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60GHz, MoCA take center stage at CES

Posted: 14 Jan 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:60GHz? MoCA? wireless technology? home networking? HDMI?

The Consumer Electronics Show demonstrated the latest advances home networking and interconnect but the 60GHz wireless and Multimedia over Coax (MoCA) showed the most traction.

In wireless, SiBeam's 60GHz chips snagged three major design wins with top TV makers. In wired networking, Broadcom Corp. jumped into MoCA with its first STB processor to integrate the technology, and MoCA pioneer Entropic Communications showed its first single-chip standalone controller.

Among other options, UWB showed up in a handful of prototypes, but failed to find sockets in the products top consumer companies announced for 2009. Meanwhile, powerline advocates said their IEEE standard set December 18 is driving interest in a new generation of products expected to emerge late this year.

Separately, some vendors showed an ability to route video between set-tops, TVs, Blu-ray drives and cellphones thanks to the maturing software standards set by the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA).

LG Electronics, Panasonic and Toshiba said they plan to ship wireless video products in 2009 using the SiBeam chips based on the specification of the WirelessHD consortium.

The companies all plan some form of external transmit and receive boxes or snap-on modules to link their flat-panel TVs to Blu-ray drives and set-tops. The boxes likely will cost upwards of $800 per pair and draw more than 9 W.

OEMs are looking for lower cost and power devices before they are ready to build the capability into systems. Silicon is expected in late 2009 that cuts the chip's 36 antennas to 18, cutting power consumption in half.

Taiwan module maker AboCom Group said it is sampling 60GHz modules to OEMs based on SiBeam chips. They cost $240 per pair in volume and will be in production at the end of March.

The WirelessHD group released a test spec and a list of features for its next generation. Getting systems tested and certified as interoperable is one of the last major hurdles to rolling out the technology by this summer said Masafumi Matsumura, an interface specialist in Toshiba's R&D group.

Broadcom, a member of the WirelessHD group, is said to have 60GHz products working in the lab, but has not sampled them yet. The company would not comment on any 60GHz plans, but presumably will try to integrate the technology with future digital TV and set-top chip sets.

Limited UWB market
New product plans were less apparent for UWB. Hitachi showed transmit and receive boxes it shipped for TVs in Japan last year using UWB chips from TZero Technologies and JPEG2000 chips from Analog Devices. It has no plans to sell the systems in the United States.

Because UWB requires compression to handle high def video, it creates unacceptable latencies for gamers. Both UWB and 60GHz versions of the wired HDMI spec face interoperability problems, said a Hitachi spokesman.

"It would be great if we could all agree on a single solution that would interoperate but were still having problems handshaking with wired HDMI," he said.

Samsung repeated its CES 2008 demos of the wireless USB version of UWB sending personal video from camcorders, cellphones and PCs to flat-panel TVs. With the exception of one networked hard drive slated to ship in the fall, all the products were still only prototypes for demos.

"There are still power consumption issues for [getting UWB into] mobile devices," said Matsumura of Toshiba who has also worked on UWB.

A representative of Taiwan's AboCom said the initial version of Staccato Communications' Ripcord, an integrated UWB chip, got up to temperatures as high as 100C. Its current UWB module for PCs uses a TZero chip consuming about 5W and delivering up to 136Mbit/s of user data, but it is less stable than the SiBeam chips, he said.

Stephen Palm, technical director of Broadcom's home networking efforts, said wireless USB will be a PC data connection because it lacks support for the device discovery and management software defined by the DLNA. Broadcom showed demos of moving video between TVs, cellphones and set top boxes, using DLNA software over MoCA and Wi-Fi.

The UWB proponents "thought they could beat Wi-Fi speeds, but with 802.lln it's hard to see how they will," Palm said.

Among top consumer companies, only Sony showed a product using any of the Wi-Fi-based variants from startups such as Amimon and Celano. Sony's new Bravia Link DMX-WL1 uses Amimon's 5GHz chips to handle wireless HDMI for Sony's TVs. A pair of converter boxes costs $799 and supports 1080-interlaced, but not 1080-progreessive video resolutions at distances up to 65 feet.

Matsumura of Toshiba said the Wi-Fi variants generate interference when used for whole-home video, unlike the multi-gigabit SiBeam chips whose signals don't pass through walls. In addition, the Wi-Fi variants cannot scale to the 4,000-pixel resolutions planned for future TVs, but the SiBeam chips can, he added.

A survey of more than 2,000 users worldwide commissioned by the WirelessHD group said 75 percent of users are more interested in wireless video in the living room than throughout the home.

MoCA fever
Broadcom released two STB processors that integrate MoCA for home networking over coax, the first MoCA chips from a top silicon vendor. The 7240 is for a main set-top and the 7210 is a lower cost version for a set-top in a second room.

"This is significantly less expensive than [Entropic's] separate MoCA chips," said John Gleiter, a senior director of marketing at Broadcom.

One satellite TV company has committed to using MoCA and at least three large cable-TV providers said they will use the technology at some point to enable multi-room digital video recording, he said. Earlier in the year, Broadcom fielded an initial version of its processor as a test chip.

Entropic showed its own integrated silicon at CES. The EN2510 combines the company's existing 130nm MAC/PHY chip with a new and lower power transceiver design in a single 65nm chip. It draws up to 1.5W, will sample in January, and costs less than $10 in volumes.

Entropic aims to deliver its own integrated MoCA set-top processor when the version 2.0 spec supporting 400Mbit/s of user data is complete, probably early next year. "That's the right time for integration and by then we will have a partnership to do it," said Al Servati, director of marketing at Entropic.

Powerline nets such as Japan's HD-PLC lead by Panasonic saw a big uptick in interest after Dec.18 when the IEEE P1901 group approved a draft standard. The spec embraces technology from the HD-PLC group, the HomePlug Powerline Alliance and the ITU standard.

Panasonic is the only HD-PLC chip maker now, but others are expected to jump into the fray this year, said Ed Kobayashi, chairman of the HD-PLC Alliance. Next-generation chips will not only let the HD-PLC and HomePlug technologies co-exist, they will also be backward compatible with current chips, he added.

The HD-PLC technology has taken a 90 percent share of Japan's emerging market after deregulation in late 2006, shipping about 700,000 units to date, he said. It claims a 210Mbit/s PHY rate and 15- to 30Mbit/s of user data.

Meanwhile, Design of Systems on Silicon (DS2) demonstrated at CES its next-gen powerline chip that delivers up to 230Mbit/s of user data and 400Mbit/s at the PHY level. The company will delay release of the device until the end of 2009 so it can be fully compatible with the ITU standard expected to be completed in September.

DS2, like many home net silicon vendors, plans to roll out one chip set that, thanks to the standard, can be used over powerline, coax or phone line.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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