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As CES Approaches Wireless HD War Hots Up Once Again

by David Mercer | Nov 25, 2009

How much is a cable-free TV worth? That’s the key question for TV manufacturers and technology vendors as they seek to stir interest once again in the concept of wire-free TVs and peripheral devices. While few consumers will have noticed, it’s been possible for a few years to connect high definition devices like set-top boxes and Blu-ray Disc players to HDTVs without using a cable. The technology has been built in to a few very high-end TVs from Sony and others, but at enormous cost. In fact, with 40” LCD TVs retailing at $600 or less, it can cost considerably more than that just to retrofit a wireless HD set-up. Clearly only those most passionate about clutter-free homes are likely to see the value in spending $1000 or more to remove one cable from their AV system. Until the costs come down dramatically it seems that wireless HD is likely to remain entrenched in its niche market. Those obstacles won’t stop two key wireless HD technology proponents from getting their messages across as CES 2010 approaches. We’ve published several times about this particular tech standards battle over the past few years. The conclusions in our 2007 review look pretty accurate with the benefit of two and a half years’ hindsight. At that time we didn’t expect much standards clarity or indeed volume in the market much before 2010, and that’s more or less how things have panned out. There are two major technology developers: Amimon, which supports the WHDI standard, and SiBeam, which backs WirelessHD. Behind each vendor is a selection of familiar names from the consumer electronics industry, with several appearing on both sides. For this reason alone it’s been difficult to predict the eventual outcome of this battle, if indeed one solution eventually comes to dominate the market. Sony in particular has flirted with both camps, and although it has recently indicated increased support for WirelessHD, executives have suggested they are still uncertain about the longer term potential for wireless HD technologies in general. According to Sony, the price increment is the main barrier to wider adoption. Amimon has also announced progress in the past few days, with the introduction of WHDI PC modules aimed at netbooks and notebooks. WHDI-HDMI adapters will also be launched so that HDMI devices can be enabled for wireless HD. Consumer products are expected to reach the market next year. Apart from the main technical differences between the two standards – one being that WHDI uses 5GHz, WirelessHD 60GHz – a key debating point is whether whole-home signal distribution has significant value. The WHDI camp pushes this as one its main advantages. Personally this strikes me as a strange argument: most peripheral devices will support one display at any one time, wherever they are placed in the home. There may be some demand for devices which support multiple displays (whole-home DVRs, for example), but these are likely to be an expensive alternative to buying multiple devices. The main user advantage of wireless HD technologies seems to me to be removing the wires within a single AV system, and both technologies do this job. The other arguments inevitably have focused on quality and performance, and these are always tough to judge from an independent perspective. I’m sure we’ll hear more from both camps over the coming weeks and during CES itself. But until they can guarantee more realistic consumer price points wireless HD solutions are likely to remain a distant prospect for mass market success. Twitter: twitter.com/DavidMercer_SA Client Reading: HDTV: Standards Muddle Clouds Outlook For Wireless Displays Add to Technorati Favorites Technorati code: XRKDPAZFT879
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