Wireless HD is the New Front in a Standards War

This winter holiday season, visitors to Best Buy will be able to purchase televisions and DVD players with the ability to transmit wireless video in high definition. But before getting too excited about dumping your cords, you should know that there are currently four different ways one can watch wireless HD, and it’s unlikely all of them will be built into consumer devices.

That’s right, the variety of wireless HD technologies are sowing the seeds of a new standards war. And standards wars stink. Whether between Blu-Ray and HD DVD or the varying shades of Ultra-Wideband technologies, when the fight centers on technologies, consumers lose. This year, SiBeam, a company participating in the WirelessHD standard operating in the 60 GHz band, plans to have products on shelves, as does a UWB vendor. Products based on the third standard, known as WHDI, are expected to be on shelves this winter as well.

Device makers have yet to choose a standard, so it’s hard to say which technologies — and related startups — will win out. It’s theoretically possible that multiple technologies could win, but in the cutthroat world of consumer electronics, spending an extra $20 to $50 for a second or third chipset in every video creation and playback device is hard to justify.

So which standard will prevail? Tandhoni Rao, founder and VP of strategy at Radiospire, a startup using the spectrum allotted for Ultra-Wideband to deliver wireless HD without compression, says that when it comes to conflicting standards, his company is thinking ahead. It’s working with UWB spectrum because it’s a known quantity, and because it was easier to develop chipsets that work in the spectrum between 3.1 GHz and 10.6 GHz for UWB rather than at the 60 GHz range. However, he says the AirHook standard proposed by Radiospire for HD video delivered over UWB would mesh well with 60GHz.

In areas outside of the U.S., the UWB spectrum isn’t always available, making Radiospire’s solution less ideal for a global market. The WirelessHD standard for 60 GHz is available in most countries for delivering HD video without compression, giving that technology an edge. However, WirelessHD at 60 GHz competes against Wi-Fi, which is one of the most ubiquitous standards out there. With Wi-Fi, the biggest challenge will be figuring out a way to deliver HD video without compression.

The outlier will be the WHDI standard offered by Amimon. It uses unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band to deliver uncompressed HD video over a WiFi-like signal around the home, and should have a product out through Belkin in September.

So before you give the gift of a wireless HD-enabled product, remember all the battles that have yet to be won.