Will Content on a Smartphone Someday Power Your Television Set?


Intel (s intc) is about to join you in the living room — the chip maker is touting its new Wireless Display technology, or WiDi, as a simple way to get content from a computer onto the television in your home. By streaming media over a point-to-point Wi-Fi connection, WiDi removes the need for consumers to physically connect a computing device to a television set with wires, making for a more seamless experience.

The solution isn’t totally wireless, though — in this first iteration, you’ll need a small, Intel-powered box wired to your television set. Think of it like a base station that accepts wireless media from computers and then pipes that content over a cable to your TV. Intel expects that the box will eventually go away because the brains of the receiver can be integrated into future television sets.

With so many ways to get content on a television these days, WiDi didn’t sound that impressive to me at first. In fact, it sounded almost at odds with the WiGig alliance that Intel formed with Atheros (s athr) and Broadcom (s bcom), also an effort toward wirelessly throw content around the home using 60 GHz spectrum. Plus there are already plenty of web-connected boxes on the market today that gather content for home playback.

In our home we use an Xbox 360 (s msft), an Apple TV (s aapl) and a Roku HD-XR unit to watch media on our HDTV set. About the only thing that Intel’s WiDi functionality would replace for us is the occasional connection of a laptop to the big screen for photos that haven’t yet been transferred to the Apple TV library. But then I noticed an interesting future use case for WiDi — according to statements made by Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini, last week on an investor call, Intel plans to enable the functionality in smartphones, tablets and other handhelds.

That won’t happen for some time, as WiDi currently only works with the new Intel Core i5 and i7 chips, the ones that also power mid-to high-end laptops and desktops. Intel expects the lower-end Core i3 processor to support WiDi in the near future. Once laptops can wireless push content to a consumer electronics display, the next frontier is a pocketable device — something I envisioned back in 2005 with the iPod and HD playback capability. I didn’t plan for the wireless connection but conceptually, it’s the same idea. Consumers would carry digital content for mobile enjoyment but then seamlessly transfer the experience to a large screen when at home.

But Intel faces a challenge if WiDi is ever to move beyond the laptop. The company can’t put WiDi in handsets until it powers those handsets to begin with. That effort is Intel’s Atom platform, which continues to evolve as a more power-efficient chipset to battle against chips built on the ARM (s armh) architecture. For that reason, I don’t expect to wirelessly stream content from a smartphone to my HDTV set for at least another two years. Om thinks that Intel will be a mobile loser, and while I agree that the odds are stacked against it in the handset market, a technology like WiDi could provide Intel with a competitive advantage over ARM solutions and open doors in the smartphone market.

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Dan Dennedy

DLNA/UPnP can already do much of this today overwhile not requiring dedicated boxes. Yes, it is a little clumsy, but it is getting better. It is media-centered whereas WiDi is generic and can transport experiences such as games, presentation software, etc.

Dave Zatz

Intel’s wireless display would make more sense from a mobile device. As there is NO remote control. Meaning you start playing something on Hulu at your computer, race to the living room to see it on TV, with no option to pause for a phone call or bathroom break. If I have to sit on the couch with the laptop, I may as well just connected it to the television via HDMI. And their solution is the same sort of screenscraping offerer by the likes of D-Link and Sling Media the last couple years. Intel’s is better integrated and easier to operate (with more limitations), but it’s the same stuff.

Marco A.

Someday? You haven’t seen the demo of an HTC EVO connected by (wired) HDMI to an HDTV?

WiDi sends video over 2.4GHz WiFi-n, which has the advantage of being earlier to market than waiting for the multiple 60GHz “standards” to shake out. Intel added some software that makes pairing the laptop and TV easier (more Bluetooth-like). It’s a nice idea to make streaming video from laptop to TV easy, using WiFi that’s already ubiquitous. The clunky box connected to the TV kind of kills it though. Not passing DRM content makes it completely useless. What’s the point if you can’t stream Netflix from laptop to TV.

Hopefully the 60GHz specs will shake out to real products over the next year or two. And by real, I mean small, low-power, and cheap enough to be integrated into smartphones and laptops. Saving a wire from the TV to the Tivo or BluRay that’s sitting right underneath it is a minimal improvement. Enabling smartphones to bypass all those boxes and stream directly from Internet TV sources to the screen is a BIG deal. Goodbye, every box under your TV … Hello, TV as external monitor for your phone. While you still have the phone in your hand as a remote control!


Is there any point to an Intel x86 processor in a handset?

Currently Intel’s Atom is not competitive with ARM in power consumption. Even if Atom was competitive, why would anyone want it in a handset?

All the mobile OSes are geared towards ARM. You’d have to port software to x86. Well, Android is mostly managed code, which would come across, but there are also significant native Android apps which would need rewriting, and these are critical apps.

I don’t think there’s a market for an x86 handset. Intel should just buy itself an ARM license like all the rest.


Interesting article Kevin. Sounds like this area is really in need of an “open standard” that all hardware & software manufactures can freely use. I’m sure something will win out soon as wireless is the wave.

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