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
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
“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).
- 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.
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 3×3 MIMO is becoming more common in consumer-grade Wi-Fi routers, some vendors are upping
the ante with video delivery optimization and/or 4×4 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.
At a CES press event, visitors got a chance to handle the new Google Nexus One phone. Newer version of Android (2.0). Bigger touchscreen (3.7″). Faster CPU
(Qualcomm QSD 8250). But still only 802.11gb Wi-Fi.
An entire CES 2010 pavilion was dedicated to iPhone accessories and apps. Of course, Apple doesn’t make
announcements at CES, so we’ll have to wait for Apple’s own event to hear about the latest iCreation,
rumored to be a tablet. But since the iPhone 3GS already uses an 802.11n chip, albeit constrained to operate at
802.11bg rates, one might guess that Apple’s tablet will support 802.11n.
Other phones resorted to extremes to garner attention at CES 2010. For example, the Sonim XP3.2 Quest Pro ruggedized Symbian phone ($499, no
Wi-Fi) was shown operating while submerged under water. AT&T pledged to launch five new Android smartphones
from Dell, HTC and Motorola during 1H10. Windows Mobile was all but absent, except for the HTC HD2 (802.11bg, coming this spring to T-Mobile).
Wi-Fi on your lap
Among the 100+ e-Readers making a major splash at CES 2010 were the 11.5″ Skiff Reader, the 11″ Plastic Logic QUE ProReader (from $650, left), the 6″ and 10″ Samsung e101 (from $400), the EnTourage eDGe Dual-Book ($490),
the Android-based Spring Design Alex ($359), and the 6″ and 9″ DMC Copia (from $199).
Virtually all of these e-Readers come standard with 802.11bg and Bluetooth; upscale products offer embedded
3G as well. Today’s e-Readers are thin monochrome “e-ink” displays that are easy on the eyes.
Jockeying for market position, many e-Readers had unique angles – for example, the QUE ProReader
(below) can pull email and calendar data from Outlook, while the enTourage eDGe includes both a
conventional LCD and an e-ink display in a single clamshell.
Last year’s burgeoning crop of netbooks was joined this year by smartbooks and tablets, the latter
energized by Apple’s iPad, launched just this week. The most innovative products in this
crowded field included:
- The Freescale Smartbook Tablet ($199), a 7″
touchscreen running Android or Linux that can be docked with a keyboard base. For connectivity, the Freescale
comes standard with 802.11bgn and Bluetooth 2.1, with optional 3G and Zigbee RF4CE.
- The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid with Skylight ($999,
right), an ultra-thin 11.6″ clamshell with 3G, Bluetooth, and 802.11bgn that runs Windows 7 (on an
Intel CULV CPU) or Lenovo’s Skylight Linux OS (on a Qualcomm Snapdragon). The latter is used when the 1.6 lb
display is detached to become an independent multi-touch tablet.
During his keynote, Microsoft’s Steve Balmer demonstrated a trio of Windows 7 “slate PCs” from
Archos, Pegatron, and HP – basically, touch-screen tablets received by the audience with little
enthusiasm. Not to be outdone by purpose-built e-Readers, Balmer also demonstrated Blio eReader software, freely-available for Windows XP/Vista/7
Using Wi-Fi to unwire your home theater
The biggest audience draw at CES 2010 was 3D HDTV – yes, sitting on your couch wearing those silly
plastic (formerly cardboard) glasses to view stereoscopic effects. Every TV manufacturer at CES announced a
3D-capable line-up – in most cases requiring 3D content (of which there is now precious little), but in
some cases up-converting 2D content to 3D. Beyond 3D and display improvements like LED backlighting or
Sharp’s quad-pixel (4-color) technology, next generation TVs also differentiated themselves by being
According to In-Stat, Wi-Fi-enabled entertainment device shipments will grow from 108 million in 2009 to 177
million by 2013, with the shift from 802.11bg to 802.11n starting in earnest this year. For example, the Samsung UNC9000 is paired with an iPod-like touchscreen remote
control that communicates with the TV over Wi-Fi, as does the Wii-remote-like “Magic Wand” controller
paired with the LG LE9500. The Panasonic VT25 Plasma 3DTV and Sony Bravia LX900 HDTV both offer Skype video-calling.
App stores have also begun popping up on Internet-connected TVs to bring consumers their choice of content,
from streaming Netflix and Rhapsody to browsing Facebook and Twitter. Case in point: the Vizio XVT Pro series of HDTVs includes dual-band 802.11n to
support Vizio Internet Apps (VIA) – widgets that connect to the above services, plus Amazon, Blockbuster,
Showtime, and Vudu.
Perhaps the most impressive Internet-connected TV announced at CES was Toshiba’s CELL TV. Part 3D HDTV, part
DLNA-enabled media server, part high-performance PC, Toshiba’s new top-of-the-line integrates numerous home
theater components into a single device. This (display + server + soundbar) sports a 65″ (3840×2160)
high-luminance self-dimming LED screen, 2D-to-3D up-conversion, integrated media server and Blu-Ray player, 1 TB
HDD, multi-room and USB playback, wireless HDMI and 802.11n interfaces, and a built-in IP video phone. Media can
be streamed directly to the CELL TV over Wi-Fi from Windows 7 PCs and mobiles running proprietary Toshiba
Internet-connected, 802.11n-enabled home network media servers and set-top-boxes were also plentiful at CES
2010. Last year, Internet streaming was in. But this year’s products are making the process easier,
customizable, and interactive. For example:
- D-Link’s oddly-shaped Boxee Box (~$200) is a plug-and-play appliance that easily delivers Internet-based or PC-stored video and audio to
consumer TVs. The Boxee Box is a turn-key alternative to do-it-yourself Boxee software, which sophisticated
consumers can already install for free on Windows, Mac OS, and Unbuntu platforms.
- The Syabas PopBox ($129) is a 6×8″ set-top-box
designed to “play everything” on your big screen TV. In additional to local media, the PopBox can be
customized with widgets for third-party content. To do so, users download apps to the PopBox from a Popapps
Portal, selecting them from a library that currently includes Netflix, Photobucket, Shoutcast, Revision3,
Weatherbug, Twitter, and FunSpot.
Increasingly, these value-added services require not just the ability to stream media, but to support full
two-way Internet communication with apps on set-top-boxes, satellite TV receivers, and Blu-Ray players. To this
end, Alticast demonstrated its Java-based middleware
platform which makes it easier for manufacturers and service providers to quickly deliver their own custom
interactive Internet widgets.
Most of the home network entertainment products at CES focused on enabling Internet delivery of commercial
content – giving consumers more choice and control over what they watch and listen to, while creating new
revenue opportunities for content suppliers. But many products also delivered freely-available content, from
purpose-built Internet radios and YouTube-streaming DVRs to smartphone apps that cache IP radio for offline
One example in which Wi-Fi plays a role: The Open Mobile Video
Coalition, an association representing over 800 local TV stations, plans to broadcast mobile-optimized HDTV
channels for receipt by Mobile DTV-enabled devices. Over a dozen DTV receivers for laptops, netbooks,
cellphones, and portable TVs have been announced – including a mobile Wi-Fi adapter. The Tivit Mobile DTV receiver ($120,
right) is a battery-powered 2.8 ounce 2×3.5″ receiver that relays DTV signals to any one 802.11bg
client. The Tivit will support iPhone/iPod, BlackBerry, and Win32 player apps this spring.
Wi-Fi Printers, Peripherals, and Power
At CES 2010, Wi-Fi enabled surveillance cameras were not only smaller this year, but considerably easier to
deploy and use productively. For example:
- The Archerfish Solo ($399, right) is
billed as “the world’s first thinking camera.” This 4.5″ 4.4 oz device watches continuously
for designated events and then sends an alert (with a short video clip) to your mobile phone or mailbox. Video
can also be relayed over Ethernet or 802.11g to Archerfish’s Internet portal for real-time viewing,
persistent storage, and replay. The Solo’s claim-to-fame is motion-based recording that can reportedly send
real alerts (e.g., a person or car) without a lot of false positives (e.g., pets, wind-blown foliage).
- Those interested in easy deployment but not wedded to Wi-Fi might consider the Avaak Vue ($299), a self-forming proprietary 2.4 GHz
“personal video network” composed of tiny (2.9 x 1.0 x 2.1″) cameras that relay on-demand
real-time video through an Internet gateway to your iPhone. According to Avaak, a single camera battery can last
for an entire year if you only actually watch video 5-10 minutes/day. The starter kit of 2 cameras and gateway
are designed for a 3000 square foot home; additional cameras and repeaters can be purchased to extend coverage
Wi-Fi enabled printers have grown fairly common at CES. One eye-catcher: the Lexmark Pro805 ($399, left), a small office 4-in-1
printer with built-in 802.11n and color LCD touch screen. For those concerned with TCO, the printer’s $4.99
black ink cartridge enables 1 cent/page printing at speeds up to 33 ppm. For those impressed by bells and
whistles, the LCD GUI provides access to Internet data – for example, print your Google calendar by
tapping an icon. Additional apps can be downloaded from Lexmark’s website, including SDK-enabled third-party
apps in the future.
Last year’s Wi-Fi enabled digital photo frame frenzy appears to have subsided, but digital photo sharing
is still very much “in.” This year’s digital photography emphasis: speed and simplicity. Case in
point: Eye-Fi’s Pro X2 SD card ($150) steps up
to 802.11n while adding ease-of-use functions like drag-and-drop upload.
Powering all of these portable and mobile consumer electronics has also become big business. For example, Powermat made a splash last year by introducing wireless
chargers for smartphones. This year, Powermat introduced the 3X Netbook, a fold-able pad that
simultaneously charges a netbook and two other low-power devices (e.g., phones, MP3 players, Bluetooth headsets,
Over at Audiovox, a different kind of wireless power was
demonstrated: harnessing the energy of nearby Wi-Fi transmissions. The Airnergy ($49, available this summer) is
a 2×3″ device that was shown recharging BlackBerry Bold in 90 minutes. While some spectators were impressed, others argued that benefits must be over-stated, given that short-range microwaves don’t provide
enough power to be of much practical use. We’ll reserve judgment until review units become available.
Finally, CES just wouldn’t be as much fun without geeky, goofy, and occasionally downright dumb
electronic gadgets. Here are a few Wi-Fi enabled gadgets that caught our eye this year.
The Parrot AR.Drone ($TBD, right) is one of
the most attention-grabbing Wi-Fi gadgets demonstrated at CES 2010. This 52×52 cm hovercraft, available sometime
in 2010, will deliver up to 15 minutes of open air surveillance. The drone combines an ARM9 RISC CPU, side and
front-view cameras, gyroscope, accelerometer, and an 802.11bg radio. Wi-Fi is used by an iPhone or iPod touch to
“drive” the drone and receive live video feeds.
Among hundreds of iPhone/iPod apps on display at CES was the Viper SmartStart, an app that literally locks and unlocks your car over Wi-Fi or 3G. Just
download the free app, pony up $299 for a SmartStart-enabled car (or $499 for the add-on system), and you’ll
have keyless entry from your iPhone or iPod touch – accomplishing pretty much what those factory-supplied
keyless entry fobs have done for years, at no extra cost.
Although we focused our CES coverage on Wi-Fi, we couldn’t resist including this innovative Bluetooth
headset. The Hybra O.R.B. is a vibrating silver
ring that twists open to become a bond-conduction handsfree Class 2 Bluetooth headset with integrated e-ink
($129, right) or flexible organic LED ($179) display showing caller ID, text messages and calendar
reminders. Convenient and cool.
So there you have it: This year’s onslaught of Wi-Fi enabled consumer electronics. Faster, easier,
smarter, cheaper, and more interactive than ever before. We can hardly wait to see which of these announced
products will make it onto retail shelves – and what’s in store for Wi-Fi at CES 2011.
Bio: Lisa Phifer owns Core Competence, a consulting firm focused on business use of emerging network
and security technologies. A frequent contributor to Wi-Fi Planet, Lisa has been a bleeding-edge adopter of
network-enabled consumer electronics for over 25 years.