Electronic Design

Vendors Show Off Streaming Media, Internet Appliances Using Power Lines

Power-line networking is on the way to a home near you—in fact, yours. This technology allows users to simply plug their devices into standard wall outlets to connect to a network. A number of vendors demonstrated PC networking and streaming audio and video based on power-line networking at last month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The first HomePlug Powerline Alliance specification has been finalized. Large-scale beta testing, now in progress, will be completed around the end of the first quarter. The specification is based on Intellon's PowerPacket technology, which uses orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM). Speeds in excess of 10 Mbits/s are possible. Ethernet packets are used so HomePlug Powerline Alliance products can be easily bridged to Ethernet networks.

At CES, Enikia showed power-line transceivers that work with a number of Ethernet media-access controllers (MACs), including Motorola's QUICC family, AMD's AM7990, Intel's 82596, Fujitsu's MB86950 and MB86960, Seeq's 8005, National Semiconduc-tor's 8390, and Texas Instruments' TMS380C26. Converting existing Ethernet network adapters is simply a matter of replacing the 10BaseT transceivers with transceivers from Enikia.

Formerly known as S3 and Diamond Multimedia, SonicBlue presented a modified version of its RioReceiver (see the figure). The standard version of this MP3 streaming-media server and player supports Ethernet and 1-Mbit/s PNA networking, which uses a phone line. The modified RioReceiver employs a power-line network adapter.

The company also showed off a PCI adapter for a PC. The PC was streaming audio to the RioReceiver, which in turn played the audio on an attached speaker system. SonicBlue intends to deliver a host of HomePlug power-line networking products similar to the Diamond HomeFree PNA products it currently sells, including PCI network adapters and gateways.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance wasn't the only solution at CES. Inari is already delivering its IPL0201 integrated MAC/PHY that operates over power lines at 2 Mbits/s. Also, Inari displayed its 12-Mbit/s solution, which will be delivered later this year. The 12-Mbit/s IPL0201 is based on an 8051 core. The next version of the chip will incorporate a USB core. The current hardware development kit includes a USB reference design. A future reference design will provide a bridge to Ethernet.

The IPL0201 uses Inari's Powerline Exchange (PLX) technology. PLX differs from the HomePlug solution by providing scalability and quality-of-service (QoS) support features. QoS support is provided by a hybrid protocol that uses two distinct protocol mechanisms. The first, similar to Ethernet's collision-recognition mechanism, is used for node recognition. The second is a token-passing system for communication between nodes. A priority system, minimum latency requirements, and a timeslot allocation system fills out the QoS support.

Higher-end scalability is available via the 12-Mbit/s solution, while scalability at the lower end will be provided with parts that will run at 50 to 250 kbits/s. The low-end solutions are expected to have a lower price point, making them competitive for remote-control applications with switches and appliances. Interoperability between different-speed devices is supported. The IPL0201 2-Mbit/s solution suits streaming audio and PC networking. Streaming video is possible, but speeds of 10 Mbits/s or better are needed for full-screen streaming video.

More information about the HomePlug Powerline Alliance is available at www.homeplug.org. More information on Intellon, Enikia, Inari, and SonicBlue can be found at www.intellon.com, www.enikia.com, www.inari.com, and www.sonicblue.com, respectively.

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