Wireless Projectors Step Up

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New wireless technology is making it easier to cut the tether between notebook computer and projector for use in presentations.

Several vendors of digital projectors are considering supporting 802.11g, or upgrading existing wireless capabilities. This is no surprise: The 802.11g standard is gaining momentum as the wireless standard of choice for routers and entertainment peripherals linking PCs to the living room.

A few companies discussed their plans at the recent InfoComm audiovisual conference in Atlanta.

Wireless Evolution

Wi-Fi was the first step toward cutting the snakelike cabling.

However, the first projectors to support 802.11b wireless connectivity revealed the limits of Wi-Fi's effectiveness for displaying complex, image- and transition-laden PowerPoint files. The 11-mbps peak transfer rate of 802.11b is insufficient for showcasing anything with embedded video and other such multimedia activities.

Now, 802.11g could make wireless projecting practical, say some manufacturers.

"Our customers need high-quality images, and to support high-bandwidth content going from the PC to the display, we needed to move to 802.11g," says David Woolf, NEC senior director of marketing. The company plans to support 802.11g later this year, he says. "Before, you had to use cables [between PC and projector], but with g, you can do anything you'd want to with the cable wirelessly." It helps, he notes, that g is starting to show up in notebooks as well as wireless access points and routers.

Epson: Wi-Fi in the Works

First to market is Epson, which expects to ship its PowerLite 835p with 802.11g support in July. This 3000-lumen XGA model has a PC Card slot that can use a wireless card. Complementing the 802.11g support is technology designed to bolster wireless multimedia transmissions, says James T. Hall, Epson's director of marketing. "We have a proprietary algorithm that enhances transitions in PowerPoint and in MPEG-2 video that's displayed via a wireless connection," Hall says.

Epson has also bolstered the built-in security, to address concerns about wireless presentations. The 835p supports WEP, WPA, and LEAP; by contrast, competing Wi-Fi models currently support only WEP.

NEC also demonstrated at InfoComm a projector that would support 802.11g, but doesn't expect to ship the unit until fall. The unit will offer XGA resolution and up to 2400 lumens of brightness, and will weigh 6.7 pounds, NEC representatives revealed .

Toshiba: Optional Support

Toshiba showed two new 802.11b projectors at InfoComm: the TDP-S20 and the TDP-T90. Both enable Wi-Fi connectivity via a PC Card slot.

Toshiba's 802.11g support depends on the availability of Linux drivers, says Jane Poon, marketing manager.

"The projector's software platform is based on Linux, and Linux won't have the drivers until later this year," Poon says. "We hope to have a flash upgrade to g by the third quarter of this year."

Sharp's Bruce Pollack is a bit more wary of wireless altogether, citing security issues.

"Wireless is an interesting concept," Pollack says. "But on a projector, it's still an expensive technology, and our customers don't feel it's necessary to add." However, Sharp may support wireless transmission by offering a PC Card slot as an option to customers who want it.

InFocus Offers Add-Ons

InFocus announced improvements to its LiteShow add-on module, which adds Wi-Fi connectivity to any InFocus projector. LiteShow 1.2, scheduled to ship in July, will be better equipped to handle multimedia presentations, and will offer a smoother presentation, according to Jennifer Jaffe, business line manager for mobile products, accessories, and solutions at InFocus.

"We improved the algorithm that compresses the image data, and re-renders the data" so LiteShow can receive it, Jaffe says. "That's our secret sauce." The new method takes a more incremental approach to rendering than was used before; the frame is split into nine sections, making it easier to re-render specific segments of the frame.

Putting an 802.11g radio in the LiteShow won't achieve InFocus' goal of full streaming, standard-definition DVD-quality video, Jaffe says.

"In order to for this to happen, we need a confluence of technologies," Jaffee says. Besides the 802.11g radio, the projector needs additional support from the CPU (currently a 400-MHz Intel XScale), the video processor, and the operating system, which is Microsoft Windows CE. Jaffe expects the disparate elements will come together in the fourth quarter.

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