We've written previously about music as a force in driving peer-to-peer applications like Kazaa and in compelling applications like services from Listen.com and products from Audiotron. Today's websites even tout building your baby's brain through "Bach in the bassinet and Beethoven with the bottle" ( www.buildyourbabysbrain.com ). The folks from Intel have concluded that now is the time to leverage the digital music (and other digital media) trends by making it easy for mere mortals (not just geeks) to connect their existing audio and video equipment to their PC-based MP3s and photos.
We've talked several times with Gary Matos of Intel about user needs for simple and inexpensive ways to leverage the PC's power for managing and storing digital media. We were thus delighted in August when Gary briefed us about the recent announcement of "Extended Wireless PC" at the Intel Developer Forum. Intel announced a reference design, specs for a UPnP-based software stack and UPnP technology toolkits.
New PCs -- from the likes of Gateway, Dell and Legend -- will come bundled with Wi-Fi networking and a gizmo called a "digital media adapter". The user simply connects the media adapter to the TV and stereo in the media center using standard A/V cables. Then she can play music stored on the PC hard drive (in the den) on the speakers in the media center, using the Wi-Fi connection to connect the PC and the media center. The TV screen and remote control provide an easy user interface. Users have the ability to access, view and listen to digital content on existing TVs and stereos, anywhere in the home, using content resident on their PC.
Digital media adapters will also be available from consumer electronics manufacturers, so that a user with a powerful PC and Wi-Fi already installed will simply buy an inexpensive adapter without having to get it packaged with a new PC. The bill of materials for such an adapter is projected to cost about $79. To accomplish this low cost, Intel's reference design is based on its PXA210 applications processor (because of its price/performance) running an embedded Linux operating system "because it is open source and has no licensing fees."
Intel chose to make the inital push using Wi-Fi networking, due to the wide availability and low price points of today's 802.11b technology. However, we anticipate that as digital media adapters move from audio and images in this generation to video in a subsequent generation, Intel will support later 802.11 standards with higher transfer rates and quality of service. Although Intel is pragmatically pushing Wi-Fi because of its popularity, they are not wedded to wireless as the only form of home networking; one can easily envision using powerline networking or whatever gets large market adoption.
Although the OS for the adapter does not come from Microsoft, the fruits of the joint Intel/Microsoft UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) push are very much part of this effort. A UPnP specification for remote I/O combined with appropriate software enables physical separation of the user interface devices from the application logic host device. Thus, users can experience home applications like listening to music on a stereo or showing digital pictures on the TV, using a remote in a room distant from but networked to the PC. UPnP relieves the consumer of the network configuration challenges and simplifies the set up. See the Universal Plug and Play Forum website for the 515 vendors currently participating.
The final proof of concept will come when products reach the market and consumers buy and love them. We think that if implementations meet the promises, and the consumer marketing is good, we'll see lots of users hop onboard. As the cost of digital media adapters goes down and their popularity rises, one can imagine that they will be built into new equipment like stereo speakers and Web tablets. Is it possible that all that talk about convergence is finally turning into reality? It sure looks like it.