July 11, 2008
| by Dennis P. Barker
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.
Dennis has been involved with Consumer Electronics forever it seems. His 25+-year career includes a 12-year tour of duty at Consumer Reports magazine, as well as stints as a product reviewer, market analyst, technical editor, and consultant for the electronics industry. He lives in Ossining, NY with his two children, one demanding cat and piles of A/V equipment.