Intel's Martz Bucks Bosses to Turn TVs Into Computer Monitors

Imagine sitting on your couch with a notebook PC on your lap, chuckling at a Saturday Night Live clip on NBC.com. You hit a button and a crisp, high-definition version of the sketch plays on the TV across the room.

Gary Martz, a senior product manager in Intel Corp.’s wireless products unit, championed that idea, though Intel’s top brass tried to deep-six the concept. Then major PC makers and retailers lined up behind it. Today, Intel executives say they have come up with the next must-have feature in personal computing, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its June 21 issue.

Wireless Display, or Wi-Di, uses the Wi-Fi technology that connects computers to the Internet without a cord. Martz’s team repurposed radio chips and antennas to send and receive data simultaneously and transmit whatever a computer is displaying to a receiver plugged into the back of a TV. He also needed to change the attitude of his bosses.

“They literally laughed me out of the room,” said Martz, 38, an industrial engineer with an MBA from the University of Michigan. Martz considered such obstacles surmountable and bet consumers would embrace Wi-Di if it were easy to use.

Dell Inc., Toshiba Corp., and Sony Corp. now offer the feature on some of their laptops, which come with a free TV adapter made by Netgear Inc.

Intel almost killed off Wi-Di because engineers weren’t confident that a Wi-Fi radio, already busy transmitting and receiving data, would also deliver high-quality video. They were concerned it would require extra chips, which would make the computers more expensive and less attractive to consumers.

Household Interference

Wi-Fi is also susceptible to interference from household devices such as microwaves, and its quality drops when signals have to travel through walls.

Martz said Intel, whose chips run more than 80 percent of computers, is far more comfortable talking to IT managers about geeky stuff than making technology consumer-friendly.

So he decided to take his technology on the road to build support among potential customers. Martz’s associates took early (and barely tested) versions of their invention to PC makers in Taiwan and Tokyo and then to Richfield, Minnesota-based retailer Best Buy Co.

After demonstrations that they were never entirely sure would work, the group won the positive feedback needed to persuade top Intel executives to fund the project.

Intel formally unveiled its Wi-Di feature in January, and Martz said it may eventually show up on tablet PCs and handhelds, though he wouldn’t discuss timing or which companies plan to use the technology.

Wi-Di’s success may depend on how quickly Intel can get TV makers to build the technology into their sets, said Jim McGregor, an analyst at market researcher In-Stat. “It’s got to be an invisible cost to the consumer.”

None of the five TV makers contacted by Bloomberg Businessweek would comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian King in San Francisco at ianking@bloomberg.net

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