IN THIS ISSUE:
Microsoft/HP Media Center PC -
Wi-Fi Increases Security -
Your Voice -
Compelling Broadband Applications -
Website Changes -
Meredith Flynn-Ripley has been appointed president and CEO of Stargus Inc., a provider of cable network management solutions. She was previously the President and CEO of Into Networks and before that was with Road Runner. ( www.stargus.com )
Tim Fritzley has joined Microsoft TV as VP for sales and service. He was previously president and CEO of CEON Corp. ( www.microsoft.com/tv )
Rami Hadar has been appointed CEO of Native Networks, a provider of Metro Ethernet technology for optical access networks. Prior to joining Native Networks, Hadar was co-founder of Ensemble Communications. ( www.nativenetworks.com )
Ian Jefferson is back at Terayon after his previous position at Diva. ( www.terayon.com )
Irv Kalick has been promoted to president and CEO of MetaTV. Kalick was previously MetaTV's EVP of sales and business development. ( www.metatv.com )
Ferris Peery has joined Cedar Point as EVP, Worldwide Sales. Peery was previously at Motorola Broadband Communications. ( www.cedarpointcom.com )
Bailey Shewchuk has been named VP of Sales and Sales Support and Gregg Blodgett has been named CFO at MidStream Technologies. ( www.midstream.com )
Company News --Acquisitions
DSL.net has acquired the network assets and subscriber lines of bankrupt Network Access Solutions for $17 million. ( www.dsl.net )
Tut Systems has signed a definitive agreement with Tektronix, Inc. to acquire its VideoTele.com subsidiary. VideoTele.com provides digital video headends to deliver digital television over DSL and other broadband-based networks. The transaction value is estimated to be approximately $7 million. ( www.tutsystems.com ) ( www.tektronix.com ) (www.videotele.com )
airBand Communications, Inc., a Dallas-based broadband services company, has has raised an additional $10 million round of financing led by original investors. ( www.airband.com )
BitBand Inc., a provider of Video and Audio on Demand solutions for broadband IP networks, closed its second round of investment, in the initial amount of $5.25 million. ( www.bitband.com )
DragonWave, a provider of broadband wireless networking products, has raised CAD 13.2 million in its third round of financing. ( www.dragonwaveinc.com )
Ecast Inc., which delivers and manages pay-per-play digital entertainment content to out-of-home venues, has obtained $14 million in equity funding. ( www.ecastinc.com )
Lantern Communications, a provider of optical technology for metropolitan area networks, received commitments for up to $10 million from existing investors for its third round of funding. ( www.lanterncom.com )
Netrake, a provider of Session Controllers for IP networks, secured $20 million in its third round of funding. ( www.netrake.com )
Nomadix, a provider of enabling software and hardware for high-speed Internet access for wireless networks, raised an additional $7 million in its Series D round bringing the total round to $16 million. ( www.nomadix.com )
Sand Video, Inc. announced the closing of $8 million of private equity financing. Sand Video is a fabless semiconductor manufacturer building real-time video compression technology based on the emerging H.264/MPEG-4 part 10 video compression standard. ( www.sandvideo.com )
America Online launched its latest software package, AOL 8.0, and later in October Microsoft launched its new MSN 8. AOL is finally going after broadband customers with some new features exclusively for high-speed subscribers. ( www.aol.com ) ( www.msn.com )
AT&T asked the FCC for a declaratory ruling that its phone-to-phone IP telephony services were exempt from access charges assessed on traditional circuit-switched long distance calls. ( www.att.com ) ( www.fcc.gov )
Cablelabs has announced that its CableNET showcase at BroadbandPlus (The New Western Show) will include about 60 broadband demonstrations in this year’s exhibit. The participating companies are listed at http://www.cablelabs.org/news/pr/2002/02_pr_cablenet02_pr1_101402.html . ( www.cablelabs.org )
Dolby is addressing the growing trend toward using PCs for personal entertainment through its "Dolby in PC" initiative. ( www.dolby.com )
Everywhere! Broadband, a new UK ISP, has announced plans to launch a satellite-based high-speed service in partnership with Eutelsat. They are preparing to roll out the service throughout the UK. The price is slated to be £19.95 per month, including VAT. ( www.everywherebroadband.com )
Ikanos Communications introduced its SmartLeap 8800 A/VDSL chipset integrating VDSL-DMT, ADSL-DMT, and Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) in a single programmable silicon solution. It allows equipment vendors to build a single line card supporting multiple broadband service options and also provides on-chip QoS. ( www.ikanos.com )
iPass Inc. announced that they will introduce usage-based pricing for Ethernet and Wi-Fi (802.11b) Internet connectivity. The new pricing plan takes effect November 15, 2002 and will charge users by the minute for broadband connectivity instead of the current fixed fee for each twenty-four hour period of service. ( www.ipass.com )
Listen.com has launched Rhapsody 2.0 which allows CD-burning. Subscribers to the $9.95 per month, "All Access" subscription are able to burn tracks for an additional $.99 per track, on a pay-as-you-go basis. Only selected tracks which have a red "burn icon" are available for burning. In other news Verizon Online was the latest service provider to sign a deal with Listen.com to bring their Rhapsody music application to Verizon's DSL users. ( www.listen.com ) ( www.verizon.com )
Main.net Communications Ltd., a provider of power line communications (PLC) broadband access network solutions, announced that ABB has joined Power PLUS Communications (PPC) as shareholder and strategic partner. PPC, a joint venture between Main.net and MVV Energie AG, the leading German multi-utility company, markets Main.net's PLUS system in Germany and Austria. ABB's subsidiary, ABB New Venture GmbH, has taken over 14 percent of PPC's shares with cash and additional assets investments. ( www.mainnet-plc.com ) ( www.abb.com )
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic) and Microsoft have co-developed a new technology to improve interoperability for digital media content between PCs and consumer electronics devices such as CD players, car stereos and living room DVD devices. The technology is called HighM.A.T., which stands for High-performance Media Access Technology. CDs created using the HighM.A.T. technology will be fully compatible with existing devices that play back recordable disc media. Panasonic, Microsoft and Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. (Fujifilm) will adopt this new technology for use in their future products. The HighM.A.T. specification is available for licensing. ( www.panasonic.co.jp/global/top.html ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.HighMAT.com )
Microsoft has announced that 10 U.S. and three Canadian broadband service providers will be the first to support the Microsoft "Xbox Compatible" program for Xbox Live. The service launches in the US and Canada on Nov. 15. Broadband service providers include Bell Canada, BellSouth Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., EarthLink Inc., MSN, Qwest Communications, Rogers Cable Inc., SBC Communications Inc., TELUS Corp., Time Warner Cable’s Road Runner service and Verizon Communications. ( www.microsoft.com )
Panasonic and CableLabs announced that Panasonic is the first major television manufacturer to sign a POD-Host Interface License Agreement (PHILA) with the cable industry. The agreement enables Panasonic to develop, manufacture and market digital televisions (DTV's) that will be able to directly receive High Definition (HDTV) and other digital programs via cable, including premium services, wherever they are available in the U.S. Such a DTV can be connected by cable subscribers directly to their digital cable service without the requirement for a set top box. ( www.panasonic.com ) ( www.cablelabs.com )
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) announced plans to introduce its online PlayStation 2 European Broadband Network in spring 2003. In the UK the broadband gaming pack retail price will be £44.99. It will enable PS 2 owners with broadband internet access to access online multiplayer games. ( www.scee.com )
T-Mobile will provide high-speed wireless Internet access to passengers traveling on American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Over the next year, T-Mobile plans to add its Wi-Fi HotSpot service to roughly 100 of the airlines' most frequented clubs and lounges. T-Mobile offers a variety of service plans, from pay-as-you-go at as little as $2.99 to unlimited national plans for $49.99 a month. ( www.t-mobile.com )
Vitis Technologies announced software-based MPEG2 technology providing ad and animated logo insertion and bit rate shaping in the MPEG2 compressed domain, running on of-the-shelf DSPs. The technology is targeted as a method for providing advertising overlaid on TV video, to circumvent the ad skipping capabilities of PVRs. ( www.vitistech.com )
Wanadoo, the French ISP, has introduced new tiered broadband Internet plans for consumers. Its low end is eXtense 128k flat rate service at €30 per month. Other services include the eXtense 512k service, which costs €45.42 per month; the eXtense 1024k which costs €80 a month and a small business/ SOHO service called "eXtense Pro". ( www.wanadoo.com )
The HomePlug Powerline Alliance announced plans for the next version of its technical specification, called HomePlug AV, designed to support distribution of data and multi-stream entertainment including High Definition television (HDTV) and Standard Definition television (SDTV) throughout the home. When finalized, HomePlug AV integrated circuits will connect a variety of PC and home entertainment devices including satellite and cable set top boxes, personal video recorders, and flat panel monitors. The new specification is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months, with integrated circuits and consumer products available thereafter. In a recent conversation, HomePlug President Tom Reed indicated that field trials are included in that timeframe. ( www.homeplug.org )
The TV Linux Alliance announced the availability of specification version 0.8. The alliance is a consortium of digital media technology suppliers established to define a standards-based Linux environment for the digital set-top terminal market. This initial spec provides developers with basic functionality for tuner level and device definitions, and standardized application programming interface (API) functions for those devices. Future specification versions will define APIs for additional digital media functionality. The group's founders include ATI Technologies, Broadcom, Conexant, Motorola, STMicroelectronics, Sun Microsystems and TiVo, among others. ( www.tvlinuxalliance.com )
The ZigBee Alliance has been formed to create and develop a new, very low cost, very low power, two-way wireless communications standard. The promoting company members are Invensys, Motorola, Mitsubishi and Philips. Target devices include home and building automation, PC peripherals, industrial controls, and toys and games. ( www.zigbee.org )
The US Department of Commerce issued a report in late September called "Understanding Broadband Demand: A Review of Critical Issues" which can be found at http://www.ta.doc.gov/reports/TechPolicy/Broadband_020921.htm
At CES last January Bill Gates talked about two concepts that caught our attention - one code-named Freestyle and the other dubbed Mira. Fast forward ten months to New York's Bryant Park on October 29th. There Microsoft announced North American availability of the first "Freestyle" product: Hewlett-Packard's Media Center PC with Windows XP Media Center Edition (MCE). (Mira, now called Windows-Powered Smart Displays, is expected next year).
At the launch event, we got a close up of the HP Media Center. It is an all-in-one TV, PVR (personal video recorder), Windows XP Pro PC and DVD player. It provides both the usual PC functionality and an "across the room" entertainment experience.
The new "10 foot user interface" is controlled by a new TV-like "look and feel" and a remote control which navigates to My TV, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos and Play DVD.
The formal launch program included Microsoft's Mike Toutonghi, VP of Windows eHome Division, and Molly Scoville Rhoten, Group Program Manager; Tom Anderson, H-P's VP of Marketing, Consumer PCs; and comedian Tom Arnold of Fox Sports. For our money, the best part of the program was the three students from Columbia University who won Microsoft's very clever contest. Microsoft had given HP Media Centers to various groups of college kids and had them create content entries of what they liked about these units and why they should win. Dominique, Akil and Selum really rocked and conveyed the sparkle in a way only enthusiastic college kids can do. The promotion was clever because college students and others with small living quarters seem to be the dead-on target market for this "combo" product.
CompUSA's Fifth Avenue store in New York was a great place to showcase the product, since many New Yorkers, especially young ones, face the problem of shoehorning all their belongings into cramped quarters. However, this product can play a role in suburban homes that want both a PC and TV for a kids room or study.
There are many outstanding questions about this product, its positioning and what comes next. One natural question is "What's really new here and why did it take ten months since CES?" Many of the digital media functions that were being touted on the Media Center seem to be ones I can do with my current Windows XP Pro PC, or on any well-equipped new PC. I can already play DVDs and play and record CDs; use my hard drive as a jukebox for the digital music we've ripped from our CDs; connect our digital video camera thru the 1394 port, download video and use our video editing software; and connect our digital camera thru the USB connector and make albums. We can (and do) use our home network to show pictures through our ReplayTV 4000 on our entertainment center screen in the family room, and listen to music from our PC jukebox on the AudioTron in our bedroom.
So what is new? In a nutshell it's the multimedia integration. We're told that under the covers there's lots of new "core Windows AV plumbing." The Media Center includes a TV tuner card, a online program guide, PVR integration, high quality audio speakers and sound card, and the DVD recording capability we don't have on our year-old systems. The remote control and simple "10 foot" user interface are big distinguishing features. There's also an integrated media card reader which handles almost any removable media type. And for those who use the PC and TV together, there's picture-in-picture capability: you can scale the video window down and keep your TV show running while you're working or Web browsing. The prices for this functionality range from $1349 to $1999, depending on model (not including the display).
Much of the work has been about getting the multimedia software and interface done and putting together all the pieces so users don't have to cobble it together thmeselves. Except for the TV UI, its functionality is not all that different from what a techie type could stitch together from various pieces--but not many people will want to undertake that kind of project. Besides, much of this is really about the ease of use that comes from the out-of-the-box integration and UI.
Working with partners, Microsoft has also created the hooks to allow addition of new applications for entertainment, communications and control, leveraging the new user interface and remote control.
So we've seen the first step of Gate's promise. PC screens now display TV content and can be navigated by a remote from across the room. What about those who just bought a high-powered PC and don't want or need another one? And what about those who want to use the PC in one room and the TV in another - as Gates showed at CES?
Microsoft recently upgraded XP with SP1, which adds the core technologies to support MCE. What else is needed on a recently-purchased PC besides the MCE package? Support for this large potential upgrade-market segment depends on also having a TV tuner card with a hardware encoder for recording TV, a high performance graphics card and an IR sensor for communicating between the remote control and PC (and to control a cable or satellite set-top box).
Microsoft's literature for MCE says "It will only be available on these new PCs; no upgrade from a previous version of windows is planned." However, we expect Microsoft and its partners will create an add-on hardware/software bundle to allow your existing machine to play these new tricks. But there's lots of complexity in add-ons -- compatibility and horsepower questions can get in the way. Microsoft (and HP) have chosen to go after a very specific target market, get their feet wet and make the usual improvements that happen after a new product is released -- postponing the complex support issues that occur in the add-on market and waiting for elements like hardware encoders to become more available.
The other major item in Gate's January demo but missing here is remoting the TV from the PC screen to a big one in the home entertainment center. After all, if you've created a great video of your last family party and they visit again, you'd like to show off your video skills on the big screen, not the PC. What's missing is a capable (with high bandwidth and quality of service) and well-accepted standard for home video networking. Microsoft has apparently chosen to postpone this piece until the confusing video networking scene has had some time to shake out. (We talk more about video and whole home networking in the next article.)
So our appraisal is that it looks like a good first step. The rationale for Microsoft's first introduction seems perfectly reasonable: focus on a narrow market segment first, work the bugs out, and expand later to add-ons and remote TVs. We expect Microsoft will learn from it and over time fill in the missing pieces of the promise.
The bright daylight in Bryant Park made it difficult to assess TV picture quality, which was criticized in some of the reviews. We'll postpone our thoughts on this and the new user interface until we try it in our own home. We'll report further once we can put the Media Center through its paces with real applications.
Over the past year we've published occasional blurbs about how Magis Networks has garnered new funding from some major industry players. With all the focus and popularity of Wi-Fi, we wondered why companies like Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Sanyo, Motorola and AOL Time Warner Inc. were investing in a company that is not going the Wi-Fi route. Our recent phone interview with Magis EVP Pete Fowler helped put in place some of the pieces of the complex home networking puzzle.
To understand Magis' direction, it's important to understand where Wi-Fi stands today. Wi-Fi has had great success in connecting PCs and other 802.11b equipped devices to broadband networks and to each other. Recently the Wi-Fi Alliance started interoperability testing on 802.11a, a faster technology with sufficent bandwidth for video. Although it has the bandwidth, .11a still lacks the quality of service provisions which are important for carrying isochronous information like video and audio. Those capabilities are "in the works" (in the form of 802.11e) but the standards development seems to be stalled. Enter Magis, whose investors don't want to wait for capabilites to move entertainment, especially video, around the home.
Magis says its goal for Air5™-based networks is to support "multiple, simultaneous streams of high-quality video, audio, and TCP/IP data at ranges up to 250 feet, and throughput up to 40 Mbps, while maintaining their original quality and security. Air5 features Quality of Service that is necessary for the distribution of video, such as high-definition (HDTV) and standard definition television, as well as audio applications such as voice calls." Fowler said that at the recent Panasonic industrial expo in Japan they demonstrated carrying data payloads of 25-28 Mbps for 80-100 feet. Initial products using this technology are being introduced in Japan; examples include plasma display panels and LCDs which can be carried around the house and have video wirelessly delivered to them. We expect to see some of these at the January CES and will probably see them enter the North American market in 2003. Given Motorola's investment in Magis, we expect we'll see products from this collaboration at BroadbandPlus in Anaheim in December.
It's easy to get confused about their technology when reading their company backgrounder, since it says that Magis was "established in August 1999 to develop next-generation 802.11a chipsets" and "The foundation of Magis’ Air5™ technology encompasses IEEE 802.11a, HiperLAN2, and Wireless 1394 standards." What does that all mean?
Like 802.11a, Air5 works in the 5 GHz unlicensed spectrum and uses a similar physical specification. But the similarity ends there since its MAC is synchronous and based on HiperLAN2 - much better suited for isochronous video than the asynchronous MAC of .11a. While Air5 can co-exist with 802.11-based systems (by finding different channels to operate on), it can't interoperate with them. Existing Wi-Fi systems would have to be replaced with proprietary Magis technology to interoperate with Magis-equipped devices. This seems like a stretch.
The good news about Magis is that they have silicon today which seems to work well for video networking, carrying HDTV or multiple streams of standard definition TV. The more difficult part of the picture is that its technology is proprietary. We believe that to be successful in the networking market, Magis will have to get standards approval for their technology, both to overcome fears about being captive to one vendor and to get the volumes that come with multi-vendor support.
Meanwhile, 802.11 needs to get its act together on QoS, in order to play its part in the entertainment networking scenarios of the future. It's this kind of uncertainty that is causing companies like Microsoft to delay their Media Center thrust for remoting the TV until the future direction for video networking starts shaking out.
We have written before about the Wi-Fi Alliance, until recently known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA). The Alliance's efforts until now have been to promote "Wi-Fi" branding for wireless networking products based on the IEEE 802.11 standards, and to certify devices built to those standards for interoperability. The Alliance has done a great promotional job -- we see "Wi-Fi" used in the popular press to mean just about anything wireless. Last month we wrote about extending the brand to include products based on the 802.11a high-speed standard, and we expect to see these products bearing a Wi-Fi CERTIFIED sticker in the near future.
Standards processes move slowly, and sometimes get behind the curve when markets cry for solutions. Security has been a serious problem for wireless networking -- most knowledgeable people know that the "WEP security" in current Wi-Fi products has serious exposures and the popular press is full of articles on “wardrivers” finding and exploiting security holes. A standards body -- IEEE 802.11i -- has been working for nearly three years to define a more bullet-proof approach, but these standards won't be ratified until some time in 2003. Many believe that only new devices will be able to meet these new standards.
The Wi-Fi Alliance has just announced “a security solution based on an IEEE standards effort called Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) to replace the existing WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy).” This program will certify devices with additional security features, prior to IEEE completing work on the full 802.11i security standard. The Alliance says that WPA will be included in 802.11i when it is completed, and is the key part of .11i that can be implemented on existing products. Vendors are expected to offer software upgrades for current Wi-Fi CERTIFIED products early next year, and new products will need to conform with WPA to achieve certification.
Moving in front of standards represents a new direction for the Alliance, and shows its members' sensitivity to market needs. The Alliance has been working for some time on the interoperability of wireless hotspots under the name "WISPr" (Wireless ISP Roaming). We view the WPA announcement as a key step in this direction, since it provides a key-exchange mechanism which appears well suited to roaming users.
So we wouldn't be surprised to see the Alliance extend the Wi-Fi brand to include an open architecture for roaming among hotspots. Wouldn't it be great if the same software load would let you use any hotspot in range, with a settlement process between the service providers to divide up your payments so you'd only need to subscribe to one service?
( www.wi-fi.org )
We were trying to be patient. The cable installer had clearly been trained to walk new digital cable customers through a complete orientation. He was not going to be dissuaded just because we said we knew something about the technical details of cable. He was serious about doing his job well.
As he was finally wrapping up the details of "enhanced TV" services, he asked "Do you have a computer?" When we said yes, he continued: "So you know about control-alt-delete, right?" Now he really had our attention. "Well," he continued, "when you select something with your remote, be careful not to push it again until the little icon stops moving" (pointing out where to look). "Otherwise, you might hang up the set-top." Then he said brightly, "But don't worry, in case that happens, all you need to do is push these two buttons at the same time" (pointing to the bottom right of the set-top) "and it will re-start, just like your computer".
At that moment, we both had the same thought: Alan Cooper's question in "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum" (see BBHR May 23, 2002) "What do you get when you combine a computer and [name any useful object: a car, alarm clock, camera, etc]?". As Cooper predicted, the answer was clear: combining a computer with a set-top, we got a computer.
We really love the content of our digital cable service. We get video on demand, a useful program guide, some interactive features, and lots of new channels. But we also get frustrated training ourselves to be patient for literally seconds at a time while the logo slowly spins and we tap our fingers and wait. And we found that the set-top can crash even without pushing buttons on the remote: while we were away for two weeks, all the episodes of "Sex and the City" we thought we had recorded on our PVR turned out to be the Weather Channel (selected when we left).
What's the lesson? The good news is that our cable operator is no longer buying those set tops and we hope the new ones have better human factors. The cautionary tale is that real users don't want to re-boot their set-tops and watch logos and wait.
To create experiences customers really love, new services need both great content and great user interaction.
In October the US took the next step on the path to "everything digital". We've been writing about the trend toward more and more home devices becoming digital -- including audio players, cameras, camcorders and TVs. In radio we saw the start of this with satellite radio from XM and Sirius, although their uptake has been slow.
The digital technology format called HD Radio, recently approved by the FCC, enables digital broadcasting in the AM and FM bands. The digital radio technology is being produced by privately held iBiquity and was previously known as In-Band On-Channel (IBOC) technology. It works within the current AM and FM spectrum allocations, so consumers can continue to use their existing analog receivers as well as getting the higher quality and additional services offered by the new generation of HD Radio-equipped receivers.
The technology is said to enhance FM radio signals to CD quality and AM signals to the quality of today's analog FM signals. Broadcasters can send out text information with their broadcasts, such as what song is currently playing, news, weather, and stock quotes; this will facilitate personalized programming, such as traffic reports on demand rather than at the pre-set times designated by today's "all news" radio stations.
Manufacturers are expected to introduce new digital receivers for car stereos and high-end audio systems at the upcoming CES show. Products will be labeled with "HD radio" stickers which will initially add about $100 to the price. Delphi Corp. has licensed HD Radio technology and will integrate it into receivers slated for 2004 cars.
iBiquity was established from the merger of two digital-broadcasting companies, Lucent Digital Radio Inc. and USA Digital Radio Corp. The company's investors include 15 of the nation’s top radio broadcasters, including ABC, Clear Channel and Viacom. It has been working with electronic retailers, suppliers such as JVC, Kenwood, and Sanyo, and car companies like Ford. TI introduced a DSP-based digital baseband chip enabling HD Radio technology in August.
The FCC ruling allows broadcasters to proceed immediately with HD Radio broadcasting while final standards are established. iBiquity is working closely with the National Radio Systems Committee (NRSC), co-sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), to develop final standards.
Windows and HomePlug
George Geotsalitis wrote to point out an article in a recent issue of Smart Computing that said "WinXP supports two types of networks: Ethernet and phoneline. It does not support power-line networks...". He said "I've read your post mortems (to date) on your HomePlug trials and you certainly didn't mention an OS incompatibilities (what OS did you employ by the by?). While the article didn't single-out any particular power-line technology, do you have any insight as to what might have engendered the comment mentioned above?"
We used Windows XP, NT and 98SE and had no trouble with the HomePlug Ethernet devices. As we discussed in the HomePlug pages on our website, the USB software explicitly requires Win98SE or higher since earlier versions of Windows don't support USB; Win 95 and NT don't support USB and the software refuses to install on those systems. We did find installation of the USB devices to be rather complex, partly due to the complex software environment on our main test machine.
We doubt that users would have any trouble with Ethernet versions of HomePlug on any version of Windows, since all support Ethernet. And we expect most users would have no trouble using HomePlug on any version of Windows with built-in USB support -- that's all except 95, early 98 and NT.
Jamey Calloway wrote: In the latest edition of The Broadband Home report you alluded to online gaming as a compelling broadband application. My son was recently chosen to become an Xbox Live beta tester. We purchased the Xbox gaming system last Christmas. The Xbox Ethernet data port has been plugged into the home network (we live in a "wire" home) ever since - just waiting to go live. About a month ago, his selection as a beta tester finally allowed the Ethernet data port to go "live". The Xbox was able to automatically configure the network settings (we have Time Warner's RoadRunner cable modem service and a Linksys Router/Switch) and in minutes my son was playing head-to-head NFL football with other gamers around the country. The system enables the gamers to talk to one another while they are playing. My 15 year old son indicated that the "live" experience elevated game playing to a whole new level -competing directly against another human is much more thrilling than just "playing the box". Is this the "killer app"? Probably not, but it's definitely a compelling reason to go broadband."
...and another one from co-editor Sandy: I was working on a client project when I got an email from BMW about their new season of BMW films. It caught my attention so I went to their Web site and realized I had missed seeing their "season 1" films. I clicked on "the hostage" and 5 minutes later emerged from my trance-like state of watching an incredible chase vignette directed by John Frankenhiemer. I had just watched a subtle commercial for BMW and loved every minute of it! When we had (non-broadband) visitors that weekend, I showed them one film and then lost my PC while they viewed the others. With PVRs increasingly zapping commercials this is a great way for companies to get a message through. On a subsequent trip to NY, I noticed BMW is giving billboard size promotion to these films. ( www.bmwfilms.com )
We've continued upgrading the Broadband Home Central web site to make it even more useful as an ongoing resource for the Broadband Home Community.
Please keep letting us know what you think of our report and site, problems you find, and things you'd like added.