 120Hz refresh at a frequency range of 5.1 – 5.8 GHz. This technology, which has received worldwide acceptance, offers a range of up to 100-feet, and is capable of passing through walls. It has been adopted by Belkin in their new FlyWire products as well as Sony, Sharp and Funai who hope to integrate WHDI into very high-end TVs and projectors.
Belkin’s FlyWire products, which were just officially announced, will be on the market this fall as stand-alone products. Sony will be offering their Wireless HD Link interface in the same time frame. While Sony was the first company to unveil this technology at CES last January in Las Vegas as their Wireless HD Link, Belkin was first to give the press an in-depth demonstration of their new FlyWire products recently.
The Belkin FlyWire system comes as a transmitter and receiver system with the capability of sending 1080p/24 True Cinema HD signals. It can send signals up to 100-feet, and through walls. The transmitter includes 3 HDMI inputs, 2 component video inputs and 1 S-Video/Composite input with stereo audio. The receiver is designed for installation behind wall-mounted TVs, and connects directly to the HD television via HDMI, and supports version 1.3a. At a depth of less than 4cm, it allows placement in smallest of spaces. The supplied universal remote allows for total control of CE products such as a Blu-ray player, HD satellite or HD cable box, or even an A/V receiver via IR receiver dongles. These IR blasters are attached directly to each component, and tethered directly back to the transmitter. Belkin plans on shipping its Whole House Solution at a price of $999. With this system, CE components can be in one room, and the television can be in another. I’ve seen a demo of this system, and it looked pretty darn good. Early next year, Belkin will ship their In-Room Solution at a price of $699.
The Sony BRAVIA Wireless HD Video Link DMX-WL1 Module is a two-piece system that transmits uncompressed 1080i HD video and audio to a Sony DMex compatible BRAVIA HDTV wirelessly with a range up to 5 feet. According to Sony, it will eliminate the hassle of in-wall wiring and multiple remotes. The DMX-WL1 consists of two units – receiver and a transmitter. The receiver attaches to the back of a Sony BRAVIA HDTV and connects via HDMI to the set. According to Sony, with the BRAVIA Wireless Link you can operate multiple devices (with IR blasters) using your BRAVIA HDTV and one remote control. The transmitter unit can accommodate up to 5 source devices - 4 HDMI and 1 component video input, and also includes 3 IR blasters. At press time, pricing was unavailable. It will be available in the September/October time frame.
Ultra Wide Band or UWB has been developed by Sigma Designs and Pulse-Link, and offers a maximum resolution of 1080p via compression and upconversion. This system sends signals in the 3.1 – 10 GHz frequency range. Like 802.11n and AirHook technologies, UWB is also a one-room solution. Sigma’s Wireless HDAV streaming is a technology for transporting HD multimedia standard-based encoding technologies over Ultrawideband (UWB) to replace high-definition A/V cables. It utilizes UWB-over-coax technology that allows viewers to stream 1080p in one-room via a home’s already in-place coax cables. Ultimately, Sigma believes that its technology will cover a whole house (up to 330-feet). Wireless HDAV features Sigma’s WUB Windeo chipset and its Intelligent Array Radio (IAR) technology. Sigma’s IAR technology incorporates three antennas that will allow the streams to pass through walls in a non-line-of-sight setting. This technology supports the H.264 standard and UWB based on the WiMedia standard.
Monster Cable has announced a partnership with Sigma Designs to offer their new “Go Wireless” product called the Monster Wireless Digital Express HD. This system includes a transmitter and receiver. It will reportedly upconvert older signals to1080p resolution, and also offers a fully integrated infrared (IR) distribution solution. The transmitter includes 2 HDMI inputs, 2 component video inputs, 1 S-Video/composite video with audio, coax digital, optical digital with outputs of coax digital, optical digital, F-connector for coax, 3 IR emitters, and a serial communications input. The input switching is IR controlled for advanced whole home control capability. The Monster Digital Express HD can be software updated via its included USB port. It is priced at $600 and will be available later this year. Additional receivers will be available at a cost of $300 each.
UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) has been linked to Gefen and Hitachi. This protocol, which has yet to receive worldwide certification, offers a maximum screen resolution of 1080i, and sends signals in a frequency range of between 3.1 – 10GHz. Reportedly, the range for this system is only about 7-feet within one room only with no obstructions. Humans can reportedly interfere with the signal also.
While Hitachi has no wireless HD products in the pipeline yet, Gefen’s Wireless for HDMI Extender is expected to be formally announced at C.E.D.I.A. in September. It transmits HDTV signals from the sender (source) to the receiver (television) located up to 30-feet apart, supporting resolutions to 1080i. Based on ultra-wideband technology by Tzero Technologies, this system supports all HDMI sources and displays, outputting HDCP-compliant video. Wireless transmission speeds reportedly reach up to 400 Mbps, supporting even the most stringent demands of HD video. It will be priced at $499.
Products utilizing 802.11n have finally started entering the WiFi marketplace, and will supposedly send HD signals around the house. 802.11n is currently an in-room solution only with a maximum range of 20-feet sending signals in a frequency range between 2.4 and 5 GHz. 802.11n has received worldwide certification. An 802.11n A/V cable replacement system requires heavy compression, e.g., MPEG-2, just to support 720p and 1080i. The cost associated with adding video compression codecs may make such a system impractical and even MPEG-2 may be insufficient for more bandwidth demanding formats such as 1080p.
Last year, Samsung offered their 94 Series of plasma HDTVs utilizing this technology. However, according to Samsung, those sets are being phased out with no current replacement models being offered.
AirHook was developed by Radiospire, and the company claims to have the industry’s highest bandwidth wireless HD connectivity solution. At 1.6 Gbps, AirHook technology delivers what the company believes is the highest throughput of any product on the market to allow for the transmission of pure, uncompressed audio and video with maximum picture quality and no latency. Unlike WiMedia or 802.11-based wireless solutions, however, AirHook technology can transmit uncompressed HD video 1080p from a distance of over 15 feet. AirHook technology can reportedly scale to meet future industry requirements and is designed for use in any wideband unlicensed spectrum, including 3.1 - 4.8 GHz and 57 - 66 GHz. It also supports all major worldwide video formats. Reportedly, Philips has been evaluating Radiospire’s AirHook technology, but there have been no formal product announcements. And, with Philips TV to be manufactured by Funai in the future, it seems unlikely that this wireless HD solution will be incorporated into future HD televisions.
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Who would want wireless HDTV and why? While the Belkin, Sony, and Monster products will hit store shelves in the coming months, it is uncertain if the viewing public will get excited over them. Wireless technology has always had problems from signal dropouts to simply not working as specified. Will these seemingly revolutionary products fare any better? It’s hard to say. We’ll see. Will they replace good old-fashioned wiring solutions? If the technology becomes stable, and works as specified, it may find its place in the home. However, any good custom installer will tell you that nothing beats a good solid wiring run. On the other hand, wireless HD will simplify some tricky installations and allow more flexibility in positioning TVs in a family/living room. So, like other connectivity solutions, it may find its niche. But only if it consistently delivers true 1080p high-definition signals.