Wi-Fi at CES 2004 Goes Multimedia

By Eric Griffith

January 08, 2004

Looking for high-end, enterprise-class wireless? Look elsewhere, my friend: the Consumer Electronics Show's wireless announcements are about fun at home with wireless audio and video.

Looking for high-end, enterprise-class wireless? Look elsewhere, my friend: the wireless network announcements at this week's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas are about fun at home. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which sponsors the show, said as much last October when they listed Wi-Fi (coupled with the nascent ultrawideband) as one of five technologies "poised to shape the consumer electronics industry in the year ahead."

Vendors concur, as witnessed by a slew of new, fun products.

  • Relatively new to the Wi-Fi space is one big name: Motorola. For about a year they've had a 802.11b cable modem with built-in router and Wi-Fi access point, but a couple of months ago they quietly launched an entire line of SOHO WLAN products using 802.11g. These include a router ($99.99), access point ($99.99), a PC Card and PCI adapter ($79.99 each), and a wireless-to-Ethernet bridge adapter ($109.99). They're expanding this line up at CES to include a faster wireless cable modem gateway ($179.99), a USB 2.0 adapter ($79.99) and a USB print server ($169.99). Most are available online or via Radio Shack and other retailers.

    Evan Groat, senior manager for customer solutions at Motorola, says that his company's products are "standard 802.11g products" with tweaks here and there, using Broadcom's chips, including Broadcom's "turbo mode" with frame bursting. Motorola is reportedly working on a phone handset that will combine WLAN and cellular technology.

    Perhaps most intriguing is Motorola's plans to work with smart antenna designer Motia to extend the range of future 802.11 products. Motia's Javelin antenna is a multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) "smart antenna appliqué." Using beam-forming technology it can reportedly extend Wi-Fi product range up to four times the norm and reduce power drain by 90 percent. Motorola plans to demonstrate this on the show floor at CES.

  • The trend of using wireless to get digital entertainment from the PC to the stereo continues with Netgear joining the fray. The company's new Super Wireless Media Router (with 4-port Ethernet switch), which features an integrated USB 2.0 port so a hard drive can be attached for extra network file storage, has received a "Best of Innovations" award from CES. The $200 product will use Atheros' Super G chip to run at 108Mbps and should come out this quarter.

    Their new 802.11b-based Wireless Digital Music Player (under $200) is a more traditional media adapter. It will stick with audio only and comes with a 30-day free trial to the Rhapsody music subscription service.

    Also, Netgear said this week it would be using Marvell Libertas 802.11g chips in future products, specifically for home gateway/routers, perhaps moving away from using chips by catching some flack for using Atheros Super G's channel bonding in a way that crippled nearby WLANs. Marvell provides full reference designs for gateway products.

  • Speaking of chips, Broadcom , which brought up the whole Atheros channel-bonding thing in the first place, is at CES and says it has officially shipped 11 million 54g (802.11g) chips. With customers all over, they also claim their chips are in 78 percent of the products in the U.S. retail market.

  • SyChip of Plano, Texas, is also at show. The company makes small Wi-Fi chips for use in SDIO cards in PDAs. They're showing off the latest version, the WLAN6065SD SDIO card, plus what they call the first "environmentally-friendly 'green'" 802.11b embedded module for handsets and the like; it's virtually lead-free with only 0.1 percent lead content by weight as required by the National Electronic Manufacturing Initiative. Someday soon, maybe we can have disposable Wi-Fi products...

  • Cisco's Linksys -- still number one in sales of Wi-Fi products according to Synergy Research Group -- is adding another media adapter to its lineup. The Wireless-B Media Link has no price yet and does audio only, hopefully bringing the price down compared to the $199 Media Adapter they have that shows still pictures on a TV screen. This unit will connect to a stereo via RCA cables or has the option for SPDIF digital connections.

    At the higher end, Linksys is taking on Gateway with the DVD Player with Wireless-G Media Link. It combines a DVD player with the above-mentioned Media Link adapter so in addition to progressive scan DVD playback, you can also watch MPEG 2 and DIVX video and listen to MP3 and WMA audio streamed from your PC. It will do the still picture display, as well, and even plays Internet radio. Again, no price yet.

  • SMC Networks announced the Z-Stream 2.4GHz 11Mbps Wireless Audio Adapter ($129.99), which like the streamlined Linksys product does audio (MP3, M3U and WMA) but no pictures or video. It connects to a stereo with standard RCA audio cables. The company is also sponsoring the Home by Design Showhouse and its Connected by Design Tour, which sits in the parking lot of the Stardust Hotel not far from the CES show.

  • D-Link never leaves itself out when the competition is talking, and thus the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based company (they recently moved to new headquarters) has plenty to announce. First off, it's now offering products using Atheros' Extended Range technology in their 802.11g Xtreme G product line. The claim is that the radios will have 20db better receive sensitivity to extend a signal well throughout any house or apartment. The upgrade will be available as a free firmware download sometime in February.

    D-Link has had network cameras before (some wireless), but this is the first show where the company will display its wireless i2eye VideoPhone ($249), announced last month. D-Link is updating the standard 802.11b wireless security camera ($169) to include a free DNS service so users can view 320x240 pixel video streams over the Internet, plus announcing two new high-end security cameras, one of which uses 802.11b and includes a remotely controlled motorized pan-and-tilt feature. It will show full-motion live video up to 640x480 resolution and will sell for $449.

    D-Link says it will also continue to offer antennas for the OmniFi line of products for Rockford. OmniFi are media servers that use Wi-Fi to broadcast video and audio in a home. D-Link will offer a new DWL-120R antenna for the OmniFi DMS1 home audio digital streamer.

    D-Link is entering a working relationship with America Online to bring "expanded entertainment options" to homes. That means (for now) streaming the Radio@AOL audio service from the PC to other areas of the house using a new line of D-Link Wireless Media Players. Those without AOL will eventually get a six-month trial to the Radio@AOL service when they buy a Media Player from D-Link. Eventually the products will serve up photos and videos from AOL Broadband, as well. Units will be on display at CES; no word on when they go on sale.

  • Buffalo Technology has a few new products in the hopper. First is the AirStation 125Mbps Wireless Cable/DSL Router-g ($199), one of the first routers to support Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH) and a wealth of high-end security protocols, including 802.1X and AES support, as well as the standard WEP and WPA. It uses an intrusion detection system (IDS) to notify the owner of attacks on the network. It also incorporates AirStation One-Touch Secure System (AOSS), a patent-pending technology that lets the router automatically serve up all the security settings to other products it connects with. AOSS will be showing up in other Buffalo products (first being the $129 AirStation 54Mbps Wireless Ethernet Converter-g), and maybe even products from other companies if Buffalo can get others to buy into it.

    Buffalo also has a new bundle called the Airstation G54 Wireless Router And Repeater Kit ($199) coming out to extend the range of WLANs. It will include the original AirStation Router and the company's Compact Repeater in one box, pre-configured to work together.

  • It's not just the big names with new products this week. OTC Wireless of Fremont, Calif., announced its WiJet.Video, an 802.11g-based wireless projector/display adapter. It connects to a video display like a projector or television and can be used to watch full-motion video from a PC, or even show that computer's full desktop in real-time. The unit has standard VGA, component video, composite video, and S-video ports so it will connect to almost anything. It plays audio, too. The $799 WiJet.Video works with Windows 98 on up.

  • Belkin's got a couple of 802.11g products to announce: a wireless print server ($129.99) that supports two USB-based printers and a wireless-to-Ethernet bridge adapter ($129.99), suitable for anything from a printer to a game console if it has an Ethernet port on it.

  • We all know Wi-Fi's where it's at, but HomePlug powerline-based networking is still alive and kicking. What's cool is when it can be used in conjunction with Wi-Fi to extend a signal, e.g., using a home's in-the-wall powerlines as a repeater. Asoka USA is showing a unit at CES called the PlugLink PL Wireless Access Point (the company's third generation of such a product) that extends a signal using powerlines in a home, offering a Wi-Fi signal at the far end.

  • Back on the chip side of things, ViXs Systems, which makes wired and wireless video network chips, has finally announced some new customers in addition to the previously announced Daewoo Electronics. They include Arcadyan (Philips/Accton), Gemtek Technologies, Nexgen Mediatech (Chi-Mei Corporation) and Toshiba America Electronic Components. In fact, Toshiba said it will work with ViXs to develop a wireless personal video recorder platform to sell to consumer electronics manufacturers. Daewoo is at the show demonstrating high-definition television sets using the ViXs chips.

  • Actiontec Electronics unveiled the Wireless Digital Media Player with Built-in Card Reader ($169.95), which will read media from almost any type of digital card: CompactFlash Type I or Type II, IBM Microdrive, MS Pro, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, MultiMedia or Secure Digital and play it back on TV or stereo. It uses wireless to, naturally, play back the audio and video stored on the PC. It handles MP3, AC3, AAC, WAV, WMA and Ogg Vorbis audio formats and MPEG1/2/4, DIVX, Xivd and RMP4 video formats, plus will display still images.

  • Okay, it's not all movies and rock music: ZyXel Communications launched it's ZyAIR G-1000 access point in North America at the show. It's an 802.11g access point complete with 802.1X authentication and a built in RADIUS server, perfect for SOHOs. The price is only $149.
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