CES 2012: The Connector Cacophony

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LAS VEGAS — A less-glitzy but persistent
thread at last week’s Consumer
Electronics Show? Connectors. HDMI,
USB, Ethernet, you name it.

Yes, even in these wireless times,
connectors still matter.

As someone who spent chunks of
2011 figuring out how to wire up a pile
of over-the-top gadgetry, I can attest:
When everything needs an Internet
connection, one starts to think more
about signals and connectors.

At this year’s CES, a new batch appeared: DIIVA
(Digital Interactive Interface for Video & Audio) and
MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link).

Technically, MHL, as a specification, isn’t new-new.
It turns two this year. It’s backed by a consortium of
companies including Nokia, Samsung, Silicon Image,
Sony and Toshiba. The 1.0 version of the MHL spec
includes 1080p video resolution, 7.1-channel surround
sound and 5 watts of power, over a five-pin connector.

Its original intent: To connect your smart phone to
your TV. (Which explains the “mobile” part of MHL.)
Use the micro-USB connector on your phone to get
to the HDMI connector on your HDTV. Play the stuff
on your phone on your TV, using the TV’s remote, and
without draining the battery of your phone.

Roku put MHL in the spotlight with a very different
use case last week: the “Streaming Stick.”
Picture something slightly wider than a thumb drive,
which streams over-the-top video. Yes, you need an
HD screen equipped with the MHL connector to play.

If this seems counterintuitive to the entire notion of
the “smart TV,” think about what 2011-model smart
TVs will look like, from an obsolescence perspective, in
2016. A $50-ish stick on a “dumb” monitor is probably
more economic than replacing the TV.

MHL availability: now, on lots of phones, tablets
and TVs.

Then there’s DIIVA: Another CE consortium, with
players like LG, Samsung, and Sony. They’re out with
a combo-cable that does HDMI (video), Ethernet
(data/Internet) and USB (connectivity and control).
It hauls up to 18 Gigabits per second of data, over a
distance over about 25 meters. Availability: midyear.

This kind of cable will stoke the home theater
community, so watch for more DIIVA developments
around their big show, called CEDIA (Custom Electronic
Design & Installation Association).

Last but not least: a way to turn the coax jack on
your wall into a combo Ethernet/Wi-Fi outlet. Manufacturer
Wi3 branded it “WiPNET,” with handouts
proclaiming the death of the set-top box: “2012 will
write the eulogy for the set-top box, and WiPNET, as
they say, will be the final nail.” (As who says?)

The Wi3 sleeves retail for just under $200. Installation
looked … non-trivial, as engineers like to say.

CES is always a preview show, often proving
the adage about the lack of a difference between
“early” and “wrong.” In this case, the timing seems
about right.

All of this connectorization will matter more as we
head toward six or more IP-connected things in our
lives, wanting sips and gulps of broadband — wired
or wireless. That should happen within the next year
or two.

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