Will Content on a Smartphone Someday Power Your Television Set?

Intel 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 and Broadcom, 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, an Apple TV 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 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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