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Wi-Fi, WiDi, WiVu, What? -- a quick overview of wireless HD technology

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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What is wireless HD, and why should I care?

If you've purchased an HDTV recently, or invested in a 5.1 surround sound home theater system, and don't like masses of tangled wires, then you should care. Simply put, wireless HD technology can transmit high-definition video, surround sound audio, control codes, and other data all without any loss of quality or detail. That means you can enjoy the best possible picture and sound without running a lot of wires between devices. And that means you can stream content wirelessly from your laptop to your TV, or install rear channel speakers without having to run cables through your walls.

Is there more than one kind of wireless HD?

Well, sort of. But not to worry. In the aftermath of CES (Consumer Electronics Show) 2011 there has been a lot of talk about wireless HD options and new technologies. But Wi-Fi® is still pretty much the standard at this point. It's used to build home networks, connect HDTV displays to laptops, Blu-ray players to the Internet, smart phones to receivers, and so on. Chances are any two devices you'd like to wirelessly connect will either have Wi-Fi built in, or be Wi-Fi compatible through an adapter. So if you just look for Wi-Fi enabled devices, you'll be fine. And obsolescence shouldn't be a problem — many of these technologies use some form of Wi-Fi, or will be backwards-compatible in some fashion with Wi-Fi gear.

    So what do all these terms mean?

    If you want to dig a little further and get a handle on some of the various types of wireless HD protocol, here's a quick run-down of some terms you're most likely to run across.

    What's available now —and most relevant to consumer electronics

    WiDi — WiDi is short for Intel® Wireless Display. It's a proprietary technology built into Intel® Core™ i3, i5 and i7 processors, and lets you wirelessly stream audio and video from a computer directly to a compatible TV (through an adapter). At the moment, WiDi is only available for computers running with a Windows operating system.It uses Wi-Fi as its transmission medium.

    for more information

    http://www.intel.com/consumer/products/technology/wirelessdisplay.htm

    Wi-Fi® — The Wi-Fi Alliance has developed several standards over the years. When people refer to Wi-Fi, they generally have the 802.11n standard in mind, which is the one found in most consumer electronic devices. When you connect components wirelessly, chances are the connection made is through Wi-Fi —especially if you're linking your system to your home network. Wi-Fi transfers data at a fast enough rate that you can stream video from the Internet onto a compatible HDTV with good picture and sound quality.

    product shortlist:

    Sony KDL-46EX710 BRAVIA® Internet-ready 1080p LED HDTV

    LG 50PX950 50" INFINIA™ 3D-ready 1080p plasma HDTV

    Samsung BD C6500 Internet-ready Blu-ray player

    Logitech® Squeezebox Internet Radio

    Samsung ST80 14.2-megapixel digital camera with 3X optical zoom and built-in Wi-Fi

    Apple iPod touch®

    For more information:

    http://www.wi-fi.org/index.php

    WirelessHD™ — WirelessHD is a global standard for wireless consumer electronics to ensure they can talk to each other and deliver high-definition audio and video. With compatible WirelessHD devices, you can wirelessly stream high-definition video from your laptop to TV, or game console to computer monitor, or full surround sound audio from your Blu-ray player to your speaker system. This is still an emerging technology, so not many products have WirelessHD. Among the manufacturers that support WirelessHD are LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Onkyo, and Yamaha.

    For more information:

    http://www.wirelesshd.org/

    Wireless USB — This is a wireless standard developed for devices with USB ports by the USB Implementers Forum. Wireless USB uses the Wi-Fi protocol for broadcasting. The standard covers USB adapters that plug into devices and act as a sender and receiver. This lets you wirelessly connect your HDTV to your laptop, for example, by simply plugging compatible adapters into the USB ports found on both products.

    Product shortlist:

    LG Wi-Fi USB Adapter for compatible LG HDTVs

    TiVo® USB adapter for dual-tuner TiVo boxes

    Sony UWA-BR100 Wireless network adapter for 2010 Wi-Fi-ready Sony HDTVs and components

    For more information:

    http://www.usb.org/developers/wusb/

    What may be coming in the future

    WHDI™ — Wireless Home Digital Interface — or WHDI — is a wireless high-definition video standard. It will allow full, uncompressed 1080p video and surround sound audio to be wirelessly transmitted throughout your home. With this technology you should be able to wirelessly connect any A/V source to any display, so the Blu-ray disc playing in your main setup could be viewed on your bedroom's flat-panel display with no loss of picture quality. Or you could stream music from your SACD player in your den to speakers in your kitchen with all the detail they can handle.Consortium members include Sony, LG, Hitachi, Samsung, and Sharp. According to the organization, the first round of WHDI products should be available later in 2011.

    For more information:

    http://www.whdi.org/

    WiGig™ — WiGig is the wireless standard promoted by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance. It will transfer about 14 times as much data per second as standard Wi-Fi. This should let you wirelessly stream uncompressed high-definition video and audio with virtually no lag time (unless you're streaming from an outside Internet connection). Its supporters are primarily information technology companies, such as Dell, Intel, Nokia, and Texas Instruments, although Panasonic, Samsung, and Toshiba are also members. According to industry sources, products incorporating WiGig should be available by 2012.

    For more information:

    http://wirelessgigabitalliance.org/

    WiVu™ — WiVu is a technology developed by Cavium Networks, a company that builds integrated semiconductor processors for networking. Rather than being an industry-standard protocol, it's a proprietary processor. According to Cavium, WiVu will use the existing Wi-Fi network in your home for standard definition video and audio. I will also be able to send 1080p 2D and 3D video signals wirelessly without requiring line-of-sight. It will also have an extremely low compression latency, an important aspect for any type of interactivity, such as gaming, or remote desktop computing. WiVu was announced in 2011, so it will be a while before it begins appearing in products.

    For more information:

    http://www.caviumnetworks.com/index.html

    So how do all these technologies stack up?

    If you're a specs person, this chart's for you. It compares all the wireless HD technologies we've listed above. NOTE: Some capacities are measured in megabytes per second (MB), and others in gigabytes per second (GB). Since a GB is equal to approximately 1,000 MBs, in the chart all rates are expressed in terms of GBs. Frequency range is important, as different protocols using the same frequency can potentially interfere with each other.

    Currently available technologies

    TechnologyData Transfer Rate
    (per second)
    Maximum
    Range
    FrequencyFor use in
    Wi-Fi450MB
    (0.450GB)
    230 feet2.4 & 5 GHzmobile phones
    portable electronics
    portable computers
    home audio/video
    components
    WirelessHD5GBnot given
    (line-of-sight)
    60 GHzhome audio/video
      components
    Wireless USB480MB
    (0.480GB)
    30 feet3.1-10.6 GHzmobile phones
    portable electronics
    portable computers

    Future technologies

    TechnologyData Transfer Rate
    (per second)
    Maximum
    Range
    FrequencyFor use in
    WHDI3GB100 feet5 GHzhome audio/video
      components
    WiGig7GBnot given60 GHzportable computers
    desktop computers
    WiVunot givennot givennot given

    portable electronics
    portable computers
    home audio/video
      components

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