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Summary:

If you are one of those fortunate (and rich) enough to afford a nice Plasma or a LCD TV, then you should be excited about a new wireless networking standard called WirelessHD. In simplest terms, it would eliminate those ugly wires that hang like vines of […]

wirelesshd.gifIf you are one of those fortunate (and rich) enough to afford a nice Plasma or a LCD TV, then you should be excited about a new wireless networking standard called WirelessHD. In simplest terms, it would eliminate those ugly wires that hang like vines of an old Banyan tree from your gorgeous big screen mounted on the living room wall.

WirelessHD is the latest effort by electronics industry (LG, Sony, Samsung, and others) to come up with a way to wirelessly shunt video data back and forth to the television, from say your DVD player or a set-top box.

For a while many had promised some variation of the Wi-Fi technology to deliver video to our big screens. Others have talked about Ultra Wide Band and Wireless USB – but those low power wireless technologies may be good enough to get rid of the wires around our computers, it would be hard to see them being able to handle high quality HD video streams from our DVR to the TV screen.

John LeMoncheck, President and CEO of Sunnyvale, California-based semiconductor company, SiBEAM believes the answer is WirelessHD. He is supposed to say that, after all his company is making chips that make WirelessHD possible.

We recently caught up with him, mostly to debate the merits of this yet-another-wireless-technology, which he and others view as an ideal back bone for “Wireless Video Area Networks.” With high definition video becoming commonplace, consumers are likely to need a very high speed home network that is optimized for video, and connects to WirelessHD-enabled devices such as a high-definition television, high-definition disc player, digital video recorder, digital video camera, digital A/V player, and more.

LeMoncheck argues that unlike some of the other wireless standards which work in the crowded 2.4 and 5.8 GHz bands, WirelessHD works in the 60 GHz region of the spectrum that is sparsely used and is unlicensed. His company has developed chips that can theoretically shunt video streams at speeds of up to 25 gigabits per second.

If those chips can actually deliver a tenth of that networking speed, it should be more than enough to move around raw (no compression) HD video signals. SiBEAM recently introduced its first product, OmniLink60 chipset, which has non-line-of-sight capabilities, making it ideal for our crowded homes. The company overcomes all the interference issues using a clever piece of software that is embedded inside its chipsets.

What more, his company, backed by some pretty seasoned venture capitalists (New Enterprise Associates, Foundation Capital and USVP,) has figured out a way to make these chips using traditional chip-making technologies. As a result, the company can make its chips affordable enough to plug into consumer electronic devices that typically have wafer-thin profit margins. CE device makers are loath to using anything expensive that cuts into their profits. Typically chips focused on the higher bands of the wireless spectrum have been made from exotic and more expensive materials such as Gallium Arsenide and Indium Phosphide.

WirelessHD was first introduced in October 2006 by SiBEAM and six other companies including some consumer electronics companies. They have been working on finalizing the 1.0 version of the specification, something that should be done by Autumn of 2007. But what does that mean to the consumer? “I think you should expect to see some products in retail by end of 2008 or early 2009,” LeMoncheck says.

  1. I installed a ceiling mounted HD projector at my parent’s place last year. Wireless HD would’ve made the process SO much easier.

    The question for the guys building this stuff is; will this not negate the need for the arguably overpriced (vs. PCs/Macs) set-top boxes in the living room? Why couldn’t I just stream everything from one PC or media server?

    Looking further ahead – couldn’t I just stream it straight from my Internet connection on the end of my wireless router? If my mobile phone can power a web browser, surely a huge visual device has the room for bundling in the relevant technology?

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  2. Nothing mentioned in the interview about folks with existing HD sets, interface boxes of one sort or another.

    For this tech to become popular as quickly as possible, they should produce a box for the link-up that connects existing sources to existing sets.

    We’re already the early adopters. It doesn’t make much sense to spend your marketing energy and bucks trying to convince the most conservative portion of the chain – the folks with a content delivery system already in place that they need to changeover just to add another chipset.

    Enable the users – as part of the process. We’re the ones who want to get rid of the wires. You should be able to do this with something as small as the Audio Toslink switch I use in my system.

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  3. As H.264/VC-1 capable decoder chip pricing drops, I’d just look to TVs that have onboard decoding for MPEG-2/4/VC-1 and an Ethernet port or .11n/MoCA/PLC/UWB/etc. interface. That way you only need a wireless medium that must support 20-25Mbps at the low BER needed for HDTV, not some fangled, unproven technology that needs to push data at such ridiculously high rates.

    The carriers are already delivering a compressed feed, why try to send it throughout your home in uncompressed format? To me, that’s an inelegant solution. Kludge.

    Granted, that implies middleware integration which is no small task either, but it’s a better looking panacea than pushing uncompressed HD feeds around my house.

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  4. Jesse Kopelman Friday, July 13, 2007

    I’m with you Eideard. I think the problem is that SiBEAM only wants to make chipsets. It is up to companies like Belkin and Monster to decide to make cable replacements. System vendors like Sony and Toshiba prefer to bundle this stuff into their A/V gear in a proprietary fashion to encourage you to upgrade your whole setup — they’d rather sell a few $5,000+ whole systems than a lot of $100 cable replacements.

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  5. Sign up to become John LeMoncheck’s early adopter (er, I mean, guinea pig) er, I mean, radiational experiment.

    Honestly, the larger question has to be: would you expose yourself and/or your loved ones (especially children) to this type of radiation?

    No thanks, we already have enough radiation floating around with mobile telephony, bluetooth, WiFi 802.x, etc.

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  6. This is challenging technology to use effectively. Essentially at 60 GHz radio propogates much like light … so walls, doors and cabinetry will be opaque to this network … just like IR .. making the use of this technology MUCH more awkward than .11n.

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  7. Jesse Kopelman Monday, July 16, 2007

    Ken your points are correct, but I think you misunderstand the application. This is not a competitor to WiFi or even something like wireless speakers. Instead this is an attempt to create an “invisible” cable. You will still have the same issue you have with any physical cable — can’t go through solid objects without drilling holes. The only advantage over a conventional cable is that it is invisible. In a world where people pay a premium for better looking/low profile home electronics, there would appear to be a market for “invisible” cables.

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  8. Olderthandirt Friday, August 8, 2008

    How many retail iterations before it’s right?
    Will I be dead before it arrives at retail?
    Sibeam secrecy paranoids; I hope Omni looses.

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