CES: IPTV Dreams
It is easy to understand the appeal. The concept of television via Internet Protocol -- i.e., the notion of being able to flop down in front of the wide screen and find content old, new, borrowed, or blue on the Web with a few clicks of the remote -- speaks directly to our inner couch potato, which means it could one day form a huge market.
But in reality, the IPTV industry -- at least in the U.S. -- is still mostly talk not action, and several key elements need to fall into place before it can become reality. This became clear at Ruckus's demonstration of its IPTV-over-WiFi technology yesterday morning.
The firm has developed specialized 802.11g access points, front-ended with an antenna array to boost range and data transmission stability and speed, to stream TV content from service providers into the home and onto the various screens around the user's dwelling. In theory, stable, high-speed WiFi will make it significantly cheaper and easier to push multimedia to several TVs in the home. (See Ruckus: Causin' a Commotion?.)
The firm's demo, in a suite high in the Las Vegas Hilton, worked flawlessly, pushing three 10-Mbit/s streams -- including one HDTV transmission -- wirelessly over 1200 square feet of plush hotel rooms.
“It really works,” said Selina Lo, CEO of the startup, with what sounded like a hint of relief in her voice. Not all IPTV demonstrations go so well: Microsoft's attempt at a similar demo at Bill Gate's keynote last night fell flat on its face.
Still, the Ruckus demo made it clear that true multiple TV streams will require more horsepower than current WiFi standards can provide. Ruckus was using three 802.11g access points in the demo, one for each stream. Like the rest of the industry, Ruckus is waiting for the 108 Mbit/s-and-up 802.11n high-speed standard to take effect before wireless IPTV can really kick into gear.
”When 'n' comes we can do multiple streams,” says David Callisch, marketing director at Ruckus. The firm is working on launching a faster access point this year.
But the Mountain View, Calif.-based startup can do little by itself to overcome the real hurdles to IPTV in the U.S.: The lack of carrier services and the shortage of available devices that can encode and decode high-definition TV streams.
For the demo, Callisch says that Ruckus had to use digital content “that wasn't dependent on a carrier showing IPTV, because there's no IPTV in the U.S.”
The startup was also using a new Microsoft X-Box 360 to stream the HDTV stream to a wide-screen TV, because the game console is one of the few devices capable of handling high def at the moment, and the hot box is itself as rare as hen's teeth, at least for the moment.
”The hardest part of coming to CES was getting the 360,” says Callisch.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung