Going Wireless

David Colin, October 29, 2002
Portable Wireless Projectors

FLASHBACK - Sixteen months ago at INFOCOMM 2001 in Las Vegas (U.S. annual A/V trade show) a wireless presentation was demonstrated by Texas Instruments using a PLUS prototype projector, a notebook computer,

wireless presentation - courtesy of Texas Instruments
INFOCOMM 2001 - Wireless Presentation
using PDA and PLUS Prototype Projector
and a personal digital assistant (PDA) each equipped with Wi-Fi technology. To the amazement of all, a PowerPoint presentation was delivered wirelessly from a notebook and then a PDA.

Four months ago at this year's INFOCOMM, wireless exploded onto the scene when it took center stage for new technology offerings as Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Toshiba, NEC, Mitsubishi, Boxlight, Hitachi, PLUS, Sanyo, and Luxeon showed their offerings.

Gone was the smaller, lighter, cheaper, brighter focus of years past. Wireless projector solutions were everywhere, front and center and in private suites. The manufacturers clearly believe wireless has a future in projection. Perhaps the flood of wireless local area network (LAN) solutions in the PC industry is the reason.

If you're into home theater and you're hoping to solve your wiring problem with wireless, you probably need to cool your lamp. Piping high quality video through the air in real time without loss of quality is not here yet, but stay tuned as it's not far off. Work is being done to expand the performance of wireless services to cover data, video and audio. There are also some emerging technologies that may be better suited for home theater - read on.

If you're a mobile presenter, today's wireless projectors can lighten your travel load, reduce your setup time, and probably give your company the look of a leading edge organization. Furthermore, it can give you the wireless projector, laptop - courtesy of Sonyability to operate your computer anywhere within 150 feet of the projector.

If you want serious mobility, use a PDA equipped with wireless and run your presentation from your pocket while you walk freely around the room making eye contact with your audience. Hmmm, a "pocket presentation" - maybe it'll catch on.

If your need is the conference room, you can have a collaborative meeting among notebook and PDA users in the room without having to physically connect everyone. Meetings will never be the same.

If you're into education or training, you can share the projector with any computer in the classroom without "plugging" in, or drive multiple projectors from a single computer. Many of these new products offer password security that can be a deterrent to theft as the projector will not operate without the proper password.

Giving up the cable does have some drawbacks that will be overcome in the next few years. First, it's not full video or even streaming video, so forget about showing movies or training tapes. The primary focus of these early wireless solutions is data integrity and not temporal applications like voice and video.

Second, image refresh rates will vary based on image content and the quality of the signal between you and the projector. However, within 150 feet line-of-sight or shorter distances, if you're going through walls or objects, you can present computer generated material, browse the Internet, and follow the mouse without a problem.

What is this wireless technology you ask? Well it's not Bluetooth, which was designed for personal area networks (PAN) and delivers about a half a megabit per second (Mbps) within a range of 10 meters. It's Wireless Fidelity, widely know as Wi-Fi. This technology has been around for a couple of years in the computer market and arrived last year in the projector market.

wireless card - courtesy of Intel
Wi-Fi 802.11b PC Card
Wi-Fi 802.11b is currently the most popular wireless solution for projectors and small computer networks for home or office. It has a throughput capacity of 11 Mbps and an approximate range of 50 meters. Real data throughputs for all the wireless solutions are less than the capacity throughput due to communication overhead and synchronization issues. Wi-Fi 802.11b will deliver data at about 7 Mbps, which is more than 10 times the performance of Bluetooth.

Other Wi-Fi variants are 802.11a and 802.11g. Wi-Fi 802.11a is currently available in the computer market and we expect to see it or 802.11g in the projector market next year. The advantage of 802.11a and 802.11g is a 5 fold increase in data rate over 802.11b making them good enough for some streaming video applications. The downside is this higher performance also comes with a reduction in range. Wi-Fi 802.11g will be the easier upgrade and therefore the more likely candidate for the next generation of wireless projectors.

HomeRF 1.0 is another wireless technology that offers twice the performance of Bluetooth, but has failed to live up to expectations. HomeRF 2.0 increased that performance to slightly less than Wi-Fi 802.11b and may have restored new life to HomeRF. This technology is trying to address a variety of wireless needs in the home including phones, audio, video, data, gaming and home appliances. HomeRF 3.0, although not yet available, is expected to offer half the performance of 802.11a and 802.11g. It is unclear what wireless standard will win the minds and hearts of home users, but the battle will likely be won in the cable/modem and consumer electronics market. Like the Beta versus VHS wars of years past, time to market and cost drive consumer decisions.

Perhaps the mother lode of wireless may be Ultra Wideband (UWB) with the first chip sets spec'd to deliver a maximum of 100 Mbps (about 10 times the performance of Wi-Fi 802.11b), but with a more limited range. These early offerings will more than satisfy the current needs including video such as MPEG-2HD. You can expect the first consumer products using this technology by Christmas 2003. It will probably appear in the form of a DVD player using the new MPEG-2HD format for high definition.

UWB will provide the kind of performance that could solve the wiring installation problems associated with home theater, education, and corporate users. Its fundamentally an inexpensive technology that requires less power than current technologies, so it has the potential to be integrated into a lot of products where mobility or connectivity are issues. It also avoids the radio frequency (RF) interference problems associated with other wireless devices because it is not an RF technology.

The actual data rate and range of all these wireless solutions will depend heavily on the environment in which they're used. The numbers mentioned are typical performance. Base your purchase decisions on your needs and not the technology.

We will take a look at a few of these wireless projector offerings over the next few months as many of these products begin to make it to the market. Check out the current list of wireless projectors, or do your own search through Find Projectors.

The first three products being reviewed are the Sony VPL-PX15, NEC LT260, and the Toshiba TLP-T501.

For those interested in further reading on this subject try the links below: