Motorola, Sony Back New Wireless HD Standard

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Four major consumer electronics manufacturers and Motorola have set up a consortium to develop a new standard that will allow high-definition content to be moved wirelessly around the house between TVs, set-top boxes, PCs, Blu-ray players and other consumer electronic devices.

The new standard -- Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) -- is based on technology and chips developed by Amimon Ltd. The standard is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

Consumer electronics manufacturers, Sony, Samsung, Sharp and Hitachi are backing the standard along with Motorola, which has invested in Amimon and hopes to incorporate WHDI technology into set-top boxes.

“The eventual idea is to have it in the set-top boxes for IPTV, cable and satellite to enable multiroom sharing of content," said Noam Geri, vice president of marketing and business development and cofounder of Amimon in an interview from the company’s headquarters in Israel.

The WHDI consortium will, however, face competition from at least two competing technologies.

The WirelessHD standard, which is based on technology developed by SiBEAM, is backed by LG, Panasonic, NEC, Toshiba, as well as Sony and Samsung, which are also part of the WHDI effort.

Monster, a manufacturer of audio and video connectivity solutions, and Sigma Designs, a provider in digital media system-on-chip solutions have also launched a Monster Wireless Digital Express HD system, to move HD content between devices.

Lianne Caetano, executive director of WirelessHD, said the group was started in early 2005 and made the standard available to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2008. Currently about 20 companies have adopted the standard and the WirelessHD Group is working to develop an authorized test and test center, with announcements in that area around the time of the 2009 CES.

Both WHDI and WirelessHD offer different approaches to moving content wirelessly and competing claims between the two technologies is likely to heat up in upcoming months.

WHDI uses the radio band at 5 Gigaherz frequency to deliver content at about 3 Gigabytes per second through multiple walls for 100 feet or more.

The Amimon technology doesn’t compress the signal but it divides up the video signal into various levels of importance and sent so that the most important parts of the image have the highest priority.

“We have been able to show that this smart approach to delivering video achieves the same quality as HDMI cables and that is why it has achieved such remarkable traction,” Geri said. “We are already receiving orders of tens of thousands of units per month for our customers who are planning to sell products during this holiday season.”

That volume is expected to grow to hundreds of thousands in 2009 after the standard is formalized and millions in the following year, he said.

In contrast to the WHDI products, which are already in stores, with more to be shipped in the holiday season, Geri said that “the most optimistic observers believe [the competing standard] WirelessHD is still several years away.

WirelessHD’s Caetano disputed that. She expects the first WirelessHD products will become available in early 2009.

The WirelessHD standard uses the unlicensed 60 GHz frequency band and has two important advantages, she said. The high frequency band requires very small antenna of as little as one millimeter in length that can easily be integrated into devises and it has very high bit rates.

Caetano noted that the current iteration of the standard allows for 4Gbps but the technology allows for rates as high as 25Gbps. “We are the only lossless, true uncompressed means to deliver HD content wirelessly,” she said.

A major disadvantage of the high frequency 60 GHz band is that the technology has a range of only 10 feet and does not pass through wall, limiting its applications to a single room in its current form. How quickly the problem can be overcome with antenna arrays or hybrid networks remains to be seen.

Whichever standard catches on quickest, all parties argue that the growth of HD-enabled devises and content is creating an enormous potential market for technologies that can move HD content around the home.

“The announcement shows the heightened interest in wireless high def solutions,” Caetano said.

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