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Comment: Planning to get a wireless network device?

Posted: 22 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless? flat-panel TV? cable? digital?

Who wants a wireless home network? Anyone?

Don't get me wrong. Over the years, I've heard many pitches about how the wireless home network will advance the way I work and play. I certainly welcome the convenience of a wireless Internet connection in my multicomputer household.

Imagine when your large-screen flat-panel TV in the living room integrates the network and wireless connectivity to become ever more essential.

So, what's next?

I remember hearing about a digital future in which every home has a server, "just like a furnace in the basement." This "basement server," when attached to digital cable, satellite, DSL etc., is envisioned as providing music, video and multimedia content to many digital consumer devices in the home.

Technologists, generally displaying a more complex user interface, have shown how I can select any song, video clip or movie that fits my mood, and use it instantly to any TV anywhere in the house. This, they have said, is a veritable digital-home nirvana.

When things go wrong
Frankly, I've never bought into the idea. We all know how electronics systems can go haywire without warning. What happens if the basement server mysteriously shorts out and the whole home entertainment system, connected to this home server, fizzles? What do we do? Pump out the cellar? Call the Orkin Man? The Geek Squad?

But I digress. Earlier this month covering CEATEC, the Japanese consumer electronics show, I realized that Japanese makers have already left the digital-furnace fiction. I'm not sure whether they've just temporarily retreated from the original home-server concept, or given up permanently on the "home network." Clearly, though, their current focus on wireless connection in HD resolution is driven solely by aesthetics in the living room and not by the digital furnace imperative.

The giants' innovation
Several Japanese companies like Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba highlighted wireless home network systems, designed to transmit HD-resolution pictures from DTV tuners, Blu-ray players or digital AV receivers to a large flat-panel screen.

As to my "why go wireless" questions, officials at each company's booth parroted one another: "We want to get rid of all the wires hanging from the screen on the wall. They're ugly." This goal will be achieved in phases.

First, there comes the decoupling of the digital TV tuner from the screen. Aside from every home-network device containing a wireless transmitter and receiver, Japanese companies plan to connect a TV tuner, Blu-ray recorder or any other STB via HDMI to an AV receiver. This AV receiver will connect wirelessly to a flat-panel TV, thus removing the unsightly wires.

Many CEATEC exhibitors said eventually they'd like to see wireless connectivity in every device. But they can't reach the wireless future if they focus on some home-network dream.

They must start somewhere. Clearing the cable-clutter from around the TV is a realistic first step.

On-clicker for all
But make no mistake. They have an agenda. They're angling for one-remote answer, a single "clicker" that controls every electronics device in the room, but with each device bearing the same brand name.

When I considered that, I had to say, "Wow, that's going backward!"

No more mixing and matching brands in the living room? Right, because consumer electronics makers are thinking about different wireless schemes.

Mode of transmission
Panasonic and Toshiba, at CEATEC, displayed WirelessHD using 60GHz transmission. Mitsubishi was coy about its preferred wireless technology. "We are not allowed to say," said an official. After repeated questioning, he conceded, "Our wireless system runs on 5GHz." Does it use the Amimon-developed Wireless High Definition Interface (WHDI)? "I can't say," he replied.

Sony's response was even more cryptic. While showing the company's wireless digital living room, a Sony official simply said, "This is our proprietary system." "You mean this is neither WirelessHD nor WHDI? Surely you must use some kind of standards-based PHY. Does this run on 5GHz or 60GHz?"

"It runs on 5GHz, but we developed our own proprietary MAC," he said. So, losing the wires around the TV is a big improvement. But this wireless upgrade comes only to consumers with freakish levels of brand loyalty. If you want it, you have to keep up with the all-Sony Joneses.

Think hard about this and you can almost see the home-networking future marching backward in time. What's next? Having living color?

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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