Zeevo CEO talks about audio during Bluetooth Audio Solutions Seminar and predicts explosion of products to come. While users expect for these type of products to arrive, developers are still working hard to make this work.
Scott Macomber, president and CEO of Silicon Valley semiconductor provider Zeevo, Inc., told a Taiwan audience that with the coming "explosion" in wireless digital audio applications, an important, new market was opening up for original device manufacturers (ODMs), particularly those who can turn quickly to meet the coming year-end "high season" with attractive products. However, he cautioned, consumers would demand the same level of quality from wireless audio that they have become accustomed to with their wired "iPods" and other mobility stereo players. In addition, user-convenience features such as transparent shifting from cell phone calls to music on emerging "converged" MP3 cell phones, would be key product differentiators. Macomber was speaking to an audience of developers at the Bluetooth Audio Solutions Seminar, held yesterday at Taipei's Agora Garden Hotel.
"The shift to wireless digital audio is quickly gaining momentum, as consumers are given a cost-competitive alternative to wired headphones, headsets and speakers for their portable communications and entertainment devices," said Macomber. "It will not be long before a single stereo wireless headset will serve a user across a broad range of devices, including his or her cell phone, CD or MP3 player, or personal computer." These users, he said, will not be satisfied with the nasal "wireless" sound that is now indelibly associated with digital cell phones, but will actually expect CD quality audio, equivalent to that available today with wires. Moreover, he maintained, they will insist upon robust, user-friendly behavior in marginal situations, such as when the user walks out of range of the source device. "Do you want a gentle roll-off in volume, or intermittent bursts of audio, as the signal dies?" he challenged.
The difficulty, maintained Macomber, is that achieving high quality audio over Bluetooth -- the prevailing wireless standard for "personal area networks" -- is "not easy." The standard itself is just a starting point. "Special algorithms, as well as considerable art and science in tuning, are required to deliver a complete solution," he said. Additionally, great attention must be paid to achieve long play times on a single battery charge, and to effectively block unwanted interference from other wireless devices, such as 802.11 wireless local area networks. "Digital audio is not just data, and solving these problems for audio is not the same as solving them for data," he advised.
The Bluetooth standard, which addresses the transmission and reception of data at short distances via small, low cost wireless components, has been used effectively for some time for cell phone headsets -- a low-quality audio application, and wireless keyboards and mice -- "pure" data applications. But unlike these early applications, music transmitted in digital form is subject to much more stringent requirements which often referred to as "Quality of Service" (QoS). The human ear is acutely aware of the most minute variations in pitch, for example, and such perceptions demand commensurate precision in the transmission and processing of digital audio data.
The market for Bluetooth "transceiver" chips -- the tiny transmitter and receiver components installed in Bluetooth-enabled devices and accessories -- is forecast by IDC to increase from approximately 68 million units in 2003 to over 500 million in 2006. Part of this is driven by a rapid penetration of Bluetooth into the cell phone market, predicted to rise from a current 7% to 65% by 2007, and additionally by the general rise of a Bluetooth "ecosystem," particularly in Asia and Europe. But it is new applications that will really drive Bluetooth penetration, maintained Macomber, and high among these will be quality audio. "We will see a big rollout of Bluetooth audio applications this Christmas," he predicted.