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The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, July 14 2020 @ 09:08 AM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine
Tuesday, July 14 2020 @ 09:08 AM EDT
The Paramus Post - Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine

New technology moves high-definition TV signals without wires

Bruce Watkins plops into a chair in front of a flat-screen, high-definition TV playing a DVD of "Ratatouille."

The only wire to the TV is the power cord - no coaxial cable, no DVD player hookups.

"You know that rat's nest of wires you usually have behind your TV," said Watkins, president and co-founder of Pulse-Link. "We got rid of all that."The crisp HD signal is streaming across the room at Pulse-Link's Carlsbad, Calif., headquarters wirelessly - using the company's silicon chips. The DVD player sits about 25 feet away behind a wall, highlighting that the company's technology doesn't need a direct line-of-sight to work.

Moving huge high-definition TV signals wirelessly turns out to be a tricky task. It took Pulse-Link eight years to develop chips capable of doing it. Now - with development finally completed - comes the hard part: getting the chips adopted in the marketplace.

Like many other home-networking companies, Pulse-Link is trying to find a home for its technology. The company, which has raised about $80 million in venture capital, has made some strides in that direction recently. Westinghouse Digital, the fifth-largest maker of flat-panel, liquid-crystal-display TVs, will roll out sets equipped with Pulse-Link's wireless video chips this year.

Westinghouse will first target commercial customers, such as bars and restaurants or companies that use digital TVs for signage. From there, Westinghouse and Pulse-Link hope the chips will earn their stripes and be expanded into the consumer market.

"We've been working for over two years with this technology, looking at integrating this into digital displays on the business-to-business side first," said John Araki, a vice president for Westinghouse Digital. "We're looking to validate this technology."

Home networking has been hyped for years, and dozens of companies have come up with various technologies to do it. San Diego's Entropic Communications makes chips that move content between devices via existing coaxial cable lines in the home.

With Entropic's chips, consumers could watch a show on the TV in their bedroom that was recorded earlier in the day on the digital video recorder in their living room - without having to haul the DVR to the bedroom TV.

Cable has emerged as the backbone for video home networks, analysts say, particularly among telephone companies such as Verizon that are now offering TV services. Many of these telephone companies are suspicious of whether wireless will really work for video, particularly high-definition video.

"They are making a significant capital investment rolling out these networks, and the last thing they need is for the customer to get frustrated because inside the home it doesn't work very well," said George West, president of West Technology Research in Mountain View, Calif.

Cable is "a good, conservative type of approach," West said. "But what you give up is some flexibility."

As flat-panels gain market share, more consumers are going to want flexibility, said analyst Frank Dickson of MultiMedia Intelligence in Phoenix.

He thinks cable might be a good solution for moving content from room to room. But when it arrives in the room with the TV, a wireless device might be better. He sees no reason why these systems can't coexist.

Pulse-Link's chips work over wires, such as coaxial cables or phone lines, as well as wirelessly. They also are relatively straightforward to integrate, Dickson said.

"What Pulse-Link allows is a system that's user friendly because it takes existing infrastructure and creates home networks," he said. "Granted, they are at the beginning of the adoption curve. The market has a long way to go and shake out. But they have some compelling technology."

One way Pulse-Link tries to set itself apart is by creating a fat pipe. The company's chips deliver multiple HD streams to different TV screens, Watkins said. It claims to be the fastest commercially available system.

Pulse-Link has 335 domestic or international patents issued or pending. It employs about 85 workers, mostly in Carlsbad. Much of its venture capital has come from overseas.

The company's co-founder and current chairman is Waddah Al Mousa, who is chief executive of a Kuwait-based holding company that invests in emerging technology and telecommunications companies.

Pulse-Link uses a technology called ultra-wideband. It has become an industry buzzword for speed, but actually refers to a radio frequency spectrum that is outside the typical narrow band realm in wireless communications.

The technology has been around for years. John Santhoff, co-founder and chief technical officer of Pulse-Link, first worked with ultra-wideband as a U.S. Air Force officer stationed in Europe in the 1980s. It was used in stealth radar to track spy planes flying over the former Soviet Union, he said. At the time, the ultra-wideband equipment filled a good-sized room.

Santhoff ran across the technology again in the late 1990s, when he was doing reserve duty. A soldier handed him a "brick phone" that used ultra-wideband. Santhoff took it apart and found that most of the components could be bought at any good electronics store.

"I'm sitting there thinking if they shrunk that room of equipment down into something like this, using off-the-shelf discrete components, what could I do if I made a custom microchip that integrated this technology," Santhoff said. "And that really is what led to the formation of Pulse-Link."

The company started in 2000. While ultra-wideband had been declassified, the federal government hadn't yet set up rules for how to use the spectrum. It took two years to become legal, longer than Watkins and Santhoff anticipated.

Today, ultra-wideband has mostly taken hold as a replacement for USB cables, so computers can link to printers without wires. Pulse-Link steered mostly clear of this market, however. Instead, it focused on using ultra-wideband to deliver video.

It wasn't an easy job. The company expected to have chips ready to ship by 2005. That didn't happen. It took until 2007 to get the first volume shipments out the door.

Today, Pulse-Link's steady focus on video has given it an edge over competitors, analysts said.

"They're a first mover on the video side," said Doug McEuen, senior analyst with ABI Research. "The data rate that ultra-wideband can sustain is very impressive and is very applicable to video. And the nature of ultra-wideband is you can use it in a crowded room and it works."


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