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Wireless rivals vie to replace IR remotes

Posted: 04 May 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Bluetooth 3.0  RF4CE  Unicast Connectionless Data 

The recently ratified Bluetooth 3.0 specification not only boosts the wireless interface's speed to 25 Mbits per second. The spec also defines a new function called Unicast Connectionless Data (UCD), putting it in direct competition with RF4CE, the wireless remote control specification that merged last month with the Zigbee Alliance efforts to replace infrared remote controls.

While the rival interfaces were originally designed for different applications, TV makers will have to choose between them.

Bluetooth was considered too power hungry and its latency too high for remote controls, burning through a set of batteries in three months and delaying a second or more before registering a button push. However, the new UCD functionality in the 3.0 spec extends battery life to about four years and lowers Bluetooth's latency to milliseconds.

UCD "allows you to keep Bluetooth in sleep mode most of the time, to conserve battery life. Then when a key is pressed on the remote, rather than set up a formal Bluetooth connection with all the handshaking associated with establishing a connection, it just sends the data about the key over to the host and goes back to sleep—which is why its called connectionless," said Steve McIntyre, senior product line manager for wireless personal area networking products at Broadcom.

Using Bluetooth 3.0 also enables additional capabilities for high-end TVs not possible with RF4CE, proponents claims, such as hi-fi audio transmissions, network access to download TV schedules for display on the remote, push-picture for automatically uploading digital camera pictures to a TV and integration with Wi-Fi for transmitting high-bandwidth audio and video using a peer-to-peer connection controlled by Bluetooth commands.

Bluetooth 3.0 also allows cell phones with music players to be virtually docked to TVs so that media played on a handheld device streams to TV speakers.

The best example of successfully using Bluetooth for handheld wireless controllers is the Wii game controller, according to Broadcom, which crafted a customised UDC version for Wii maker Nintendo, allowing Wii to tune Bluetooth for very low latency and long battery life. Those special modifications have been included in the latest Bluetooth 3.0 spec.

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