Posts Tagged ‘Panasonic’

If you have followed my blog from its inception you know I feel the phone will become your primary computer. That feeling continues to grow stronger. The more difficult issue is discerning just what path this will take. I have mentioned before that companies can fail by jumping to the final solution and not realizing that change often progresses along a jagged path. My ultimate dream is a device that connects to the proper interface in a transparent fashion.

Right now we have WiFi and Bluetooth. Apple lets AirPlay ride on WiFi. This gives some support for video transfer from an iPad to a TV but requires an Apple TV device to make it happen. However, none of this handles the high bandwidth needed to make the user interface, and the the high definition video that goes with it, work without compromise. Enter standards groups to the rescue; unfortunately too many groups.

A first stab at this came with wireless USB. This is an ultra wideband technology that allows up to 480Mbs speed but only at a range of 3 meters. This is inadequate for 1080p 60 Hz video much less 3D and higher resolutions. This technology has gotten very little traction.

The early leader was WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) consortium. However, the WirelessHD Consortium has an impressive list of supporters. Next comes the Wireless Gigabit Alliance or WiGig. They also have some big players behind them including some of the same people in WirelessHD. It’s all very confusing.

Recall what I said about major vs. minor trends. This has signs of being a major trend. But wait, it doesn’t “feel” that way. People aren’t scrambling to get wireless video hardware. That’s going to change. There is a lot in the works and it will take time to gel but it will gel.

Who am I betting on? Well, I’ll start with an interesting fact. Of particular interest here is the adoption of support for wireless DisplayPort by WiGig. Not mentioned on the WiGig website is an important name – Apple. Recall that Apple is the big force behind DisplayPort. A second force pushing WiGig is the movement by companies like Panasonic to take WiGig mobile. WIDI is mobile capable but has more challenges extending its speed and flexibility. Another related major announcement is the Qualcomm Atheros AR9004TB chip for WiGig. However, this looks suited for laptops and docking stations and not phones. It will compete with solutions for WirelessHD such as the SiI6320/SiI6310 WirelessHD® HRTX Chipset.

How does this play out? The Qualcomm chip shows the way to docking stations for tablets and phones. These may have some success but the need is for a more embedded solution. That will start with laptops which have the luxury of more board space and larger batteries. However, it will move into phones once the power issue is solved. This won’t be the end. So far I have been discussing wireless video. True transparency will require something more general. For that I expect something like wPCIe from Wilocity to allow full connectivity. Initially wPCIe will allow laptops to wirelessly dock with peripherals. Longer term, this too will migrate into the tablet and the phone. At that point your phone will wirelessly dock with external hard drives, displays, and pretty much anything else you would hook to a desktop.  wPCIe is based on the WiGig standard so it will be a quick extension to WiGig wireless video. That also means that range will be adequate to allow your phone or laptop to be several meters away from the other end of the wirless link.

Currently, none of this matches the speed of Thunderbolt but it may be close enough. WirelessHD has higher speeds already defined and I expect WiGig to follow. Expect WiGig to look a lot like wireless Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is basically DisplayPort and PCI Express (PCIe). WiDig will also include DisplayPort and PCIe. For true speed freaks, a hard wired connection will always be the best. Thunderbolt will move to 100Gbs when the move is made from copper to fiber. By then WiGig and WirelessHD will just be matching copper connected Thunderbolt in performance.

There’s a lot more at play here that makes it difficult to predict the winner. WIDI works at lower frequencies and can connect through walls. WirelessHD and WiGig are strictly line of sight. However, some of the claims for future versions of WIDI are suspect since they involve very high data rates relative to available frequency bandwidth. WiGig has the ability to move from a WiFi connection to a WiGig connection in a transparent fashion. WIDI is mobile capable now since it rides on older WiFi technology. I am uncertain when a low power WiGig or WirelessHD chip will be available.

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From the earliest days of the PC we have hooked our computers to the TV. Originally the main display device for the personal computer was the TV. As inexpensive, high resolution monitors became available we divorced the computer form the TV. However, there has been a constant pull to reconnect the two. Microsoft made a major push in this area with Windows Media Player. I thought this would be a big hit. I played with the software and found a lot to like. However, I never quite got around to a Media PC. They were either noisy or expensive or lacked certain features. The cable industry dragged its feet on cable tuners and the CableCard and helped to kill off the media center. Rather than enabling a new technology the old guard stood in the path of progress.  This was sad. I liked the Microsoft Media Extender idea. An inexpensive device would allow your Media Center device to ship music, pictures and video to another TV elsewhere on your home network. Today few owners know or care that their Xbox 360 can be used as a Media Extender.

In another attempt to bring media to the TV we have the stand alone media player. There have been numerous devices in this space. The Tvix devices were the first I ran into. Later there were devices from Netgear and finally Apple. Today Apple TV is the best know device but also one of the most limited in functionality. For all of the myriad devices out there, nothing has really taken off. Yeah, Apple sells a lot of Apple TV devices but the numbers pale compared to iPad sales. Yet, there must be something there. People keep trying to get it right.

A related group of devices is the network enabled DVD player. Many of the newer DVD players can stream Netflix and YouTube. This is an easy way for someone to get some media connectivity. Hey, you were going to buy that Blu-Ray player anyway. You might as well be able to stream Netflix. Just click here to check out a nice Pioneer model.

The next group of devices are the network enabled game systems. Netflix is a major item on all of them. The PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii are all Netflix enabled. For a lot of people this is their first and easiest introduction to media streaming. Some like the the PS3 are much more capable than others such as the Wii. Currently I use a PS3 to play movies off of a central file server. The limitation is that I only have one PS3 so I can only stream to one TV.

There is still yet another group. This is the group of network enabled TV’s. Here the TV is connected directly to the network and is able to go on the web or view content off of a file server without an external device. Examples include Viera Connect and Bravia Internet Video. A problem with these devices is that the TV update cycle is very long. Unlike smartphones, people don’t update their TV’s every two to four years. It’s one thing to buy a new $99 Apple TV and quite another to upgrade a $3,000 big screen TV. Still, I suspect this is the winning approach. People want fewer boxes. Convergence says people want devices to merge. Just like the amp, preamp and tuner merged to make the stereo receiver the dominant form factor so I think the game system, media player and TV will merge. In addition, they want connectivity on every TV and not just the big one in the living room. This process will be slowed by several hurdles. Some TV manufacturers, including Panasonic, are going their own way. This will limit the size of their application ecosystem. Those going with Google TV will run into fragmentation as Google has trouble bringing new features to new hardware without making older systems orphans. Apple will want to be controlling. Yeah, what else is new. They will offer TV’s but that means the ever present Apple tax i.e.high prices. They will also face the issue of rapid obsolescence. I have a solution to Apple’s problem but I doubt they will listen to me. Apple should define a small form factor card that holds the Apple TV and allows it to be embedded in the TV and upgraded later. You would buy your LG large screen TV branded with “Apple TV inside!” and upgrade the card for $99 every two or three years. That would keep your experience fresh. It would preserve that unique ability Apple has to make Apple fanboys feel anything older than two years needs to be thrown out after a trip to the Apple store.

A good friend disagrees with me when it comes to the media box getting consumed by the TV. He owns two Apple TV devices. He says they are small and cheap. He feels the difference in the upgrade cycles will keep the devices separate. We’ll see. What do you think?