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Will TV or set-top boxes support Wi-Fi in the future?

Do you know if TV or set-top box manufacturers are planning to support Wi-Fi in the near future? Could Wi-Fi be used to transmit quality video streams?

Set-top box manufacturers are indeed very interested in wireless transports for A/V distribution within home networks. Digital video requires 3-20 Mbps, depending upon quality. Transmission over 802.11b is possible, but 802.11a is a better candidate for video streaming.

Upcoming 802.11e QoS standards will also help to improve the quality of video over wireless by letting WLAN operators prioritize traffic into classes of service and establish direct flows between sending and receiving devices on the same BSS.

Set-top manufacturers are hoping that their set-top boxes become residential multi-media gateways, combining data and video reception, recording, and distribution within the home. For example:

  • Motorola's Broadband Media Center (BMC) 9000 is a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) that works with Motorola's DCT2000 set-top box, distributing content to TVs throughout the home over coaxial cable or wireless LANs.
  • Sharp's "Smart Link" wireless digital video system uses 802.11b to send digital video signal from video sources (DVD, VCR, or PVR players) to receiving devices (in this case, Sharp's AQUOS Liquid Crystal TV).
  • Scientific Atlanta's Explorer 4200 Home Gateway combines cable modem and analog/digital tuner features in a single box, providing in-home video distribution over USB, Ethernet, 802.11b, or HomeRF wireless.

These are just a few examples. Note that these companies represent markets that were once distinct -- set-top boxes, video recorders, home entertainment systems, and residential broadband gateways. Set-top boxes have been promising to become bigger, badder, and better for nearly a decade now. However, increasing popularity of PVRs, falling 802.11 prices, and growing cable modem deployment may finally create a real consumer market for "all in one" set-top boxes. It will be interesting to see who wins this competition for the home consumer ? the PVR companies that understand video storage, the set-top companies that have established relationships with CATV providers, or the broadband gateway companies that understand IP networking.

This was last published in November 2002

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