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Will HDMI extend to mobile world?

Posted: 14 Jan 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:HDMI  DisplayPort  DTV 

Silicon Image Inc. has rolled out technology and chips to bring its high-end wired HDMI to mobile devices including digital cameras, portable media players and cellphones. Whether HDMI can extend its dominance in DTVs to the mobile world was an open question at last week's Consumer Electronics Show.

The new option comes at a time when consumer companies are experimenting with a broad range of wireless options including Wi-Fi, UWB and 60GHz radios for their 2009-class products. In addition, a future variant of version 3.0 of wired USB aims to link DTVs and mobile devices.

Jumble of alternatives
With new alternatives still jumping into the ring, it's unclear what approach will become the primary video highway between TVs and other devices in the digital home.

Silicon Image will start sampling in February chips for its Mobile High Definition Link. MHL pares down the three Transition Minimised Differential Signaling channels in a standard HDMI connection to just one. A streamlined transmitter is embedded in the mobile device and a full HDMI bridge chip is put in a separate wired cradle the OEM would have to design.

The result is a 2.25Gbit/s link consuming 60mW average on the mobile device and running over five pins that can be mapped to any existing connector on the device. It aims to carry up to full 1080-progressive video encrypted with HDMI's High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).

Silicon Image is not announcing costs of the chips, which will be in production in late 2008. However it did say total costs would be about the same as a full HDMI link on a TV. OEMs will have to pay the standard Rs.1.58 (4 cents) per port HDMI royalty, and pass compliance tests at existing HDMI certification facilities.

The MHL work is based on an earlier design from Silicon Image called UDI originally aimed at PCs and notebooks. Computer makers decided to go their own route, developing the DisplayPort specification in the Video Electronics Standards Association.

Application targets
Silicon Image has been selling low-power versions of its HDMI chips into high-resolution video cameras for two years. MHL marks a significant expansion of that effort aiming for design wins in media players and cameras in 2008 and in cellphones as early as 2009.

Long term, MHL plays into a broader initiative quietly in the works at the company to define a Personal Entertainment Network. Both PEN and MHL are attempts to leverage the company's success in DTVs where as many as 10 crore systems use HDMI today, a number expected to rise to as much as 25 crore by the end of 2010.

"MHL is not part directly of our PEN initiative, but it complements it," said Stevan Eidson, a director of product marketing for the MHL chips. "PEN is moving along fine, but I would not expect to see devices [based on it] in 2008," he added.

Separately the USB Implementer's Forum will roll out in 2008 a variant of USB designed to move compressed HD video between displays and mobile devices. The group claims the technology will be complementary to HDMI, which typically carries uncompressed video.

A spokesman for the USB group said developers could layer HDMI's HDCP encryption on top of the new USB variant. No other details were available about the effort.

Tech demos
At CES, Samsung demonstrated An HD camcorder and TV communicating over the wireless USB version of UWB. The company said it will use wireless USB in products broadly next year. In its product lineup for 2008, however, Samsung rolled out a digital camera and camcorder using wired HDMI to link to a DTV.

Panasonic and Toshiba showed separate demos of 60GHz radios linking TVs and home servers to carry uncompressed HDMI signals using an FPGA version of technology from startup SiBeam. For its part, Sony showed a TV using a variant of Wi-Fi from startup Amimon. None of the OEMs were ready to commit to using the technologies in shipping products.

Separately Panasonic also showed a demo of a digital camera with embedded Wi-Fi. Sony showed a demo of whole-home video coverage using 802.11g and proprietary directional antennas it has developed.

Some analysts and OEMs said MHL is expensive and far ahead of consumer demand.

"Have you priced an HDMI cable recently? The cheapest one I found was Rs.1,973.92 ($50)," said Will Strauss., principal of Forward Concepts, suggesting it could take three years to lower costs to make MHL widespread.

"USB makes a lot more sense in cellphones due to the costs and royalties" of HDMI, Strauss said. However, TV makers are backing HDMI, not USB, he added.

Camera makers are more focused on creating USB cradles to link to printers and PCs for mainstream devices not yet ready for high definition, said a camera engineer who asked not to be named. "Its not clear right now there's any market pull for this. Connectivity to a TV is not the highest priority right now," he said.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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