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Cable-Cutting WirelessHD Spec To Stream Uncompressed HD Video

Sunnyvale, Calif. – A wireless-connectivity technology backed by six major CE suppliers would be the first wireless technology to simultaneously stream multiple high-definition (HD) video programs in uncompressed form among multiple devices up to 33 feet apart.

The planned spec, expected to debut in spring 2007 after about two years in the making, will preserve the HD-signal quality of wired HDMI connections because of “multigigabit” speeds offering ample bandwidth for multiple uncompressed HD programs, according to the group, called WirelessHD. In contrast, other wireless technologies used for cable-replacement and multiroom applications use signal-degrading compression because their 100-400Mbps speeds lack the bandwidth for even one uncompressed 1080i stream, which requires 2.25Gbps of bandwidth.

In the home, the cable-replacement technology will “make it easier to enjoy high-definition video with wired quality,” said WirelessHD chairman John Marshall. It will give consumers the flexibility to hide HD sources and other home theater components behind cabinet doors and closets or stack them up in less obtrusive spots within a room, he said.

WirelessHD’s technology can also be used in standard-definition video sources to deliver wireless convenience, Marshall stressed. It’s also suitable for portable devices such as HD camcorders, which would be able to wirelessly transfer home movies to DVRs and disc recorders. Portables could incorporate lower power versions of the technology.

In HD applications, WirelessHD technology would enable HD picture-in-picture (PIP) functions when playing two HD sources, Marshall said. One family member could enjoy HD PIP while another family member downloads HD camcorder video to a recording device, he added. In a “sports-bar” scenario, one HD source could transmit video to multiple screens.

The WirelessHD group was formed in early 2005 by LG, Matsushita, NEC, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba along with wireless semiconductor startup SiBeam, which as co-founded by Marshall. The companies expect to finalize the spec in spring 2007, with the first consumer products potentially available in 2008 or 2009.

Those products will be the first consumer products to use the unlicensed 60GHz band, which is currently used for military ship-to-ship communications, last-mile high-speed wireless-data connections to office buildings, and wireless office-campus networks.

WirelessHD’s technology will enable compliant products to automatically discover one another, identify their capabilities, and display a user interface on a compliant HD display, he said. It will support existing content-protection technologies such as HDCP and DTCP, he added.

If precedent is a guide, the first compliant products will likely be add-on adapters, which will be followed by A/V components with embedded technology. Whatever form they take, the first products will support “multiple simultaneous uncompressed HD streams,” Marshall said without precisely specifying the number of streams or their resolution. “In the future,” he noted, “there will be a need for three 1080p programs” streaming simultaneously within a room, and WirelessHD can be scaled to that level. In fact, WirelessHD data rates will scale to more than 25Gbps, allowing for more than three uncompressed 1080p streams, each at 4.6Gbps.

WirelessHD’s brainchild handily exceeds the performance of other wireless home technologies in large part because it will use up to 7GHz of bandwidth in a portion of the 60GHz band available for unlicensed use in the U.S., most European Union countries, and Japan. A total of 5GHz of that spectrum is common to all of the countries.

High speeds are also achieved by the high power output permitted in the band and by the nature of the spectrum, which focuses RF energy into a highly directional beam. Although beamy signals can be blocked by people walking within a room, WirelessHD will overcome the limitation by using smart-antenna technology to detect and amplify reflected signals bouncing around in a room. “60GHz was previously viewed as unusable in this context,” Marshall said.

Although 60GHz wireless has never been used before for consumer applications, Marshall stressed that it’s time has come. “The spec is achievable based on available technology,” he contended, and it will cost less than current wired-HD solutions when factoring in the combined cost of the embedded components and cables needed for a wired-HDMI solution.

Consumer applications are on the horizon in large part because 60GHz chips can now be made through the low-cost CMOS manufacturing process, he said. Prices will reach consumer levels for other reasons as well, including expected economies of scale resulting from major CE brands adopting a an interoperable standard. Another factor is that WirelessHD chips can be built into products sold in multiple countries.