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CES 2011 Wireless, Zigbee and 3D TV

Jan. 13, 2011
Technology Editor Bill Wong provides a summary of wireless technology on display at CES 2011.

Atheros Hybrid Networking

Brite-View's Air HD

Our CES 2011 coverage for wireless technology went far and wide. You can check out much of it on Engineering TV with out CES 2011 video coverage. Many of those videos are being posted now so check back regularly. It takes a few weeks to get everything edited and posted. I've provided links for those posted when this article was put together.

Wireless technology may have been less noticable than all the HDTVs and tablets but it was everywhere from ZigBee and Z-Wave controls to ultra wide band (UWB) and WHDI streaming of HD video. We also had a chance to talk with vendors supplying the underlying technonlogy like RF Axis, Freescale, Atmel, Atheros and Amimon.

Talk triple play with Atheros and up comes powerline, Ethernet and WiFi networking. Atheros was highlighting their hybrid technology (Fig./content/content/62084/62084_fig1.jpg 1) in our Engineering TV video. Atheros is providing a range of gateway reference designs that mixes two or three of these technologies. There are a number of vendors already shipping technology built around Atheros' chips. At this point, Atheros is the only company around that provides chips for all three technologies. They are working on chips that will integrate multiple interfaces.

We had a nice tour and discussion of ZigBee at the ZigBee booth. As usual, ZigBee has been expanding in participants, related products and vendors. We had a chance to interview two that are taking advantage of the RF4CE standard and the related 3D glasses interface.

Atmel was showing off a range of technology including RF4CE remote controls (watch Atmel Demonstrates RF4Control Remote Control). Atmel's sample remote control use accelerometers to track movement.

Greenpeak's RF4CE remote control adds a "Find Me" feature. This uses the bidirectional 802.15.4 communication system underlying RF4CE. Press a button on the HDTV and the remote control beeps. The trick is not the communication but doing it efficiently. Their RF4CE remote control should run for a decade with a single battery. Adding this new feature cuts that to a few years. It does this by judicious polling.

Bug Labs was showing off their latest kit (watch BUG 2.0 Modular Wireless Development Platform). It's claim to wireless fame includes built in Bluetooth and WiFi. It also had Bug modules that add new features like cell phone support. Choose the module to match the celluar provider.

Freescale was showing how 3D glasses could be controlled by ZigBee (watch 3D Television Viewing with Wireless Communications). The trick here is to also reduce regular communication by only sending periodic synchronization messages about once a second. The microprocessor in the glasses handles frame-by-frame timing using a local clock. The messages prevent drift.

Most people should be aware of Powermat's wireless charging technology (watch Powermat Wireless Power Slims Down at CES 2011). This year's CES let them show off their latest that improves the charging system as well as reduces its size. It will eventually be down to the battery pack itself making it significantly easier to support more phones. I'm just waiting for it to support the initial Droid.

RF Axis had a major announcement. They have a CMOS chip that includes all the RF support (watch RFaxis Meshes RF and CMOS Technology on Single-Chip/Single-Die Front-end ICs). This is a significant step forward since prior solutions were typically using GaAs that is more expensive. OF course, antenna design is critical as well and RF Axis can provide that as well.

Summit Semiconductor's home theater is something you need to see and then hear (watch Summit Semiconductor's Home Theater System). It greatly simplifies system setup using wireless communication. It also uses ultrasonic transducers in the speakers and remote control to automatically determine location of everything. Press a button on the remote control and that spot becomes the ideal listening location by adjusting the delays associated with each speaker. All cross over processing is done digitally. It is a very elegant solution.

HD Wireless

HDTVs were everywhere and many were being fed via a wireless connection. Unlike the HDTV HDMI standard, there is a plethora of wireless solutions and they are all incompatible with each other. HDTV vendors and others are trying to decide which to support and some will eventually find their way into HDTVs. For now, most solutions use a pair of boxes to move an HDMI transmission from one point to another.

The WHDI is one of the wireless HDMI solutions. Amimon is the chip supplier and we did a video interview with them where we saw the system in action. As with most HDMI wireless solutions, it was impressive. WHDI does its transmission without compression. Amimon's demonstration was interesting because the transmitters and receivers do not have to be paired. It was possible for a camera to provide a feed to different HDTV receivers using an onscreen display (OSD) system.

Brite-View's Air HD is another wireless HDMI system we saw at CES. It uses Amimon's WHDI technology. It is sold as a transmitter/receiver pair for only $279 (Fig. 2).

Alereon's video interview is already up (watch Alereon's Ultra-wideband Takes On Wireless HDMI and Wireless Docking). Like WHDI, Alereon's solution supports High-bandwidth Digital Copy Protection (HDCP). Alereon can also handle 3D content. The Alereon AL5820/21 Wireless Encoder/Decoder with 3D support is based on the Cavium PureVu-3D CNW5302 Full-HD Video Co-Processor.

One standard I saw at the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) was WiDi. This is finding its way into a number of laptops making them a source that can drive a matching HDTV.

Overall CES 2011 had a tremendous amount wireless technology on display and behind the scenes. As usual, technologies like WiFi were brought to their knees on the floor because of the density of vendors. Not surprisingly, many of the wireless demos occurred in hotel suites well away from the show floor. Cell phones worked reasonably well on the show floor. Likewise, ZigBee and Z-Wave systems seemed to be working well. Wireless continues to be the wave of the future but getting it to work can sometimes be problematic.

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