Dreaming of a WiFi Christmas

Leading up to this holiday gift-buying season, the home has become a high-tech focal point. Individuals can now collect content on digital cameras, televisions, and stereos and then send it to various computers via wireless LANs. “Wireless enabled devices are on many shoppers’ wish list this holiday season, and such items will be big sellers in the consumer market,” noted Kurt Scherf, an industry analyst with Park Associates.

There are a couple of reasons for such optimism. “The prices for WLAN components have plummeted, so vendors can now outfit their systems with wireless functionality for as little as US$25,” stated Craig Mathias, principal at market research firm Farpoint Group.

Wired for Access

Another factor is the prevalence of wireless LANs among consumers. In fact, this networking option became the primary way of connecting smart device in 2005: Parks Associates found that 52 percent of U.S. households now have WiFi home networks compared to 50 percent relying on wired Ethernet.

Consequently, a growing number of products are being outfitted with WLAN connectivity for the upcoming end-of-year buying frenzy. Most of these items are now limited to the high-end of the market but those willing to spend the extra money will find plenty of choices.

One of the big changes this holiday season is the advent of digital cameras outfitted with WLAN connectivity. Eastman Kodak developed EasyShare-One, a 4-megapixel camera with 3x optical zoom, 256 MB of memory, the ability to capture TV-like video, and a 3-inch swivel LCD screen. The device also supports an 802.11g 54M bps Wi-Fi connection as well as WLAN security standards, such as 128 bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and WiFi Protected Access (WPA).

Nikon offers two similar models: the Coolpix P1 and Coolpix P2. The former, which features 8 megapixels, and the latter, which comes with 5 megapixels, transmit images over IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g wireless networks. The cameras work computers or devices equipped with wireless links, such as printers, so consumers can send images to various accessories via a few keystrokes.

Easy to Master

Canon entered this arena with its 5 megapixel PowerShot SD430 camera, which has been designed to send information to Canon printers supporting PictBridge. The camera features remote operation at distances up to about 100 feet.

With the WLAN links, users have the ability to automatically transfer pictures to computers via wireless links as soon as the pictures are taken. It will also be possible to remotely control the camera from the PC.

Ease of use is one of the attractions with the new wireless connections. “In many households, the mother takes all of the pictures and in a number of cases, she is not comfortable going though all of the steps needed to physically connect a device on a LAN,” said Stan Schatt, senior director of research, channels with market research firm Current Analysis Inc. “The integrated WLAN connections make it easier to information from a camera to another device.”

Recently, there has been movement among consumers to large-screen, flat-panel televisions, and many of these products are also being equipped with WiFi connectivity, a feature now found on large and small televisions.

WiFi TV

Sharp sells the AQUOS 45G1, which not only has 802.11b wireless connectivity, but also includes personal video recording (PVR) functionality via Sharps’ OpenAQUOS technology. The television includes a storage card (3 hours of video per 5GB card) that can be placed in one of its two PC Card Type II slots. The 45G1 includes a DVI connector (for PC connections), stereo amplifier, rechargeable battery, and a 45-inch LCD display. One downside is the AQUOS 45G1 features only basic PVR functionality–meaning it can only pause and rewind live TV but cannot schedule recordings of television programs. Also, the device is not able to stream media content from networked PCs.

Kiss Technology AS, a subsidiary of Cisco Systems, sells a 42-inch plasma TV that includes the company’s DP-1500 WLAN ready DVD player. Consumers can not only flip through channels, but also access a variety of media files (MPEG-4/DivX/XviD/MP3) from PCs, Internet Radio, and CD/DVD playback.

Smaller sets are also gaining network connectivity. Sony offers 7-inch and 12.1-inch versions of its LocationFree portable broadband LCD TV sets. Casio developed a 10-inch version of its Xfer XF-1000 WiFi TV. These flat panel displays are about the size of a thin spiral notebook and enable consumers to watch their TV shows in just about any room in the house. The wireless devices are charged so they hold about three hours of viewing time.

New-Age Entertainment

Entertainment systems represent another area where WLAN usage is becoming more common. Philips Electronics sells the Streamium system that enables users to mix and match videos, music, pictures and games via wireless connections. The Streamium family supports a wireless music center and home entertainment center that are connected to the firm’s TV and stereo systems.

D-Link Corp. markets the DSM-320 D-Link Wireless Media Player that collects digital music, video and photos; stores them on PCs; and plays them on televisions or stereo systems. The 802.11g based system includes add-on modules, so consumers can work D-Link Wireless Network Media Player enhances DSM-320D, a DVD Recorder.

With a growing number of wireless home entertainment products for sale, this Christmas holds a lot of promise for techies who have been nice rather than naughty during the year.

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