Coming Soon to a Home Near You: 3DTVs, 3-D Cable Channels

Well how about that. We knew 3-D would be a big topic of discussion at CES this year, but with new 3-D capable HDTVs and new cable programming slated for release this year, it looks like 3-D could be the topic of the show.

Consumer electronics manufacturers say 3-D is finally ready for prime time, and are making big bets on the technology over the next few years. Top CE companies Sony (s SNE), Panasonic (s PC), LG Electronics and now Vizio will all be showing off 3DTVs at CES, following previous product launches by Mitsubishi, Philips and Sharp. While 3-D display market is still nascent, research firm DisplaySearch forecasts that it will grow from 0.7 million units and $902 million in revenues in 2008 to 196 million units and $22 billion in revenues in 2018.

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ABC Content Now on Hulu

If I was the Count from Sesame Street I would say something like, “Three! Three of the four major broadcast networks now have their content on Hulu!” (with accent, of course). ABC, which had long been a Hulu holdout, refusing to run its full-length content anywhere but on its own web site, kicked off its Hulu presence today with episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

Grey’s is the only ABC (s DIS) content currently up on Hulu, and there isn’t even a whole lot of it up right now. There are just five episodes from the last season, and no clips (the show doesn’t even have clips up at YouTube, where ABC/Disney has a short-form content deal). According to a Hulu press release, over the next two weeks, more ABC shows will appear on the site including: I Survived a Japanese Game Show, The Superstars, Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty and Scrubs.

In April, Disney became an equal partner in Hulu, joining fellow broadcasters FOX (s NWSA) and NBC (s GE) in the endeavor. As part of that deal, Hulu will get exclusive access to full-length programming from ABC, ABC Family and the Disney Channel, as well as popular library TV shows and films.

With ABC now up and running on Hulu, only CBS (s CBS) remains as the lone broadcaster not playing along. That’s one! One major broadcaster left!

UWB Meltdown Continues, WiMedia Alliance Disbands

[qi:004] Technology standards don’t die a quick death in most cases. For years after the market has abandoned a failed standard, it still exists in orphaned products hoping for eventual resurrection. Yesterday, EETimes reported another step in the long road to obsolescence for Ultra-wideband saying the WiMedia Alliance, a standards body promoting UWB, has shut its doors.

The WiMedia Alliance is handing over all current and future specification development of its version of ultrawideband (UWB) to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, the Wireless USB Promoter Group and the USB Implementers Forum. Once the handoff is completed, it will shut down.

Blame it on failed execution, an uneven regulatory environment or the world deciding it doesn’t need another low-power, high data rate wireless transfer protocol. Either way, there are still a few startups such as Alereon, Stacatto Communications and Wisair holding out hopes that UWB might make it on mobile handsets for video transfer or as some other use. The hope is that UWB will be folded into the higher data rate transfer standard for Bluetooth — giving those startups a reason to exist.

TZero Falls Victim to the UWB Curse

[qi:004] Ultra-wideband startup TZero Technologies has shut down, according to a story posted today by EETimes.  The chipmaker, which raised $18 million back in March, joins at least two other defunct UWB startups that had hoped to use the wireless technology to transmit large amounts of data short distances. This leaves UWB startups Alereon, Wisair, Radiospire and the recently funded combination of Staccato Communications and Artimi left fighting over a shrinking opportunity.

UWB  was pitched as ideal for delivering HD video wirelessly, or as a wireless docking station for computer peripherals. But because of false starts and the high cost of UWB chips, it never gained a foothold in the consumer market. Now, established technologies such as Wi-Fi, and new ones such as WirelessHD, have rendered UWB moot. The remaining startups are pitching UWB for mobile phones, but because of cost, space and power consumption reasons, the mobile market is far less forgiving than the PC market when it comes to taking on extra silicon. I’m not holding my breath.

Ultra-wideband Players Get $20M to Merge

Today, Ultra-wideband chip makers Artimi and Staccato Communications announced $20 million in funding and a merger agreement, which seems like tying two leaky boats together, giving them some more gas and hoping they make it to shore.

Ultra-wideband Decline Proves Perils of Chip Investment

istock_000006321317xsmallFive years ago, the promise of a new networking technology known as Ultra-wideband was a living room without wires, where DVD players, set-top boxes and video accessories could connect with TVs over the air. Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a wireless personal area networking technology that can transmit large amounts of data for short distances using very little power. Over time, its promise expanded from the living room to the home office, as backers used Ultra-wideband as the basis for Wireless USB and the WiMedia standard.
So far, this dream hasn’t materialized, and the technology has failed to find a mass market. Today, we still have wires in both the office and living room, and a host of competing standards have whittled away UWB’s opportunity. In the last week, we’ve seen players exit the UWB business, and Intel announced that it has halted research on the technology. For venture firms who have invested nearly $400 million in the space, the fate of Ultra-wideband offers a cautionary tale about the perils of betting on semiconductor standards.
On Oct. 31, five-year-old UWB chipmaker WiQuest shut its doors when it was unable to raise more money or find a buyer for its technology. That led to heralds of doom for Ultra-wideband, with analysts and media blaming long-delayed product launches, expensive chips and a hostile regulatory environment. This week, Intel said it had discontinued its UWB efforts, saying the market wasn’t worth its R&D efforts. If the technology somehow manages to revive, Intel says it could buy up one of the six remaining startups in the space.
The plan makes sense for Intel because UWB, like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and WiMAX, is a standardized technology. That means any UWB chipmaker will have the basic set of characteristics Intel needs to play in the market. Standards are a double-edged sword for venture investors. On one hand they are good for consumers and electronics makers because they enable multiple devices from different vendors to work together. Any Wi-Fi router should talk to any Wi-Fi chip in a computer, phone or camera. This helps drive consumer adoption and can lead to the creation of a huge market. Venture capital firms love this, because if a standard takes off it can build a company like Broadcom or Atheros that can generate rapid returns in a relatively short amount of time.
The other edge of that sword is that chipmakers who adhere to the standard can do little to differentiate their chips, which makes it easy to switch vendors and effectively commoditizes the product. This happened for the Wi-Fi standard back in 2000-2002, when venture firms put more than $2 billion into more than 40 Wi-Fi companies, only to see a few rise to the top. There is also the risk, inherent in all technologies, that the market won’t adopt it. This seems to be what’s happening for UWB.
Instead of seeing the technology completely die out, Eric Broockman, CEO of UWB chipmaker Alereon, argues that Intel’s retreat from the technology and WiQuest’s failure mean a shakeup similar to that experienced by the Wi-Fi market is happening with UWB. “Typically in this type of semiconductor investing there is a win-place-show mentality,” Broockman says. “One wins big, one gets acquired for a good price, one gets acquired for a not-so-good price, and everyone else goes away. That process in UWB is being accelerated by the current economic downturn.”
There were at least seven UWB chipset companies formed in the 2003 time frame. Now, many appear close to failure. WiQuest, which raised about $54 million, was one. Two others, Artimi and Staccato Communications, are both rumored to be running out of cash. Artimi has raised $31.5 million and couldn’t be reached for comment for this story. Intel Capital invested in Staccato when it was pushing UWB. That could position Staccato to end up being the company in the show category, because Intel might buy it for its intellectual property at a cheap price down the road. 

Fighting for the win and place spots are Alereon, which has raised more than $70 million with a small amount coming earlier this year from SKTelecom; TZero, which raised $18 million in March led by CID Group; and Wisair, which raised $24 million in February led by Susquehanna Growth Equity. Radiospire is another player in the UWB market, but it appears to be shifting gears — or at least hedging its bets — by also making chips for transferring wireless HD video using a different standard.
Competeing standards are one of the reasons UWB is having such a hard time finding a toehold. For desktop personal area networking, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are becoming more prominent — and have the benefit of cheaper chips. In video, UWB has conceded to Wi-Fi and specialized standards such as Wireless HD and WHDI. Those left on the playing field are quick to point out that UWB still has legs — and it might, if it finds the type of killer application that can drive adoption rates and increase chip sales to the point where they cost less to embed. But the shakeup happening here proves that chip investment isn’t for the faint of heart.
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Ultra-wideband Near Death as WiQuest Shuts Down

EETimes reported that Ultra-wideband startup WiQuest has shut its doors. This is a sad day for the more than 120 employees of the Allen, Texas chipmaker and unfortunate for the venture backers who put at least $54 million in the wireless networking company, but it’s something we should prepare to see more of as the wave of startups backing that standard finally run out of money and compelling arguments for the technology