CES 2008, Day 1: HD Streaming

After Bill Gates’ keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Sunday evening, many companies held press events for the media. One such event, coordinated by Pepcom, showcased numerous vendors with streaming products, several of which touted high-definition video streaming products.

In addition, several other companies are showing off HD products on the CES show floor, with a focus on moving video content around a home via streaming.

One of the biggest pieces of news for HD streaming was Sling’s announcement of its Pro-HD Slingbox; when combined together with SlingCatcher—Sling’s digital video receiver and player that has been on the drawing board since last CES—the Slingbox Pro-HD is capable of streaming full-resolution content to another TV is the house. In addition, the company says HD video can be sent to a desktop or laptop computer anywhere in the home, but does not say if the content is scaled down to meet the laptop’s screen resolution, as many LCD panels cannot support full HD (1080i or 1080p) content within the LCD screen resolution.

Not to be outdone, Monsoon was showing off its HAVA product, which it claims is a superior product to Slingbox and Sony’s LocationFree. The company makes several HD versions of their HAVA products, which allow timeshifting as well as placeshifting, with the ability to skip forward and back or pause content that’s been previously recorded. For the company’s HAVA Titanium HD WiFi box, the company also touts the ability to record directly to a USB drive attached to the box with no need to record to the hard drive of a laptop or desktop hard drive.

Neither company says whether it will downscale HD content to standard definition, so that the video can be viewed on mobile phones or laptops outside the home, but the fact that the HAVA uses an MPEG-2 stream makes it unlikely the company is allowing HD-to-SD conversion for mobile devices.

Speaking of wireless products, several additional wireless streaming products are also making their way into the marketplace. Two years ago, at CES 2006, several companies demonstrated the ability for Wireless USB to push printing and other basic tasks out to devices several feet away. This year, with single chip solutions available for Wireless USB (another name for UltraWideBand, or UWB) several companies have followed Focus Enchancement’s lead on using UWB for video streaming.

Toshiba showed off its Portege R400 laptop, which has Wireless USB that can be used for more than just printing to a printer across the room. It uses 377mbps of Wireless USB’s 480mbps to drive a second video display of up to 1920x1080 resolution. The monitor is a prototype but shows how far the industry has come, as it was only last year that DVI to wired USB was shown off as a product to allow multiple video monitors to be driven without the need for additional graphics cards in laptops.

Focus Enhancements, for its part, is also showing off a wireless USB hub and dongle product in the central hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The company has also announced that it was granted a patent for a particular way of frequency division multiplexing, a process at the hear of UWB.

While Focus Enhancements is better known for its direct-to-disk video recorders called Firestore, the company made the decision a few years ago to chase UWB and apply for a patent on way to push more bits through UWB, achieving almost 800mbps during prototype demonstrations.

Ken Boehlke, principle architect for Focus Enhancements' Semiconductor Group and author of the patent, said the other key was resiliency between UWB components in wireless devices.

"Our high quality waveforms create stronger links between devices making the radios more sensitive, resulting in a more stable network," said Boehlke. "Plain and simple, this technology enables us to produce better UWB radios -- radios that transmit faster and farther, which we use in high performance chips,"

Not to be outdone, 802.11n WiFi is also being touted a way to move video content around the home—and beyond. In conjunction with its Linksys media products shown at CES, Cisco released a white paper for IT professionals labeled "802.11n: The Next Generation of Wireless Performance." The company touts, like UWB, better reliability through greater signal-to-noise on the radio link and the use of Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) to support both higher bitrates and more predictive coverage. 802.11n can also be used to cover large areas outside a home, as its coverage pattern is broader than UWB, although 802.11n lacks the data speeds of UWB and Wireless USB.

One final product that caught my attention on the first day is a Secure Digital (SD) chip that has integrated WiFi. The Eye-Fi card, which can be placed in a digital camera and then used to upload the pictures or video files upon capture, is available for just under $100 at various retailers around the country. The company says it’s working with "21 of the top online sharing, printing, blogging, and social networking sites" to allow instant uploading of still and video content. More details can be found at www.eye.fi.

CES 2008 continues through Thursday, January 10.

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