NEC Unveils New Technology for High-Bandwidth Data Transfer

At the recent WinHEC '98, NEC Electronics Inc. made available prototype sample units of 1394-to-POF (plastic optical fiber) repeater boxes that extend transmission of video, audio, and textual data over long distances via plastic optical fiber and copper media. NEC Electronics, one of the first companies to demonstrate this technology over plastic optical fiber and copper and wireless media, is also one of the first to demonstrate transmission speeds of 200Mbits/s over plastic optical fiber.

The IEEE 1394 standard, also known as FireWire, allows consumer and computing devices to interconnect on the same physical transmission medium. IEEE 1394 standardization for transmitting multimedia data, combined with the Universal Serial Bus (USB), facilitates true plug-and-play and is critical for widespread, low-cost, high-bandwidth consumer devices.

But one problem with the standard has always been the need to have powered "repeaters" every few meters to maintain the required voltages for high-speed transfer.

"Simple, inexpensive, and fast long-distance transmission of multimedia data is essential for market acceptance and true convergence of PC and consumer electronics," said Patrick Yu of NEC Electronics' Serial Interface System Applications group. "NEC's comprehensive semiconductor and system solutions allow the application of long-distance IEEE 1394 to reach consumers, and let vendors implement what has previously been an impractical and expensive technology."

NEC's 1394 prototype repeater boxes, shown at WinHEC '98, facilitate the sending of multimedia data packets at 200Mbits/s over 4.5 meters of shield-twisted copper wire, up to 100 meters over plastic optical fiber, and at 100Mbits/s over 6 meters of air. The demonstration of long-distance (greater than 4.5 meters) 1394 relies on several technologies, including infrared, optical, and IEEE1394 PHY Layer.

NEC's demonstration included multimedia images being captured on a digital video camera and then transferred to a remote receiver via wireless infrared media. The images can then be stored in a PC through a copper-wire connection for modification before transferring. Via a plastic optical fiber stretching 100 meters, the data could also be transferred to a digital VCR or a hard disk for storage and playback.

As the computer and consumer electronics markets begin to merge, the availability of an interface standard that allows connectivity between the two becomes an important enabling technology. Because computing devices are typically driven by high-performance central processing units (CPUs), while consumer products are powered by lower-performance microcontrollers, there are tremendous technical barriers to integrating these systems.

The IEEE 1394 standard will allow consumer electronic devices and computing devices to interconnect via common command-set and transport protocols through a variety of transmission media. The IEEE 1394 standards committee, composed of members from both the consumer electronics and computer technology worlds, is chartered with defining an industry-wide standard that will provide an interface compatible with the major operating systems, software applications, and consumer devices, enabling "plug-and-play" capability.

NEC claims that its long-distance 1394 is currently being adopted by many consumer electronics manufacturers, such as digital video camera producers, while integration by computer peripheral devices is expected to begin in 1999. Applications will include DVD players, Digital Home Theaters, digital audio systems, in-flight entertainment systems, and more. NEC's 1394-to-POF sample prototype units are expected in June of 1998, while the 1394-to-IR prototype units are slated for late 1998. Pricing for the units is expected to fall into the $1000 range per unit.