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The Intel product manager came up with the technology to beam Web video from laptops to TVs. Will it be the next must-have in personal computing?
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's (INTL) 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've come up with the next must-have feature in personal computing.
Wireless Display, or WiDi, uses the Wi-Fi technology that wirelessly connects computers to the Net. 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. Dell (DELL), Toshiba, and Sony (SNE) offer the feature on some of their laptops, which come with a free TV adapter made by Netgear.
Intel nearly killed off WiDi because engineers didn't believe that a Wi-Fi radio, already busy transmitting and receiving data, could also deliver quality video. They worried it would require extra chips, which would make the computers more expensive and less attractive to consumers. Wi-Fi is also susceptible to interference from household devices such as microwaves, and its quality drops when signals have to travel through walls. "They literally laughed me out of the room," says Martz, 38, an industrial engineer with an MBA from the University of Michigan. Martz thought such obstacles could be overcome and consumers would embrace WiDi if it were easy to use.
Martz says 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 Minneapolis-based retailer Best Buy (BBY). After demonstrations that they were never entirely sure would work, the group won enough positive feedback to persuade top Intel executives to fund the project.
Intel formally unveiled its WiDi feature in January, and Martz thinks it will eventually show up on tablet PCs and handhelds, though he wouldn't discuss timing or which companies plan to use the technology. WiDi'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.)
Martz saw the potential for widespread acceptance when he persuaded his non-techie father-in-law to buy a WiDi laptop: "I told him, 'if you have problems, call me.' He didn't."
Engineering degree from U. of Washington, MBA from Michigan
"They literally laughed me out of the room"
Getting TV makers to build WiDi technology into sets