High-def over IPTV: How fast, and how soon?

Amid a frenzy of pre-CES activities in New York City this week, chipmaker DS2 drew more than a bit of attention to itself by demoing new technology for delivering 400 Mbps video to home networks.

But with competing technologies also clamoring to bring video to your living room, kitchen, and elsewhere in your home at much higher speeds - for actual HDTV display - why would you want to buy a box from NetGear or D-Link based on DS2's silicon?

At a well attended press conference in Manhattan one morning this week, as well as a crowded pre-CES press expo later that day, DS2 officials indicated that their play in the video delivery market is based on a mix of economics and ease of use.

Jorge Blasco, Ph.D., DS2's president and CEO, admitted that network and home video equipment utilizing DS2's 400 Mbps chips won't be delivering video at HDTV-capable rates in the near future - although, as he rightly pointed out, opinions differ over how much bandwidth HDTV really requires. But Blasco also vowed that DS2 will ultimately raise its speeds enough to throw itself into the HDTV ring.

Meanwhile, the 400 Mbps technology due out next spring will be twice as fast as DS2's existing 200 Mbps chips, according to Blasco. Officials also maintained that, by means of a series of innovations which make better use of existing bandwidth, DS2's 200 Mbps chips bring much higher throughput than competing silicon from vendors such as AMD.

British Telecom (BT), for example, is already using DS2's 200 Mbps silicon to deliver video over ADSL to UK customers, according to the CEO. Other European customers of Spanish-based DS2 include Telefonica, Telecom Portugual, and Scandinavian-based Telia Sonera, to name a few. Some of the European service providers are getting set for trials of DS2's new 400 Mbps alternative.

Meanwhile, at least one large telecom provider in the US will soon start testing DS2's 200 Mbps technology on this continent, according to Begoña Sachez Esquibel, a customer support engineer at DS2.

Moreover, for home networking, the wired (as opposed to wireless) DS2 technology affords much more consistent data rates than 802.11n Wi-Fi, for instance, Blasco contended.

The powerline alternative

European service providers are primarily using DS2 in conjunction with a type of cabling dubbed powerline. For the benefit of US customers, DS2 plans to make its 400 Mbps technology available on coax, a variety of wiring which is both relatively inexpensive and quite ubiquitous throughout North America.

The DS2 chips provide for video delivery only, relying on network service providers to compress the video with the use of codecs, according to Biasco. DS2 officials maintained that video delivery speeds will get a huge boost when more suppliers adopt MPEG-4 in place of MPEG-2 compression.

DS2's video delivery technology is already being used, in some form or another, in hardware from manufacturers that include NetGear, D-Link, Comtrend, Buffalo, and others.

Yet even terms such as "200 Mbps" and "400 Mbps" can be misleading. Using DS2's technology, throughput for a 200 Mbps connection is considerably lower, officials admitted. Further, when multiple devices are attached to the home network, the throughput available for use by each device can drop a lot.

Pre-gauging the consumer uptake for HD wiring

Meanwhile, several other vendors used this week's pre-CES press shindig in New York - an event held annually about two months before the real CES event in Las Vegas each January - to talk up products touted as already fully capable of supporting HDTV resolution.

Beyond increasingly common HDTV hardware such as TV sets and video displays, now available from so many vendors, Optoma previewed a video projector, designed to support high-end 1080P HDTV video, Optimum will officially announce the new projector - which will carry pricing of $2,599 - at CES in Las Vegas, said Nancy Beckmann, Optoma's East Coast retail sales manager.

At the other end of the hall, a company known as HDMI Licensing, LLC discussed the pros and cons of HDMI wiring. Complying with the HDMI digital interface standard, HDMI wiring reportedly supports transmission speeds of up to 6 Gbps.

These days, just about all new HDTV devices come with inputs for HDMI, as well as for coax and other types of wiring, said Steve Venuti, HDMI Licensing's vice president of marketing. But Venuti told BetaNews that many consumers remain confused over exactly what to do with those jacks in the back.

On the down side, however, HDMI wiring only works well over distances of about 50 feet, according to Venuti. Venuti added that he knows of no such distance limitation for coax. Also, to get the full benefits of HDMI, you'll need a reliable high-speed transport coming in on the service provider end. Interoperability among various devices won't hurt a bit, either.

Not entirely coincidentally it seems, also at CES, HDMI Licensing partner Simplay Labs LLC plans to announce a series of educational and interoperability program offerings around HDMI, said Debbie Bruce, Simplay's marketing program manager.

But to help ease implementation of video over ADSL for customers, while keeping costs down, British Telecom is offering a package that includes DS2-enabled hardware, all necessary wiring, and a picture-intensive self-help manual to its customers in the UK, according to Blasco.

Home customers can install the home video equipment for the equivalent in UK pounds of about $60 USD. In contrast, UK customers that want to get a BT technician to their homes shell out the equivalent of around $200 USD, he said.

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