Reflecting on the Best of CES 2010

By Lisa Phifer

January 29, 2010

Now that we've had time to sort through everything the consumer tech industry threw at us, it's time to consider the most important news to come out of CES 2010.

During his Consumer Electronics Show keynote this month, Intel CEO Paul Otellini told a packed house "Computing is no longer confined to your computer – it's everywhere." Connectivity, interfaces, immersive content, and performance have moved computing into the consumer electronics that surround us, said Otellini, delivering personalized information, entertainment, and experiences that touch nearly every aspect of our lives.

One major factor: Increasingly fast, reliable, and affordable wireless connectivity between fixed and mobile consumer electronics and Internet-based services and content. Wi-Fi has become a nearly-ubiquitous piece of this puzzle, hidden under the hood of many of the hottest innovations at CES 2010. From 3D TVs and connected cars to e-Readers and "slates," Wi-Fi seemed to be just about everywhere.

Making Wi-Fi easier

Despite 802.11's market success, the Wi-Fi Alliance is not resting on its laurels. In a low-key demo at the back of the show floor, the Alliance let visitors participate in an interoperability demo of Wi-Fi Direct, a newly-minted peer-to-peer spec.

Why Wi-Fi Direct? According to spokesperson Kelly Davis-Felner, one in five consumers still have trouble connecting Wi-Fi devices. Most say they'd use quick-and-easy wireless to connect cameras, printers, phones, and TVs, but that's not today's experience, because a whopping 58 percent would rather do taxes than upload photos.

"We saw use cases [for easier as-needed Wi-Fi connections] across a broad spectrum of consumer devices," said Davis-Felner. "The first products to offer Wi-Fi Direct will be laptops, but there are many compelling uses for phones, cameras, and other portable consumer electronics."

During the Alliance demo, Wi-Fi Direct turned a laptop with Atheros XSPAN 802.11n into a "soft AP." A digital camera equipped with an EyeFi Pro X2 802.11n SD card auto-loaded photos directly to the laptop. Visitor phones and a Realtek projector then browsed photos on the laptop with minimal fuss. This illustrated Wi-Fi Direct's backwards compatibility and seamless DLNA media sharing. Conspicuously absent from the demo: self-configuration via Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS).

These and several other vendors staged their own Wi-Fi Direct demos at CES, including Broadcom, Marvell, and Ozmo Devices. For example:

  • Intel used a laptop with MyWiFi (upon which Wi-Fi Direct was based) to easily find and download files directly from another Intel Core i5 laptop.
  • In addition to video streaming over Wi-Fi Direct, Broadcom demonstrated InConcert Maestro, a unified Bluetooth/Wi-Fi Direct API that makes it easy for apps to choose the best peer-to-peer technology for each situation.

Importantly, these Wi-Fi Direct exchanges took place without any user set-up, explicit connection, or disrupting infrastructure associations. That's because Wi-Fi Direct uses self-configuring virtual interfaces that connect/disconnect as applications need them.

Netgear's Push2TV uses Intel's award-winning WiDi technology The Wi-Fi Direct contingency saved its biggest splash for Otellini's keynote, where Intel won the "People's Voice Award" for WiDi: a fuss-free way to send HD video from Intel-based PCs to any TV. The sending PC must use one of Intel's new Core i5 processors; the receiving TV must be physically cabled to Netgear's Push2TV adapter ($99.99, left). In other words, WiDi competes with wireless HDMI, over longer distances at a fraction of the cost. Push2TV adapters will be sold separately and bundled with new Dell, Sony, and Toshiba Core i5 laptops in late January.

Kicking Wi-Fi performance up

Several dual-band 802.11n gigabit routers were on display at CES 2010, including the TrendNet TEW-673GRU ($150), D-Link DIR-665 ($160) and the Netgear WNDR3700 ($190). While 3x3 MIMO is becoming more common in consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers, some vendors are upping the ante with video delivery optimization and/or 4x4 MIMO.

Several Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors demonstrated video streaming over Wi-Fi using Cavium Networks PureVu video processors. Cavium's netHD reference design, based PureVu, provides H.264 video encode/decode for streaming at 1080p60 quality over 802.11n, Ethernet, or any other high-speed network with sub-frame latency.

Quantenna used 4x4 MIMO and dynamic explicit transmit beam forming to deliver an impressive "Triple Hundred" demo (100 Mpbs at 100 feet, 100 percent of the time) that streamed video over a mesh of 802.11n bridges. Two demo WLANs pushed ~150 Mbps of video apiece thru 40 MHz 5GHz pipelines. One sent three simulated UVerse streams to HDTVs in three rooms, roughly 50 feet away. The other sent a Blu-Ray DVD stream over an HDMI cable and a Cavium-encoded Wi-Fi connection, displaying images side-by-side on large-screen HDTVs 100 feet away. While the wired image was a bit more colorful, there was no disruption or discernable difference in the Wi-Fi image's clarity.

Celeno and Ralink announced the CL1800, an integrated 802.11n MAC/PHY baseband, dual band radio, and CPU system-on-a-chip (SoC) optimized for video distribution by residential gateways, multimedia home routers, set top boxes, DVRs, networked TVs, and wireless bridges. The CL1800 uses 3x3 MIMO and implicit transmit beam forming to support up to 8 concurrent HD video streams; specs claim 120Mbps throughput with zero packet errors throughout a typical home.

Netgear used side-by-side TVs during their press conference to illustrate transformation of SD video to near-HD quality, with visible reduction in network-induced graininess, noise, and artifacts. These optimizations are to be included in products later this year, including a Wireless-N bridge that uses 4x4 MIMO, dynamic beam forming, and 5GHz channels to "deliver multiple, jitter-free HD video and audio streams wirelessly." Guess where that Wi-Fi engine will sourced from? Quantenna.

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