Philips Offers Draft N Video

The chipmaker that said it was the first to show 802.11n wireless transporting multiple high-definition television (HDTV) streams at once is now happy to report that its chips will find a home in consumer electronics like set-top boxes (STBs) .

Royal Philips Electronics (Philips) of the Netherlands picked the WLANPlus chip from Israel’s Metalink to provide high-speed wireless support in future products from and powered by Philips Connected Home. The chips are “Draft N” in that they support the 1.0 draft of the 802.11n specification, which is not due for final ratification for well over a year.

Ron Cates, Vice President of North American Sales and Marketing for Metalink, says, “Philips has evaluated a bunch of partners for Wi-Fi connectivity and has selected Metalink as a long term strategic partner. This gets us into set-top boxes and lets us co-develop products for the future. It’s more than a design win. It’s a strategic relationship. Their semiconductor arm will work with us on reference designs for wireless consumer electronics devices in general, and there may be some intellectual property transfer. We’re investigating a whole host of business models that would let us work together.”

Philips expects to build the WLANPlus into reference designs for digital TVs, STBs and digital media adapters. They should be available to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) by the final quarter of 2006.

Metalink takes the stance that the current Draft N version of WLANPlus, despite having everything inside required by the nascent standard, can’t guarantee upgradeability to the final 11n specification. Cates says customers that don’t require interoperability with third-party products can rest easy with the performance they get today if they take it into production.

Cates thinks the 11n standard will be closer to a complete draft by November of this year. “That’s when we anticipate the standard draft will have incorporated all the relevant comments that could change the hardware,” he says. “If we’re wrong, and more changes come later, we’ll do that. We’re committed to the standard.”

The WLANPlus, unlike many other Draft N chips, runs in the 5GHz frequency, giving it compatibility with the existing 802.11a spec. Most other Draft N chips currently available stick to 802.11b/g’s 2.4GHz band, as 11b/g is the more popular standard for home networks, not to mention non-networking products using 2.4. 11a, with little in the way of competing products in the band, is considered by many to be superior for use in wireless video streaming.  

Philips has a booth this week at Computex in Taiwan, where it is showing the WLANPlus in an STB.

Cates says Metalink believes that “2007 is going to be the year of 11n— the video distribution aspect in particular.”

Airgo Networks, an arch-rival to many of the companies currently touting their Draft N chips, last week announced that its own MIMO chips — multiple in, multiple out (MIMO) tech is the backbone of 802.11n — are going to be used in STBs designed by STMicroelectronics. It’s using the current Airgo 3rd Generation chips, which eschew the 11n draft as too early to support, and thus are already in production STBs from OEMs like Caton of China.

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