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The January 21, 2003 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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CES: Making Networked Entertainment Work

With the proliferation of devices for storing and playing media (think TVs, stereos, PVRs, MP3 players, digital cameras, camcorders, DVD players, PCs) how can you ever find and play what you want, when and where you want it? For example, you've recorded a movie on your living room TiVo, but get sleepy and want to see the end in your bedroom. Or you've "ripped" CDs to your computer's hard drive and want to play them in the dining room. Now imagine this problem magnified as you have multiple connected entertainment and Internet-connected devices that want to exchange content and digitally control each other. Many companies exhibiting at CES have started addressing this type of problem

There are several ways of going at it. Companies can develop middleware to address the general problem and license it to several companies for a variety of devices. Alternatively, individual companies can create their own specific solutions to enable various devices to communicate. At CES we saw several examples of each.


Mediabolic: Managing Media thru Middleware

Mediabolic has taken the first approach and aims to solve a number of generic problems for networked entertainment companies. They have created an embedded software platform, which they license to consumer electronics and PC manufacturers and can be used on top of the operating systems of many devices. The functions provided include media management and players for music, photos, videos, PVRs, DVD-Rs and PCs; communications between devices; data management; creation of consistent user interfaces; and applications that will run across various devices. Their solution has to be powerful, have a small footprint and be customizable for each company.

Mediabolic's M1 software has been licensed by HP and Pioneer. In addition, they have agreements with Denon and Marantz. Jeremy Toeman, VP of Product Management, told us that they also have contracts with four additional companies whose names have not been disclosed. Mediabolic runs on both Windows and Linux, decodes media formats that include Windows Media, Real Media, Quicktime and MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. It has also implemented UPnP although it is not yet certified.

Mediabolic and TI have also combined their software and semiconductor solutions, producing a complete set of silicon and software solutions for building connected entertainment products for the consumer electronics market, including DVD players, audio/video receivers, televisions, media servers, and other networked devices.


Pioneer: Where Home Entertainment is Going

Pioneer Network Entertainment --> Click for larger pictureTo understand what real implementations based on Mediabolic look like, we visited Pioneer on the show floor. Their DigitaLibrary products will allow users to distribute music, video, photos and Internet content throughout the home, through wired connections or wirelessly. The DigitaLibrary, to be available in May, consists of a main server unit, the DL-1000, and a "branch" or receiver unit, the DL-100, which goes where content will be received. The DL-1000 has an 80-gigabyte hard drive, an Ethernet jack for wired or wireless connection, and a CD drive for direct transfer of content to the server. The four primary functions of the DigitaLibrary are the Music Jukebox, Photo Albums, Video Clips and Internet Content. Pioneer says the DigitaLibrary can distribute three DVD-quality streams and 21 audio streams simultaneously.

At suggested retail prices of $1000 and $600 for the central and receiver units, we don't expect huge consumer volumes this year. We think Pioneer's entry into the networked entertainment market provides a sign of where home entertainment is headed.

( www.mediabolic.com ) ( www.pioneerelectronics.com )


PRISMIQ: CES Award Winner

PRISMIQ (see BBHR 11/24/02 http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0211_5.html ) has developed a $250 networked set-top box which supports your personal media (such as MP3s and digital photos), chat, and web access, leveraging your existing PC and home networking. It brings multiple media together, but is intended for use at the one spot in the house where the box is installed - probably the family entertainment center. Prismiq won Tech TV's Best of Show in the home automation and networking category, and was one of CNET's "10 Best of CES". ( www.prismiq.com )


Ucentric: Courting the Network Operators

Ucentric demonstrated MPEG2 video delivery to multiple TVs in combination with Ucentric's Multi-TV PVR software, using 802.11g wireless. Their FlexMedia LAN software enables the networking of multiple clients, hard drives and tuners throughout the home. Ucentric is focused on building a reference design as the foundation for a continuum of products ranging from standalone PVRs to Multi-TV PVRs, Media Centers and Media Gateway, offering a complete set of video-enabled solutions for the home. Ucentric has previously announced relationships with Philips and Pace Micro Technology and has network operators as their primary target, rather than end users or CE manufacturers. ( www.ucentric.com )


TiVo: Moving PVRs Forward

TiVo announced their Home Media Option which will be available as a software download for any TiVo Series2 in Spring 2003. It will allow subscribers to stream music and photos stored on the PC to the family TV. In addition, video can be transferred from a TiVo in the bedroom to another TiVo in the living room.

Moving video from one place to another raises many concerns about copyright protection. TiVo has addressed these concerns several ways. First, TiVo's current retail systems record only from analog TV inputs; a digital channel from a cable settop box is transfered to TiVo over an analog connection. Second, the Home Media Option includes a conditional access system: users will be free to share their recordings between TiVo Series2 devices in the home, but cannot send content outside the home. Taken together, these should satisfy the copyright holders, who are much more concerned about digital recording than analog. TiVo hopes that the conditional access approach will alleviate their concerns about the coming generation of recorders designed for digital television.

We had a very helpful follow-on discussion with Ted Malone, Director, Product & Service Marketing at TiVo to understand their approach to sharing media. We asked about TiVo's current proprietary approach to sharing media between devices and rooms in comparison to the middleware approach of a company like Mediabolic. Ted understood our concern about how communications interoperability will occur between multiple vendors and types of devices. He mentioned that TiVo is based on an underlying services protocol called TvBus. If the need for interoperability becomes clear, TiVo may decide to open source the software. Or it might contribute it to an industry consortium focused on interoperability. He pointed us to a description of TiVo's architecture in a presentation by CTO Jim Barton: http://bmrc.berkeley.edu/bibs/instance?prog=1&group=21&inst=627

( www.tivo.com )


Conclusions

While we are still very early in the life cycle of networked entertainment products, what we saw at CES leads us to two conclusions:

  • Networked entertainment products will become mainstream over the next few years.
  • We're more likely to see converged networks than converged devices. All the talk about convergence is playing out, but in many cases what it means is not multiple applications together in one box, but separate devices connected together through networking and software.