Cirrus Logic Delays Wireless A/V Chips

Wireless local audio/video networks and surround sound systems have long been one of the electronics industry's holy grails, given the fact that a major cost in installing home theaters or whole-house audio systems is the wiring. The market potential is so great that major chipmakers have invested enormous amounts of research in developing products that would enable easy placement of audio and video systems anywhere in a home without the need for dedicated wiring.

Cirrus Logic is one such company. Cirrus has promoted wireless protocols such as "Whitecap2" and "802.11e" as standards for the deployment of connected home "infotainment" systems, including satellite and cable set-top boxes, personal video recorders, MP3 players, and CD- or hard-disk–based jukeboxes.

Last year, Cirrus announced that it was developing a chipset that would allow manufacturers to begin building wirelessly-interconnected home-entertainment systems. The chips were originally projected for availability by summer of 2002, but the IEEE hasn't ratified the 802.11e protocol, and Cirrus Logic has decided that the market for wireless entertainment isn't ripe yet. The release of its high-frequency wireless chipsets has been postponed until a more opportune time—preferably one in which wireless products will integrate seamlessly with one another without the need for technical support.

"The market has not matured and grown as envisioned," said Cirrus vice president Bob Kromer. "To drive it to millions of consumers, the level of integration, the quality of service, and robustness have to improve." The company is temporarily shelving products designed for "WiFi" (802.11b), a 2.4GHz/11Mbps standard, and for 802.11a, a 5GHz /54Mbps standard, which is sufficient for streaming DVD-quality video and high-rez audio over short distances. In an effort to force down pricing at retail, Cirrus will instead concentrate on new chips that integrate multiple functions.

Wireless local area networks are definitely in the future, but won't happen immediately. More than 250 wireless technology companies will be represented at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES), according to advance publicity.