During 2002 and 2003, the idea of obtaining music and distributing it around your home has gone from something for the high-end audiophile or ultra-geek to something that's coming into reach for the masses. First Linksys and its competitors made Wi-Fi home networking an inexpensive and easily available option. Now they are about to do the same for audio distribution to your analog devices.
Linksys has announced its new Wireless-B Media Adapter (http://www.linksys.com/splash/wma11b_splash.asp), a wireless multimedia product that allows users to enjoy digital music and pictures stored on their PC by viewing and playing it on their TVs and stereos. The product bridges the analog and digital worlds using 802.11b wireless networking to deliver digital content to conventional TVs and home stereos. They are working to include playlist support from popular music services such as Rhapsody and MusicMatch. And they have announced this as "the first in a line of new Wireless Home products from Linksys."
Although educating people on the application and making it easy to buy and install are still in process, the next big leap is doing something similar with video. Content ownership rights and business models are still huge issues, but we're watching as progress is being made on the nuts and bolts of the enabling technologies. TiVo and ReplayTV have made some steps with multi-room PVR technology, but the fundamental question of how to transport high-quality video around the home is a major thrust for consumer electronics companies.
We're hearing that CES 2004 should give us some clues as to which home networking technologies--especially wireless ones--the consumer electronics industry will incorporate in their networked video devices. As we've written previously, Wi-Fi (both the 11b and 11g flavors) lack QoS and sufficient speed, especially for running multiple SD channels or HDTV. Companies we have written about previously, such as ViXS and Bermai, are each betting that they have the winning solution.
The consumer electronics industry vision of what the customer will want is getting clearer. Examples include:
At CES in January, we interviewed Sally Daub (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0301_8.html#link8d), CEO of ViXS, and saw a demo of their "XCode" chip carrying multiple HD video streams over 802.11a. This chip dynamically adjusts the bit-rates, resolutions and formats of multiple MPEG video streams, in real time, adapting each stream to changing network bandwidth. In April, ViXS announced that XCode had been integrated with the new Toshiba America Electronic Components, Inc. reference design, targeted at media center/home entertainment gateway applications. In June they announced that ViXS is combining its Matrix chipset with Intersilís PRISM Indigo RF front-end components to offer OEMs a video-optimized WLAN chipset. We spoke again with Sally last week, following their announcement of a strategic relationship with Nissho Electronics. Nissho is a leading distributor in the consumer electronics market, providing technologies to Japanese companies like Sony, NEC, Panasonic and JVC, so this is another step toward getting ViXS technology into CE and PC products that wirelessly distribute high-quality digital video.
Sally was about to leave for a big wireless show in Tokyo, where 802.11a seems to be on a faster path to rollout than in the US. We're hoping that by the time January, 2004 rolls around, some of the products incorporating networked video that are already becoming available in Japan will start making their way to the US and more broadly around the world.
Meanwhile Bermai, another company we've written about (http://www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0205_5.html), is getting closer to availability of its 802.11a chip and access point based on it. In a recent discussion, Steve Timmerman, VP of Marketing and Business Development, talked about their approach based on a technology they call "twin receiver diversity". Their approach is focused on upping the distance effectively covered by 802.11a and on ultra-integration to keep the external component count (and therefore the BOM cost) low. They have also created an extension, based on the draft spec of IEEE 812.11e, to address the QoS requirements inherent in video transmission. Although Bermai's approach is quite different from that of ViXS, they both agree that 802.11a has some distinctive qualities--operating in a cleaner spectrum band and having much more capacity than 802.11b/g--which make it a particularly attractive choice for networking video.
We're really looking forward to CES in January!
( www.linksys.com ) ( www.listen.com ) ( www.musicmatch.com ) ( www.tivo.com ) ( www.replaytv.com ) ( www.vixs.com ) ( www.bermai.com ) ( www.tais.toshiba.com ) ( www.intersil.com ) ( www.nissho-ele.co.jp )