At last! The Wi-Fi chip that'll beam video from mobe to telly

Stick two antennas up at your router

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Marvell's latest Avastar chipset and TI's next-generation silicon will stream video to a TV, projector or similar over Wi-Fi Direct while maintaining a separate wireless network connection. But why?

So you can ensure what's being shown on your touchscreen tablet can be seen on the family telly or lecture hall wall, provided you're not enjoying any private time.

This use of dual-channel 802.11ac Wi-Fi is known as Miracast, and uses a separate 5GHz connection to echo the smaller screen onto a larger display while continuing to shift network packets wirelessly at 2.4GHz as usual. Last week the Wi-Fi Alliance announced it will be certifying devices as "Miracast compatible", so this week we have TI and Marvell promising certified products.

The alliance publishes the standards in August and TI's chips will appear within a similar timeframe, but Marvell is demonstrating the Avastar 88W8897 this week - and promises it will conform to the Miracast standards once the alliance gets round to writing them. The silicon also supports Bluetooth 4, NFC and multi-antenna MIMO Wi-Fi that tops out at 900Mb/s.

But what's most interesting are the different approaches adopted by the companies in their respective chipsets: Marvell is clearly aiming at proper computers and talking about Wake-On-Wireless support that turns laptops and tablets into always-on devices.

TI, meanwhile, sees Miracast as a phone technology, and emphasises the way its chips offload video processing from the main processor to allow multitasking while decoding video. This is exemplified by a user browsing the YouTube application on an Android phone while simultaneously streaming a HD YouTube clip onto a big screen, presumably to the delight of his assembled family.

Not that Miracast is the only option for throwing mobile content onto a wall-sized display: HDMI connections are proliferating and finally killing off the venerable VGA connector. The DLNA standard - which lays down how computers, printers, cameras, phones and other multimedia devices should share media - works acceptably as long as one has a minimum of technical ability and suitably low expectations of success: when it works, it works well.

DLNA is plagued by codec problems. Your humble hack's Samsung phone might happily play OGG files, but my Samsung TV refuses, and woe betide anyone trying to send content copy-protected by DRM encryption onto a big screen. Those things are enough to discourage all but the most-persistent of early adopters, and it needs to be easier.

Simply echoing the screen removes those issues, and makes DRM a good deal more practical (as TI emphasises), so it won't be long before our TV is just another tool for rendering Angry Birds properly. ®


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