As we close out the second day of 2009’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Wi-Fi continues to play a major role, from the chip level to consumer devices. Among today’s highlights, several Broadcom announcements, with an emphasis on Bluetooth; Sony releases a Wi-Fi-enabled camera with browser; and Sharp’s AQUOS XS1 TVs means you’ll never have to yell, “Can you turn that thing down?” again.
I want my Wi-Fi TV
Broadcom said Thursday that it has become the first silicon vendor to integrate Wi-Fi and video chipset platforms, “paving the way for the next generation of connected digital televisions (DTVs), Blu-ray Disc players, and cable/satellite/IPTV set-top boxes (STBs).”
Since 802.11n draft 2 is currently the only wireless technology with potentially sufficient bandwidth, coverage, and quality of service (QoS) for multimedia applications, the arrival of efficient Wi-Fi chipsets is good news to the vendors looking to build those consumer devices home users are expected to begin clamoring for in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
“Adding Wi-Fi to video display products provides convenient access to media content located throughout the home and enables consumers to leverage broadband connections for IPTV services on devices that are not located near a DSL or cable modem,” said Kurt Scherf, Vice President and Principal Analyst, Parks Associates in a Broadcom release Thursday. “As video equipment manufacturers strive to keep up with demand for these wireless features, it makes sense for them to choose solutions that integrate proven connectivity technologies into their existing platforms.”
Broadcom Corporation also announced Thursday a new single-chip Wi-Fi router solution that it says increases performance by a factor of four. Designed for entry-level Wi-Fi routers, the new Broadcom BCM5356 chip will allow home users to wirelessly transfer digital video between PCs, TVs, and set-top boxes (STBs) in different rooms, stream music to remote speakers, and send photos to wireless printers or digital picture frames, says Broadcom.
Keeping with this year’s “green” trend, the new chip is also optimized with features that reduce power consumption. By using 65 nm CMOS process technology, Broadcom says the chip consumes 25 percent less power over previous 802.11g solutions. It also features a “Green Wi-Fi Mode” that “reduces a router’s overall power consumption by dynamically adjusting system parameters, based on the router’s typical usage patterns.”
Since size matters, the BCM5356 was also engineered to require fewer external components, which, says Broadcom, “enables extremely small router designs and can reduce the total system cost by up to 33 percent versus previous 802.11g designs.” It also potentially decreases the amount of metal and ceramic material that is used to build a Wi-Fi router.
The BCM5356 integrates an 802.11 media access controller (MAC) and baseband, a 2.4 GHz radio, a 333 MHz MIPS 74K CPU core, a five-port Fast Ethernet switch and physical layer (PHY) device, and several options for system memory interfaces. It also integrates the same CMOS power amplifier that has already shipped in millions of Broadcom-chip-based devices.
According to Broadcom, approximately 60 percent of today’s retail Wi-Fi routers are basic models that use older WLAN technologies, such as 802.11g, enhanced G, and pre-standard MIMO. Ever mindful of consumers’ weakening wallets, Broadcom says routers based on its new chipset can deliver higher-end performance at lower-end price points.
“Routers based on the BCM5356 will allow Wi-Fi users to upgrade the wireless experience throughout their home without breaking the bank,” said Satish Ganesan, Product Manager for Broadcom’s WLAN line of business. “Broadcom continues to drive down the cost of retail Wi-Fi products by achieving new levels of silicon and system integration. At the same time, we are raising the performance bar to support the most demanding wireless applications in the most cost-effective way.”
The BCM5356 solution also includes Broadcom’s Accelerange technology, which uses space time block coding (STBC), and other strategies to provide reduce dead zones and improve the coverage of single-stream Wi-Fi devices, such as mobile phones.
Long in the Bluetooth
According to ABI Research, Bluetooth will be built into nearly two-thirds of laptops by 2010—and Broadcom intends to lead the way. “As the market continues to grow, Broadcom is expanding its position as a leading supplier of Bluetooth for the PC industry, with key designs with nine of the top 10 PC OEMs,” said Broadcom in a statement today.
Calling it an “industry first,” Broadcom got the Bluetooth ball rolling this week at CES by demonstrating an alternative MAC and PHY (AMP) technology that enables Bluetooth to support data rates of up to 24 Mbps, as well as an increase in range, by using other wireless radio technologies, including Wi-Fi, as its transport medium.
The Bluetooth AMP technology is being demonstrated using the Broadcom BCM4325 single-chip Bluetooth + Wi-Fi combo device, as well as modules that integrate the BCM2046 single-chip Bluetooth solution and BCM4312 single-chip Wi-Fi device.
“Our unique position as a leader in both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth has enabled us to take leadership in applications that require multiple technologies to work well together in the same device, such as Bluetooth AMP,” said Robert Rango, Senior Vice President & General Manager of Broadcom’s Wireless Connectivity Group in a statement Thursday. “We look forward to our continued collaboration with the Bluetooth SIG in moving Bluetooth forward.”
The first AMP technology target for Bluetooth is 802.11g, which Broadcom says could increase Bluetooth transfer rates by up to ten times when compared to standard or enhanced data rate (EDR) Bluetooth.
“Broadcom’s AMP demonstration of Bluetooth running over an 802.11 link highlights the new opportunities for expansion of the consumer electronics applications being driven by the evolving Bluetooth standard,” said Mike Foley, Executive Director of the Bluetooth SIG in a statement Thursday. “Technologies, such as Bluetooth AMP and other key upgrades available in the forthcoming ‘Seattle’ launch will ensure growing applications for the future.” (“Seattle” is the code name for the current draft of the next Bluetooth specification, which is expected to be ratified by the end of the year.)
Broadcom is also demonstrating Bluetooth AMP within its InConcert module and single-chip devices, built using the BCM4325 combo chip and BCM2046 and BCM4312 discrete solutions. Designed to allow wireless devices to collaboratively co-exist within the same radio frequency, InConcert technology provides products enabled with Broadcom Bluetooth and Wi-Fi chips the ability to intelligently share the 2.4 GHz frequency range, synchronizing transmissions to maximize throughput and performance for both standards.
The TVs have it
Broadcom and Sharp announced today that Sharp is now shipping its new AQUOS XS1 series of digital televisions with built-in Bluetooth from Broadcom. The BCM2046 single-chip Bluetooth receiver is built-in to both the television and the remote control, which means the remote control can be used from almost anywhere in the house. No line-of-sight required for Bluetooth (a radio technology). For those of us who remember when you had to get up and turn a dial to change the channel or lower the volume, the idea that you can now do these things from another room—without hollering at someone else to do it for you—is fairly revolutionary. (What’s next, flying cars?)
Bluetooth can also be used as a media transfer interface. In other words, the digital television can receive and display images sent via your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. And, if that weren’t enough cool stuff, the Bluetooth means it’s possible to listen to the TV over multiple wireless stereo headsets.
Am I Bluetooth
Broadcom also unveiled today a new version of its single-chip BCM2070 Bluetooth 2.1 chip designed to reduce PC manufacturing costs by up to 30 percent, it says. Also announced, new IT Manager software that allows network administrators to control Bluetooth usage in secure enterprise environments.
The new version of the BCM2070 offers serial flash memory.
The new IT Manager software, a component of Broadcom’s BTW Bluetooth software, provides centralized control of Bluetooth applications and, says Broadcom, closes the security holes that have hindered Bluetooth adoption in enterprise notebooks. The latest release of Broadcom Bluetooth software, BTW 6.2, was selected as a finalist for the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) “Best of CES” award, with winners to be announced at this week.
Sony announced Thursday “the world’s first Wi-Fi digital camera with Web browser.” Sony’s Wi-Fi picture frame (reviewed by Wi-Fi Planet in November) was disappointing, as have been most of the Wi-Fi-enabled cameras we’ve seen, so we’re hoping the Cyber-shot DSC-G3 ($500) outshines its current competition.
Sony says the DSC-G3 makes it easy to upload images and video directly to popular photo and video sharing sites wherever a Wi-Fi connection is available.
“Research shows that our customers greatly value sharing images and video clips, but they often forget or don’t have enough time if they wait to get home to upload images,” said Phil Lubell, director of digital camera marketing at Sony Electronics in a statement Thursday. “Our new Cyber-shot DSC-G3 camera provides the simplicity and convenience of sharing in the moment, while the impulse is still fresh in people’s minds.”
The new digicam includes free AT&T Wi-Fi access to Sony’s Easy Upload Home Page until Jan. 31, 2012. (AT&T expanded its hotspot network in November when it acquired Wayport.)
The use of an “Easy Upload Home Page,” may solve some of the usability issues encountered by competitors, such as Panasonic.
The DSC-G3 is available in black, features a 3.5-inch LCD screen, and supports DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) guidelines, which means it can connect to DLNA-compatible devices, such as Sony BRAVIA TVs via access points for playback, or Sony VAIO PCs for storage, viewing, or editing.
The 10-megapixel camera sports a slim design and includes a 4X optical zoom Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, Sony’s Face Detection technology and other standard Cyber-shot features. It ships with an impressive 4GB of internal memory and supports Memory Stick media cards for removable storage.
Stay tuned for a review.