2008: The Year of the Wireless Monitor

At the beginning of the year, we speculated that wireless monitors might finally become a reality this year. Walk around the display section of your local computer superstore and you’ll see that this was a bit optimistic. But, we weren’t far off: wireless monitors are indeed on the horizon and will be here by mid-2008. The technology is finished; all that’s needed now is the regulatory clearance.

We spoke to Dennis Crespo, executive vice president of marketing and business development for DisplayLink, the company that’s bringing the first wireless monitors to market. Crespo explained that there are three steps involved in creating a wireless monitor: the graphics information first needs to be packetized, so that it can be sent over a standard USB connection; then, a wireless USB transmitter picks it up and sends it; and finally, a receiver on the monitor takes in that data and converts it back into graphic pixels.

For this first wireless monitor, DisplayLink is working with Alereon, although Crespo said that his company would be announcing other partnerships in January or February. DisplayLink created the software for packetizing the video data, while Alereon created the wireless USB connection. DisplayLink will be offering a reference design, essentially a product blueprint, so that other companies’ engineering teams can create their own wireless monitor products (using DisplayLink’s components, naturally).

The technology behind the wireless monitor was first shown at the 2007 Consumer Electronic’s Show (CES), Crespo said, although it was “in a very alpha form.” The company will show a finished product at the 2008 show next month.

“It’s been quite complex in execution to make this happen,” Crespo said.

Wireless monitors will be available in two basic configurations: adapter sets that let customers transform their existing displays will be available first, sometime in the spring; then, computers and monitors with wireless connectivity built-in will debut in the middle of 2008.

There will be a premium for wireless monitors. The adapter set should cost from $150 to $250, said Crespo, while a display with wireless capability will cost around $150 more than an equivalent non-wireless model.

Wireless monitors will offer a throughput of 120-150mbps, and will use lossless compression to ensure that the image users see is the same that they’d get with a wired monitor. They’ll be able to work at a distance of three meters, with no obstacles. Crespo promises no lag in performance, although he admits that wireless monitors won’t be for everyone.

High-end gamers running Windows XP won’t be able to use wireless monitors, for example, because the games don’t leave any room on the processor, so the image stream can’t be compressed for transfer. The technology also doesn’t offer nearly enough bandwidth for HD video, so wireless monitors won’t have a part in home theater systems.

These monitors will actually be sold as second displays, because if a wireless monitor is a user’s only display, that user loses access to the BIOS and DOS functionality. People can use wireless monitors as their sole displays, but they won’t be marketed as such. For those who do use one as a second monitor, the technology will be able to remember multiple screen configurations. Theoretically, it should be able to work with up to six displays at once. At launch, these monitors will only work with Windows systems, although Mac support should come soon after, with Linux support expected sometime mid-year.

So how will people use wireless monitors? That question has Crespo curious. While there’s a huge demand for the technology, it remains to be seen how people will actually use it. Crespo sees it being popular with notebook users who will be able to carry their notebooks to meetings and then have their external display automatically light up when they return to their offices. But certainly many buyers will be desktop PC owners looking to clean up the cord clutter in their workspaces.

“This wireless technology allows the PC platform to move to the next generation of convenience and aesthetics,” Crespo said. “Computers haven’t done a lot to clean up the problem of interconnect for users, and this technology allows you to do that.”

Adapted from Wi-FiPlanet.com.

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