Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lou's views on links to use

I had a chance to catch up recently with Lou Lenzi (pictured), a veteran consumer electronics designer who currently heads up product management for the accessories business at Audiovox. He talked about several interconnects he is using in his latest consumer products including HD-PLC, WiFi and CEA-909.

Audiovox is rolling out a $399 wireless HDMI connector for flat-screen TVs and projectors using HD-PLC, the powerline technology developed by Panasonic. Lenzi's team surveyed many options including competing powerline approaches, ultrawideband technology from Pulse~Link and Tzero and Amimon's WiFi derivative.

Powerline was the best bet for adding no new wires around the wall-mounted displays and projectors, Lenzi's team concluded. HD-PLC gave his systems a net 90 Mbits/s, less than the advertised 190 Mbits/s but plenty enough to support a 1080-progressive display.

"We looked at them all, and were very impressed by their 128-bit AES encryption which will play well with content owners," said Lenzi. "Their technology spans multiple circuit breakers, and they have an easy pairing method," he added.

The only downside for powerline in general is cost. "I'd like to see the modules get down to $49 to really take off. Right now they are at $99," he said.

Lenzi's group also makes a variety of universal remotes for which WiFi is becoming increasingly important. Startups ZeroG and G2 are doing a good job pushing down component prices to get WiFi into more systems such as remotes, he said.

Finally, Lenzi's big new product for the fall is an indoor flat antenna for over-the-air digital TV that can plug into any analog or HDTV. He estimates some 20 million U.S. homes use over-the-air as their primary TV source. Another 14 million use it for at least one TV in the home.

"That’s a big opportunity for us," with the cut-off of analog signals coming in February 2009, he said.

The antenna can deliver a crisper picture than satellite TV systems which typically compress signals down to a tight 7 Mbits/s. So, even some HDTV users may buy the antenna box to get the best reception for special events such as the Super Bowl.

"If you do a side-by-side comparison of high def from over-the-air versus cable or satellite you would be surprised at the difference," said Lenzi.

Audiovox has patented the layout for antenna plates it uses in its mini-pizza box unit. Lenzi said the new CEA-909 interface that lets users "steer" antennas by electrically exciting different combinations of the plates will be a key feature for an upcoming crop of DTV converter boxes. The interface will eventually appear on set-top boxes and DTVs, too.

I first met Lou perhaps more than a decade ago when he was designing PC-TV systems for Thomson. Times and technologies have changed quite a bit since then, but Lou remains an optimistic and innovative engineer at heart.

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