Sony’s 40-inch ZX-1 LCD HDTV practically confirmed with WHDI

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Consumer electronics giants are decoupling TV tuner and media receiver units from HDTV displays, thus launching the first round of a wireless home network struggle focusing on simple, two-way HD wireless connectivity between display and tuner.

With ultrawideband technology losing its steam, the wireless contest is narrowing to SiBeam’s Wireless HD running at 60 GHz and Amimon’s Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI) running at 5 GHz, with Amimon’s proprietary wireless technology grabbing the first big design-win for commercial products.

Next Monday (Nov. 10), when Sony Corp. rolls out in Japan an ultrathin 40-inch LCD HDTV called Bravia ZX-1, the Japanese consumer electronics giant will be relying on Amimon’s proprietary wireless HD technology to wirelessly transmit and receive audio and video signals between ZX-1’s display unit and its tuner.

Sony separated the ZX-1’s tuner from the display so that the LCD TV display can be as slim as 9.9 mm.

This is a big win for Israel-based Amimon and the company’s proposed WHDI format. The win comes as several competing wireless contenders, including ultrawideband, 60-GHz radios and other twists on the 802.11 standards have been fighting the wireless connectivity battle with no clear winner on the horizon.

Speculation about Amimon’s design win in Sony’s ZX-1 started this summer. But it was only during a recent interview with EE Times here that, Yoav Nissan-Cohen, chairman and CEO of Amimon, confirmed the design win.

“I am not going to deny it,” he said.

A Sony spokesman in Japan reached by EE Times Japan on Tuesday (Nov. 4), said, “We will not officially disclose the [wireless connectivity]format.”

But the Japanese spokesman described the wireless technology used in Bravia ZX-1 in telling detail. He noted, for example, that it “runs on 5 GHz,” wirelessly transmitting “uncompressed video for a distance of 20 to 30 meters.” It’s capable of up to 1080-progressive HD video input, but video is “converted into 1080i for wireless transmission,” he added.

Technical specs listed by Sony point to a single answer: Amimon’s wireless technology inside the ZX-1.

Pre-standard spec

Amimon’s transmitter and receiver chips inside Sony’s ZX-1 are based on what Amimon’s CEO calls “pre-standard WHDI.” It is not compliant with the emerging WHDI spec.
The WHDI group, spear-headed by Amimon with active participation from Hitachi Ltd., Motorola Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., and Sony, will issue the summary of the WHDI 1.0 spec by the end of this year. “It’s almost done,” said Amimon’s CEO.

The new spec will include a much more complex version of Consumer Electronic Control (CEC) technology used in HDMI, enabling WHDI to address not just a one-to-one connectivity but also a “multi-point to multi-point” connectivity, he explained.

Full documentation of the WHDI spec will become available in the first quarter of 2009.
In contrast, the Wireless HD Consortium, headed up by SiBeam, completed its Wireless HD spec in January, 2008. The group is currently developing compliance testing procedures.
While no commercial HDTV sets featuring SiBeam’s Wireless HD chips have reached the market yet, Panasonic and Toshiba at the CEATEC consumer electronics show in Japan revealed that they are well on their way to integrating a Wireless HD reference board featuring SiBeam’s chips in their new digital TV sets.

But there are no assurances that Sony’s Bravia ZX-1 using Amimon’s pre-standard WHDI chips will be a huge commercial hit. The model, priced roughly at$5,000, will be launched this Christmas season both in Japan and Europe, but not in the United States.

The real wireless connectivity battle will heat up when both camps come out with volume products using solutions compliant to the respective consortium’s spec.

Amimon’s Nissan-Cohen believes the fight is far from over. To succeed in the consumer electronics market, one needs a solution “that will work 99.99 percent of the time,” he said. “This is very challenging. It’s easy to say that it works. But it’s hard to guarantee it works all the time.”

Amimon’s second-generation chip set

According to Nissan-Cohen’s, the rule works to Amimon’s advantage, especially when the company rolls out the second generation chip set.
The company’s new devices will be upgraded to support full 1080-progressive video resolutions over 40-MHz bandwidth, compared to 1080i over 20-MHz bandwidth supported in the previous generation chip set.

The new version, currently in development in parallel with the WHDI spec, will “improve the quality significantly,” said Nissan-Cohen. “Our wireless link won’t break and it shows no white noise.”

But the most notable feature is its ability to detect radar for dynamic frequency selection (DFS) channels. If it detects radar, it backs off. Thus the feature effectively doubles the available bandwidth our chips can use, explained Amimon’s CEO. The new chip set can operate in five channels in parallel, supporting wireless connectivity with five TV sets in one room, for example, he explained.

Amimon’s new RF chip will be fabricated by using IBM Microelectronics’ Silicon-Germanium (SiGe) technology, while the new baseband chip will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. The previous chip set used a separate microprocessor by STMicroelectronics to manage audio video controls, but the new baseband chip will integrated MIPS’ core to handle the job.

Amimon’s new chip set will be taped out this month. Its sampling starts in the first quarter, 2009, with its volume production slated for the third quarter, 2009, according to Amimon.

—Shinko Maekawa, editor of EE Times Japan, contributed to this report.

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