LAS VEGAS Now that consumer electronics companies are delivering a full suite of high-definition TVs, DVD players and cameras to the digital living room, they are working out how to connect them. Almost everyone agrees that wireless is the right approach for products they are planning for 2009, but they disagree on which technology is best.
Samsung and Hewlett-Packard have plans for the Wireless USB variant of ultrawideband (UWB). Panasonic and perhaps others, including Toshiba, will pass on Wireless USB in favor of 60-GHz radios. LG Electronics will at least initially use Wi-Fi. Philips and Sony are gearing up to use different proprietary versions of UWB. Sony also may use proprietary versions of Wi-Fi, based on demos at last week's Consumer Electronics Show.
The result will likely be a broad range of incompatible products shipping into the digital living room in 2009 as the industry sorts out its strategy.
"The wireless situation is bad for the consumer and will hold back adoption," said Phil McKinney, chief technology officer in the personal systems group at Hewlett-Packard Co. "The industry is not addressing the underlying problem consumers are begging us to solve: making things easier."
For its part, HP will step into the wireless personal-area networking space gingerly, providing external dongles for a few systems rather than putting Wireless USB natively into devices.
"People don't know which way the industry is going, so 2008 is really a year of trials," McKinney said.
Samsung is making a deeper commitment and plans to put Wireless USB into digital TVs, printers, HD camcorders and DVD players in 2009, a Samsung engineer said at the company's CES press conference.
At the event, Samsung demonstrated an HD camcorder streaming high-def files over Wireless USB to an HDTV. An initial glitch with the demo forced Samsung to restart the TV before the devices could recognize each other and launch the video stream.
"We are committed to bringing all our products together to share content with wireless technology," said J.W. Park, vice president of Samsung's digital media group.
Panasonic's strategy is to use a form of sneaker net with Secure Digital (SD) flash cards in its products while it waits for the 60-GHz radio technology to mature. At CES, the company took high-def videos saved on an SD card in one of its camcorders and plugged them into one of its HDTVs with a flash card slot for playback.
"It does not get any easier than that," said Shiro Kitajima, president of Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co.
Panasonic fielded plasma and LCD TVs as well as high-def camcorders and Blu-ray DVD drives with SD slots. In addition, it pledged to ship a 32-Gbyte SD high-capacity card this month supporting Class 6 data transfers of up to 20 Mbytes/second. The card can hold 5-1/2 hours of 1920 x 1080i full HD video, Kitajima said.
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Panasonic will not support Wireless USB or other UWB technologies, because at rates of 50 Mbits/s to 1 Gbit/s they do not have the bandwidth to carry uncompressed 1080-progressive video, and because they are not approved for use in all countries. By contrast, Panasonic showed 60-GHz radio technology de- livering about 4 Gbits/s. That's adequate for uncompressed video, and the frequency is unlicensed globally, said Tsuyoshi Okada, chief engineer of Panasonic's digital A/V network strategy group.
The downside to Panasonic's strategy is that 60-GHz radios are relatively im-mature. The CES demos used an FPGA implementation. Initial chip sets due out shortly from startup SiBeam--currently the only announced silicon provider--consume too much power for battery-powered devices, putting off their use in camcorders until at least 2009.
By contrast, many forms of UWB are available today from multiple sources and with power consumption suitable for mobile devices. Westinghouse became one of the first consumer companies to use UWB in a product, announcing at CES that it will ship an HDTV geared for the business-to-business signage market using the UWB variant from Pulse-Link.
If the product is successful, Westinghouse could bring a version to retail markets before the end of the year, said John Santhoff, chief executive of Pulse-Link.