One of the trends on view at this week's Consumer Electronics Show was slimmer and slimmer flat-panel TVs. Pioneer showed a prototype that was a mere 9 mm (a little more than 1/3") thick, while several other manufacturers offered technology demos and production models in the 1"-2" range. The closer sets get to the wall, though, the more consumers will want to dispense with the tangle of wires typically needed to connect a set to peripheral devices, such as disc players and amplifiers. One approach is to hide those wires behind walls and under floors, but that typically requires a professional installer. Another idea, from Irvine-based OWLink Technology, is to make the wire all but invisible.
OWLink's Digital Light Interface transforms the electrical signals from an HDMI output or similar digital connector into pulses of light, which can be transmitted over thin, clear, flexible strands of glass. The diameter of fishing line, those strands are easy to hide along a baseboard or wall molding, or they can be pasted onto a wall with drywall tape and painted over. The parts of the OWLink solution that are hard to obscure today are the book-sized boxes needed to convert the signals from electronic to optical and back again. OWLink President Paul Tzeng said the conversion technology is being boiled down to a single microchip, which can be embedded in TV sets, receivers and other home-entertainment equipment. DirecTV is already adding the chips to satellite receivers, Tzeng said, while Samsung, Pioneer and Mitsubishi have been showing as-yet unreleased products with the technology built in.
Naturally, there's a difference between showing a product at a trade show and actually putting it on the market. Samsung and Pioneer are also supporting a wireless alternative to OWLink, a connection protocol called WirelessHD. And Samsung is a principle backer of the IEEE 1394-based connections advocated by the High-Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance. But there's nothing in the consumer-electronics rulebook that says a manufacturer can't bet on more than one horse.
-- Jon Healey
Photo of OWLink's DLI Fiber Spool courtesy of the company.