BBH Central IconBBH Report Home PageSandy and Dave
  CENTRAL home  |   REPORT home About/Contact Us  |   Subscribe  |   Index by Topic  
The January 22, 2004 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
Print this issue Print table of contents PicturesPictures from this issue

In This Issue

Heard on the Net

CES 2004
The Future Is Here

The Year of the Digital Media Adapter

Connected by Design -
Our Broadband Odyssey

Wireless Video Networking -
Update on Bermai and ViXS

Making Life Simple -
An Interview With Motive

Your Voice -
Readers' Comments


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Michael Adams was appointed VP, Video Architecture Technology at Terayon. Adams was previously with Time Warner Cable in a variety of executive and senior engineering roles. ( www.terayon.com )

Bruce Bahlmann has joined Fine Point Technologies as New Technologies Product Manager. Bruce was previously CEO of Bird-Eye Network Services. ( www.finepoint.com )

Ray Bennett rejoined Interactive Enterprise as VP of Channel Management. Bennett previously had founded a software company focused on the sports market. ( www.interactive-enterprise.com )

Mike Dagenais has been promoted to President and CEO of Optical Solutions. Previously he was with Convergent Networks. ( www.opticalsolutions.com )

Mark Johnson was named VP of Business Development at the broadband professional development firm, NCTI. ( www.ncti.com )

Mike LaJoie has been named CTO of Time Warner Cable. LaJoie was previously an EVP and headed TWC's advanced-technology group. ( www.timewarnercable.com )

Al Purdy was appointed VP, International Sales at optical access system provider Wave7 Optics. ( www.wave7optics.com )

Ron Sege has been named president and CEO at Wi-Fi network provider Tropos Networks. Sege was previously CEO of Ellacoya Networks. ( www.tropos.com )

Dave Williamson was appointed VP of sales at Bridgewater Systems. He was previously with Borland Software. ( www.bridgewatersystems.com )


Company News

--Acquisitions

Liberty Media Corp. has paid $1.39 billion in cash and stock to acquire the second-largest voting stake in News Corp. This gives Liberty a 9.15 percent voting stake in Rupert Murdoch's giant international media company. ( www.libertymedia.com ) ( www.newscorp.com )

Nielsen/NetRatings is buying a 58% share in audience-measurement firm RedSheriff for $12 million. ( www.nielsen-netratings.com ) ( www.redsheriff.com )

PCTel Inc. completed its $20 million acquisition of Maxrad Inc., a manufacturer of antennas for broadband wireless, in-building wireless and land mobile radio applications. ( www.pctel.com ) ( www.maxrad.com )

STMicroelectronics announced acquisition of the wireless-LAN developer Synad Technologies Ltd. ( www.stm.com )

--Funding

Alereon Inc., an Ultra Wideband (UWB) semiconductor company producing chipsets for the personal area networking (PAN) market, today announced it has received $31.5 million in the first round of its Series A financing. ( www.alereon.com )

Athena Semiconductors Inc. has closed its Series B preferred stock financing round and will receive a total of $10 million. ( www.athenasemi.com )

Broadbus closed $25 million in Series B funding for its video-on-demand (VOD) server systems for the cable television industry. ( www.broadbus.com )

Fine Point Technologies, a provider of broadband and dial up provisioning solutions has received a round of growth funding from the Edison Venture capital fund. ( www.finepoint.com ) ( www.edisonventure.com )

N2 Broadband has raised $10 million in a "C" round of funding. N2 Broadband has raised $27 million to date. ( www.n2broadband.com )

Narad Networks has secured $17.5 million in a new round of financing. ( www.naradnetworks.com )

News Corp. received regulatory approval from both the US Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department for its $6.6 billion purchase of a controlling interest in Hughes Electronics from General Motors. News Corp. will become the second-largest provider of pay TV services in the US, following number one Comcast. ( www.newscorp.com )

Pedestal Networks raised $20 million in Series C funding, bringing the company's total financing to $34 million. ( www.pedestalnetworks.com )

Ucentric, a provider of multi-room digital video recording, has secured $4 million more in financing from Polaris Ventures Partners. ( www.ucentric.com )

--Regulatory News

US: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Order on the use and applications of cognitive “smart” radio systems -- see FCC 03-322. These technologies can enable more intensive and effective spectrum use at a time when the demand for radio spectrum continues to increase.

UK: The Government Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is opening the 5.8Ghz Band C spectrum on 2nd of February 2004 for the provision of broadband fixed wireless access services. 5.8GHz Band C - ranging from 5725 to 5850 MHz - will be open to existing telecom and ISPs as well as being available to the community, health and educational sectors. Regulator OFCOM hopes this bandwidth will increase broadband availability in rural areas of the UK.

--Industry Alliances and Forums

HomePlug Powerline Alliance, Inc. announced Comcast, DS2 and EarthLink are joining HomePlug as new board member companies supporting creation of specifications for home powerline networking products and services. ( www.homeplug.org )

The new Multimedia Over Coax Alliance (MoCA) is a comprised of service providers, tech firms and retailers that have joined forces to tap the unused bandwidth of in-home coax and to network a wide variety of devices, including televisions, set-tops, digital video recorders and MP3 players. MoCA's founders include Comcast Cable, EchoStar Communications, Entropic Communications, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), Motorola, RadioShack Corp. and Toshiba. The group's goal is to create a set of specifications for MoCA and to develop a certification process for MoCA-based products. Members will work to integrate Entropic's two-chip set known as c.Link-270 into their products so that they can be used to turn in-home coaxial cable into a 270-Mbps home network. ( www.mocalliance.org ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.dishnetwork.com ) ( www.entropic-communications.com ) ( www.panasonic.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.radioshack.com ) ( www.toshiba.com )

The WiMAX Forum announced that it has more than doubled its membership from 28 to 67 members in five months. Operators such as AT&T, Covad and Hong Kong-based PCCW and infrastructure providers such as Siemens Mobile and China-based ZTE Corporation joined the Forum. Among the new members are a number of established BWA original equipment manufacturers including Axxcelera Broadband Wireless, Beamreach Networks, Intracom, KarlNet, NextNet Wireless, REMEC and Vyyo. ( www.WiMAXForum.org )


Other News In Brief

Editors Note: Because of the large volume of announcements this month, especially from CES, we decided to group much of this month's news by subject areas and trends to which they relate. Because so many of these items do represent trends, the news we've listed for each is only a sampling of the recent news.

Fiber deployments picking up momentum in the US

  • SBC Communications has entered into a four-year primary supplier agreement with Alcatel for the SBC fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) initiative. SBC will now move forward with lab testing and field trials. ( www.sbc.com ) ( www.alcatel.com )
  • Columbus Telephone Company (Kansas), a customer-owned and operated utility in the southeast corner of the state, announced construction of a new FTTP network reaching all of the company’s almost 3400 subscribers will begin this month; the optical system is being provided by Wave7 Optics. This is one of several local utility companies announcing plans to roll out a new optical broadband network for “triple play” services. ( www.columbus-kansas.com/coltelco ) ( www.wave7optics.com )
  • The Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency (Utopia), a consortium of 18 Utah cities exploring the possibility of linking every home and business in their communities with a fiber-optic line, said it signed AT&T as the first provider of voice, video and data services over its proposed $530 million network. Utopia hopes to begin construction on its network next year. ( www.utopianet.org )

IP telephony becoming standard for "the big guys"

  • Time Warner Cable announced it will bring residential phone service through cable Internet modems to Southwest Ohio by the middle of this year. ( www.timewarnercable.com )
  • Verizon announced it will replace many of its traditional class 5 switches with Nortel Inc. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) softswitches, opening the door for a comprehensive suite of VoIP services, capable of simultaneous voice, data and video signal traffic. ( www.verizon.com )
  • Cox Communications has rolled out telephony services commercially in Roanoke, Va., marking the MSO's first market to go commercial with an advanced IP-based voice platform. The "Cox Connection 60" plan includes unlimited local calls, voice mail and 60 minutes of long distance service for $34.90 per month; the $49.95 per month "Unlimited" VoIP tier offers unlimited long distance. ( www.cox.com )
  • Fujitsu Europe announced the supply of an integrated VoIP platform for the BT Broadband Voice Service, which was launched 9 December 2003. ( www.fujitsu-europe.com ) ( www.bt.com/broadbandvoice )

...while the upstarts keep rolling it out

  • Vonage announced a co-branded partnership with Associated Network Partners Incorporated (ANPI) to deploy broadband telephony service to ANPI’s cable television and long distance telephony member companies across 35 U.S. states. Vonage will offer ANPI’s participating ISP’s, who in turn serve several hundred thousand high-speed Internet subscribers, unlimited local and long distance calling throughout the United States and Canada for a flat rate. In separate news, Vonage announced it will use Texas Instruments software in its VoIP network and has commissioned TI to develop further IP-based technologies to support and expand its services. ( www.vonage.com ) ( www.ti.com )

More broadband for the Euro (or dollar or ...)

  • Optus plans to reduce broadband prices and increase the data allowances of its high speed internet offering. ( www.optus.com.au )
  • HanseNet based in Hamburg, Germany--owned by Telecom Italia--has launched a cut-priced broadband Internet service, which it claims is 50% less expensive than services from Deutsche Telekom. ( www.hansenet.com )
  • Irish telephone company Eircom Ltd. announced it is cutting its monthly broadband fee from EUR54 to EUR40, starting in March. ( www.eircom.ie )
  • Tiscali France has lowered its monthly ADSL prices. The 128 Kbps service has been changed to 512 Kbps for EUR20 per month, and the price for the 1024 Kbps offer was reduced from EUR40 to EUR30. ( www.tiscali.fr )
  • All this indicates a continuing of the trend noted by Point Topic in October, 2003 when they noted that broadband DSL services have undergone an international wave of price cutting during 2003.

More broadband everywhere: US

  • A Harris Interactive poll in late 2003 found that more than one-third (37 percent) of Internet users have broadband. Less than two years ago, only 22 percent of adults online had broadband.
  • Recent Nielsen/NetRatings results indicate the number of U.S. broadband users has jumped 27 percent in the last six months to reach 38% of home broadband users. ( www.nielsen-netratings.com )
  • The FCC found that for the year from June 30, 2002 through June 30, 2003 total broadband connections jumped by 45%.
  • Knowledge Networks/SRI reported that broadband is now in 49% of online homes earning over $75k. It also showed that broadband households are 50% more likely to be active online shoppers. ( www.knowledgenetworks.com/info/press/releases/2004/010904_broadband.htm )
  • Increasing numbers of hotel chains are using the draw of broadband as a free service. This seems to be most prevalent in mid-priced hotels; some high-end ones still charge for the service. Examples include Hilton Garden Inns; Marriott's Courtyard, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites and SpringHill Suites; Comfort Suites; Wyndham; Drury Hotels; Wingate Inns.

...Worldwide

  • According to Pyramid Research, by the end of 2003 there was an estimated increase of almost 30 million broadband subscribers worldwide over 2002.
  • Point Topic's analysis is that broadband reached 100m lines at the end of 2003.

Wi-Fi Broadband Access: Wi-Fi abounds for people on the go, both in hotspots and now also on railroad trains:

  • SNCF, France’s national railway, has been testing Wi-Fi access for passengers on its Paris-Bordeaux-Pau line using the Clic TGV service.
  • In the UK PointShot Wireless and Broadreach Networks announced a strategic partnership to deliver high-quality Wi-Fi services to the UK rail industry. Interestingly, Broadreach's investors include BT and the Intel Communications Fund. Pointshot currently offers trial wireless Internet service on passenger trains in North America. ( www.pointshotwireless.com ) ( www.broadreachnet.com )

More multimedia services and content: The virtuous circle of more broadband subscribers breeding more broadband content:

  • Time Warner Cable announced significant enhancements to its Road Runner service including an increased emphasis on streaming media which will be supported by RealNetworks’ technology. Time Warner Cable has licensed the company’s Real 10™ Media Delivery Platform and Helix™ media delivery software and application software to support Road Runner. ( www.timewarnercable.com ) ( www.roadrunner.com ) ( www.realnetworks.com )
  • Nielsen/NetRatings found that in the month of November 2003, 17 percent of all online ad clicks were for rich media ads, a 10 percent increase compared to the same month in 2002. ( www.nielsen-netratings.com )
  • NTL introduced Broadband Plus, a premium broadband content bundle including music, videos on demand and gaming. ( www.ntl.com )
  • MSN Video is rolling out more broadband oriented features and new TV-like ads for advertisers.
  • Advertisers are doing betas with Unicast's new Video Commercial which gets frame speeds of 27 to 30 frames per second (FPS). The full-screen video is in Microsoft's Windows Media Player format. According to Internetnews.com advertisers include AT&T, Honda, McDonald's, Pepsi, Vonage, and Warner Brothers and will be viewable on sites including ABC News, Accuweather, CBS Sportsline, ESPN, FoxSports, Gamespot, MSN and Nick.com.
  • Rogers Cable has joined others like SBC and BT in making a deal with Yahoo! to offer customized products and services,optimized for broadband, including digital photo tools and storage; and online music and game services.
  • And one you might want to experience personally. More and more, the conference sessions or events you wanted to see and hear but missed are only a click away. Take a look at Paul Otellini's session at CES the way we did.

Music services keep coming

  • HP and Apple announced a strategic alliance to deliver an HP-branded digital music player based on Apple’s iPod digital music player and Apple’s iTunes digital music jukebox and online music store. HP consumer PCs and notebooks will come pre-installed with Apple’s iTunes jukebox software and a desktop icon pointing consumers to the iTunes Music Store. ( www.hp.com ) ( www.apple.com )
  • Wal-Mart unveiled an online store that sells songs for 88 cents -- less than the popular iTunes downloads from Apple Computer. Its music store opened with a catalog of about 200,000 songs from the major labels and independents; the online store was developed by Liquid Digital Media.

Since Digital Media Adapters are hot (see article below), semiconductor companies are creating new chips to power them:

  • ANT Limited has announced it has integrated its PurePlay digital-media viewer on Philips Electronics's Nexperia Home semiconductor system for TV and set-top boxes. ANT PurePlay allows consumers to view their digital media, including digital photos, MP3 audio and MPEG movies, on TVs and handheld devices. ( www.antlimited.com ) ( www.semiconductors.philips.com )
  • Broadcom announced its single-chip dual-channel HD video/audio/graphics and personal video recording (PVR) solution for digital TV sets, cable set-top boxes, satellite receivers and HD DVD players. ( www.broadcom.com )
  • Sand Video, a fabless semiconductor manufacturer of video compression technology, demonstrated their silicon-based HD real-time decoder chip at CES. The SV-D011 chip will facilitate incorporating high definition AVC/H.264 compression technology in a range of consumer video devices, such as cable and satellite TV set-top-boxes, DVD players and recorders and personal video recorders (PVRs). ( www.sandvideo.com )
  • Sentivision announced the availability of an H.264/MPEG4 Part 10 decoder technology platform for IP set-top boxes based on Texas Instruments' DM64x digital media processors. Sentivision, a provider of media technologies and products for the digital entertainment market, combined their digital video codec with TI's DSP technology to enable rapid development of consumer electronic products requiring video-on-demand service over DSL. ( sentivision.com/products/h264/h264-en.html ) ( www.ti.com )


CES 2004: The Future Is Here

South Hall at CES 2004 --> Click for larger pictureLast January, after CES 2003, we wrote "Everywhere we turned at CES we saw the influence of broadband, home networking and wireless. If those words immediately conjure up visions of PCs and Internet access, think again. This year they apply at least as much to audio and video entertainment and the ways in which users can get what they want, when and where they want it. Whether it's in the form of zapping HDTV pictures to flat screen displays, viewing recorded TV shows on screens in a different room, or cataloging, organizing and making all your music available around the home, companies were showing how to make it happen."

Fast forward to 2004 and the really good news at CES 2004 was the future is here: those concepts are turning into products that consumers can buy NOW. The industry has toned down the hyperbole and slideware and become more focused on reality and deliverables.

One of the really big stories of CES was that a growing set of companies are working to get music, photos and videos stored on PCs onto home stereos and TV sets. These Digital Media Adapters (DMAs) were so hot at this year's show that we cover them in a separate article, below.


Bill Gates: Microsoft Everywhere

At CES 2003, Gates talked about the transition to a more digital world and about devices, connectivity and services for consumers; he mentioned devices like watches, exercise bikes, sewing machines and magnets. Although we didn't hear about the sewing machines or exercise bikes in 2004, it seems like Microsoft has made significant strides toward embedding its software all the places that really count. Gates said: "We are developing software that's in the car, in the phone, of course in the PC, the set-top box, the watch. All the places where software can run, we want to make sure that we do the best we can to make that connect up and to make it seamless."

Specific announcements that made this tangible included:

  • SPOT watch from Fossil --> Click for larger pictureSPOT Watches--The MSN Direct network is the subscription service that connects people to the SPOT watches described in 2003. The watches have a wireless network receiver that uses a form of FM to connect a powerful computer for downloading software for new channels and ways to present information. The wireless network is in the 100 largest metro areas, and the watches from Fossil and Suunto are being rolled out now. Gates described how users can get information they care about, such as news, weather and (in the future) sports.
  • Portable Media Center--This is what comes after portable music players. Gates showed the Creative Zen Portable Media Center which will be available in 2H04; it will include an updated version of Windows Media Player that introduces a technology called SmartSynch. Supported media include music, photos and videos.
  • Windows Media Center Extender (MCX)--This is the next logical step after the Media Center PC and is Microsoft's version of a digital media adapter (see the article below). It hooks up to your television or AV equipment and connects back to the Media Center PC through a wired or wireless connection. Partners that will make it available during 2004 include Alienware, Dell, Gateway, HP and Samsung. Gateway and HP also have a set of Media Center ready televisions coming to the market. That means people can bring them home, plug the power in, "and the first time that you press the power button on the remote control to turn on your television it will find the home network", "find your Media Center PC" and bring up the digital entertainment interface. An Xbox Media Center Extender Kit, comprised of an Xbox DVD title and a separate remote control, was also announced; it searches for the Media Center PC on the network, starts a Media Center session and gives the person Media Center UI with access to their television and digital entertainment on their PC.
  • Windows Media Connect APIs--This technology is intended to enable seamless media transfer between Windows XP-based PCs and consumer electronics devices. It is designed so hardware manufacturers can develop devices such as Digital Media Receivers (DMRs), which have rich functionality for playing digital media files stored on personal computers over home networks. PC OEMs and consumer electronics device manufacturers including Arcadyan Technology Corp., Creative Labs, Dell, Mediabolic, PRISMIQ, Rockford, Roku, Simple Devices. and Toshiba announced their support. Of course what Gates didn't mention is that the technology supports Microsoft's Windows software, but not entertainment services using competing software such as RealNetworks' Rhapsody and Apple's iTunes Music Store.

(Sandy) The software I'm personally waiting for was discussed by Steve Drucker from Microsoft Research and concerns creating metadata for user-generated content. It filters your photos and videos and helps you organize them based on rich metadata and software, derived by a variety of means including face detection, indoor-outdoor detection, picture clustering by date taken, tools for simple keyword assignment, etc. The vision of being able to have tools to easily manage all of my digital photos had me hoping that the cycle from exploratory to released will not be toooo long; maybe the future isn't quite here yet after all.

( www.cesweb.org )( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.creative.com )


Paul Otellini: Intel and the Entertainment PC

What's Intel's next step when the PC growth curve flattens? Find an even bigger market for those chips--the consumer electronics market. It's the same path that companies like Microsoft and Dell and H-P and many others are following. At CES, Intel's President Paul Otellini spoke about his company's initiatives to move "from inside the computer to inside the home and consumer electronics products." "Our goal is to eliminate boundaries between electronic devices inside and outside the home and we're working with the PC and consumer electronics industries to make this a reality. For Intel in 2004, this effort will receive as much focus as the work we did last year to advance wireless technologies for mobile computing."

Just as Intel Capital was very vocal about putting money into wireless technologies in 2003, Intel announced that they have created a $200 million Digital Home Fund to invest in companies that can help Intel accelerate technology and content development to enhance and simplify the digital home experience. Intel has already has invested in a few "digital home" oriented companies, including BridgeCo, which designs low-cost chips for digital media adapters; Entropic, which designs chips for home networking over coaxial cables; and Musicmatch, which sells software for digital music.

Paul Otellini talked about Intel's new Consumer Electronics Group --> Click for larger pictureAccording to Otellini, Intel has formed a new Consumer Electronics Group (CEG) tasked with optimizing technologies for the CE market. It will oversee development of products such as the liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) chip for large-screen projection TVs, and work with digital video camera makers, DVR manufacturers, display companies and mobile phone manufacturers to get Intel chips into their devices.

As part of moving from the PC to the TV (or from "the two foot to the ten foot experience", as Otellini put it) one of Intel's projects for the Digital Home is a device for consuming and managing digital content which they call the Entertainment PC. It is a slim PC connected to a television screen, controlled by a remote rather than a keyboard. It runs Windows XP Media Center Edition, acts as a digital media adapter and can serve as a wireless access point. The anticipated price point is around $800 and units are expected in mid-2004. Intel does not plan to build the EPC themselves, but will license the design to manufacturers. This follows the same path that Intel took to get digital media adapters into the market, and as indicated in our article below, that has really sparked innovation and new products in the industry.

Otellini's talk emphasized the importance of standards in enabling the sharing of content across multiple consumer devices. Intel is a founding member of the Digital Home Working Group (see below) which it supports in the goal to drive technology specifications for the benefit of consumers: "The development of industry standards in consumer electronics will enable more rapid innovation at lower cost -- the same positive impact that standards have had in the PC industry." To reinforce the message that Intel is involving entertainment content companies, Otellini played clips by a number of executives from Hollywood companies about standards and the work of DHWG. He also introduced Morgan Freeman who has his own film company and stated that by 2005 he expects the technology will be in place so that he would feel confident making a new film available for paid viewing over broadband at exactly the same time it opens in theaters. That would be a remarkable event.

( www.intel.com )


Shell HomeGenie

During CES we met with Robin Gaeta, general manager for Shell HomeGenie. Shell HomeGenie is a home management system targeted to the entry level buyer, just getting acquainted with home control and looking for simplicity and affordability. It builds upon the increasing number of consumers who have broadband access, since such access is a prerequisite for the service. It promises to let "the homeowner stay connected to his home, at anytime and from anywhere Internet access is available."

Although Shell Oil is not a company you would normally associate with home management, the Shell Consumer Division is trying to stretch the Shell brand into the home. For this product line they teamed with three information technology companies to develop the system: Motorola makes the residential gateway which is the communications hub of the system; ProSyst provides the OSGi software which enables the system; Xanboo creates Internet enabled devices and technology. Shell is in discussions with broadband service providers for creating business relationships around the product and its service.

Shell Home Genie Home Management System --> Click for larger pictureA starter kit consists of the residential gateway, a programmable thermostat, a wireless camera and a power switch and costs $799, including installation. The unit allows homeowners to remotely access most household heating and cooling systems through the web-enabled Shell HomeGenie Programmable Thermostat; to control lights and select appliances through the Shell HomeGenie Power Switch and permits monitoring of select areas in the home through the Shell HomeGenie Wireless Camera. Many new devices and sensors are expected to be added in the future. Shell has created an introductory flash virtual tour which shows the uses and capabilities.

There will be a $24.95 monthly fee associated with the services provided by ShellHomeGenie and the personal website assigned to the consumer. In addition to the ability to remotely access the programmable thermostat, wireless camera with motion sensor and power switch for controlling selected appliances and devices, the website includes featuring a communication package with personalized email account and calendar program; file organizer package for storing, managing and accessing your camera images and video from home or away; personal home page that provides “mini views” of your Shell HomeGenie services; local weather; and energy reports to help manage home energy usage.

We have several questions which we're discussing with Shell. These will help us better understand what market segments might use the product, and how it relates to other broadband products and applications in the home; we'll provide an update after we learn more. The product is expected to be available in March.

( www.ShellHomeGenie.com ) ( www.prosyst.com )


The Year of the Digital Media Adapter

As PCs, broadband and home networking penetrate ever larger numbers of homes, a growing set of companies is working to get music, photos and videos stored on PCs onto the stereos and TV sets where people are accustomed to experiencing entertainment and media. Digital Media Adapters (DMAs), which started appearing two years ago, are the first devices that allow this to happen. Their emergence has led to a wave of experimentation and innovation about the ways in which the long-awaited PC/TV courtship will evolve; a raft of new products are marriages of various elements of the mix, many including digital video recording (a la TiVo). The progeny of this relationship include Microsoft's Media Center PC and Intel's new Entertainment PC (discussed in the CES article above), and a host of products we discuss below.

Digital Media Adapters (DMAs) act as "bridges" between two worlds. The new world of networked broadband, PCs and personal video recorders (PVRs) is entirely digital; PCs and PVRs provide great storage devices for audio, video and image media. Home audio systems and TV-based home entertainment centers are the best ways to listen to music and to watch video; but this old world of audio and video equipment is mostly analog, and it will be many years before it is supplanted by digital equivalents. A DMA typically sits between the two worlds--retrieving media over a network from a PC or PVR, and playing or "rendering" it through the existing audio and video equipment.

DMAs are really hot. We saw lots of different ones at CES; they were a critical part of our discussions with CEA and DHWG about emerging home networking standards reported in the following article; and we included several in our Connected by Design tour (see a later article).

Almost two years ago, we reported on the Turtle Beach AudioTron, one of the first DMAs. We use it every day in our home to play music from our computer hard drives on our main audio system. Most of our music tracks come from our CDs, some from legal Internet downloads - and now we're converting our old vinyl LP records into digital format (we'll write about this in another issue).

We have long said that the "broadband home" is about much more than PCs and Web surfing. These new devices are quickly bringing digital media into the mainstream, and accelerating the penetration of broadband and home networking.

We will first describe some of the attributes of these devices, and then describe some of the devices currently on the market and those announced at CES. We follow with some new developments in multi-room DMAs and PVRs and describe some emerging standards coming from CEA and the Digital Home Working Group.


DMA Attributes

Because DMAs represent a new product category, no "standard" form or function has yet emerged. Manufacturers are trying out many different attributes for media rendering and media sources, connections to displays and networks, media recording and server functions, etc. The current crop of DMAs provides many different combinations of these attributes:

  • Media rendering: DMAs can render one or several forms of media. Some handle audio only (AudioTron), some audio and images (Roku HD1000), and some audio, video and images (many others).
  • Media sources: All DMAs handle networked media--the simplest are stand-alone networked devices without any local media storage. More complex DMAs include local media storage: the Roku HD1000 includes slots for many formats of media cards; the Gateway Connected DVD Player includes a DVD player. PVRs such as TiVo and Replay TV include hard drives for recording broadcast television from cable or satellite. Some now include deals with content partners for broadband audio or video content.
  • Display connections: Some DMAs have very simple connections - analog audio only, or audio and video. Others add digital audio, S-Video, component video, etc. to provide better rendering on high-quality audio and video equipment. The Roku HD1000 interfaces to a high-definition TV.
  • Network connections: Almost all DMAs include Ethernet connections. Some also include other forms of built-in networking, most often one or several flavors of Wi-Fi: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11a/11b/11g); others include phoneline (HomePNA) or powerline (HomePlug).
  • User interface: Audio-only devices like the AudioTron include a user interface on the front panel. Devices with video output typically use the TV screen as the interface. User interfaces differ widely in functionality, complexity and ease of use; two devices with similar functionality can have vastly different interfaces.
  • PC server support: Many DMAs require the user to install "server" software on one or more user PCs; a few can find the media content without server software.

DMA Devices and Servers

A few DMAs have been available for some time, and many products were announced at CES. We have written previously about the AudioTron Digital Music Player, the ReplayTV 4000, the TiVo Series 2 and the Prismiq MediaPlayer. We've also written about Microsoft's Media Center Edition, which extends Windows XP to provide extensive media acquisition and server functions; and about DigitalDeck, a new DMA which converts analog to digital as well as digital to analog.

Here is just a sampling of the DMAs and media servers introduced late last year or at CES 2004:

  • Actiontec Electronics announced the Actiontec Wireless Digital Media Player with Built-in Card Reader. Consumers can play digital images and music on their TVs and stereos from any of the eight major portable memory card formats used in digital cameras, digital camcorders and MP3 players. The VCR-sized appliance wirelessly links computers to home entertainment centers for enjoying PC-based content such as downloaded music and Internet radio. The appliance interacts with the user's PC through media manager software that instructs the media player where music and images are located on the computer; databases from multiple home computers can be merged, making it possible to aggregate the digital media libraries of different family members. ( www.actiontec.com )
  • Gateway's Connected DVD Player combines a DVD player with a DMA for many formats of images, audio and video. It connects by Ethernet or Wi-Fi, and has higher-end audio and video connections including progressive-scan component video. ( www.gateway.com )
  • Hauppauge DMA --> Click for larger pictureHauppauge Computer Works has focused on "bringing TV and broadcast data to your PC"; several Media Center PCs use Hauppauge boards to interface with cable and satellite connections. Now Hauppauge has introduced the MediaMVP, a simple DMA to bring audio, video and images from the PC to the TV. It is targeted to the price-sensitive part of the market and priced at about $100. ( www.hauppauge.com )
  • HP "entertainment hub": HP introduced their HP Digital Entertainment Center de100c in Oct 2001. At CES, HP CEO Carly Fiorina announced that starting this fall HP will introduce its new entertainment hub that will serve as the single, central storage repository, distribution and access point for all music, photo, video and movie collections in the home; it will also include DVR functions for cable, satellite or HDTV sources. In the second half of 2004 HP will also start supporting Microsoft's Media Center Extender technology for its Media Center PCs. The HP iPAQ is going to become an intelligent remote control for controlling entertainment devices and accessing all digital content including music, photos and videos, either locally, streaming or remotely. Fiorina also announced a series of partnerships with content creators. ( www.hp.com )
  • Linksys rolled out their DVD Player with Wireless-G Media Link, a product that combines a progressive scan DVD player with a Media Link adapter with the networking capability to wirelessly distribute digital video, music and pictures stored on a PC to view and play on a TV and/or stereo system. Linksys also rolled out the Wireless-B Media Link for music which uses 802.11b networking to deliver digital audio content from a PC to a home stereo, without running cables. ( www.linksys.com )
  • Sean Stanton demonstrated the new version of Prismiq --> Click for larger picturePRISMIQ announced a new MediaPlayer/Recorder that adds digital video recording to the MediaPlayer introduced last year at CES, using a PC hard drive as a video recorder. The MP/R works over both wired and wireless networks (the faster 802.11g would probably be best for wireless video file transfer). Unlike the stand-alone player, which offered only PC support, the new MP/R also supports Mac and Linux systems. Prismiq also announced it has teamed with RealNetworks to give consumers access to Rhapsody on their home stereos via a wireless or wired home network; it will be available at the next public release of PRISMIQ software, currently scheduled for early February, and will be compliant with RealNetworks' security enhancements. Prismiq also announced a partnership with CinemaNow to combine technologies to enable web-based video-on-demand on the television. ( www.PRISMIQ.com ) ( www.real.com ) ( www.cinemanow.com )
  • Rockford Omnifi showed us their DMS1 WiFi Home Digital Media Streamer, an audio DMA that streams music stored on PC hard drives to the home audio system. We were particularly intrigued by the DMP1 Digital Media Player, which installs in the family car and plays through the existing car audio system; the DMP1 uses Wi-Fi to automatically synchronize its 20G hard drive with media stored on the home PC. Both products are based on the SimpleCenter software suite from SimpleDevices. ( www.omnifimedia.com ) ( www.simpledevices.com )
  • Roku DMA showing classic art --> Click for larger pictureRoku had previously released the HD1000 Digital Media Player, which allows users to view their digital photos in high-definition on a high-definition TV. HD1000 supports CompactFlash, SD/MMC, Memory Stick and SmartMedia cards, as well as a network connection to a home PC; Roku offers custom Art Packs on CompactFlash to create a home art gallery on the HDTV screen. HD1000 also plays digital music files over a user's home network. At CES, Roku introduced its second product line, the SoundBridge Network Music Player. Consumers can listen to digital music stored on their computers in any room of their homes, through a built-in Ethernet link or an optional wireless adapter. SoundBridge can access playlists from both Mac- and Windows-based computers, and supports most audio formats; the product will ship in February. Roku also announced availability of a software developer’s kit (SDK) to create media applications for high-definition television via the Roku HD1000. ( www.rokulabs.com )
  • SMC released its SMCWMR-AG Universal Wireless Multimedia Receiver in the fall and we have been testing one in our home. It is a simple DMA handling audio, video and images, and operating over both Ethernet and all three flavors of Wi-Fi. It uses the TV as its user interface. ( www.smc.com )
  • TiVo had previously introduced its Home Media Option to retrieve digital music and photos from the computer to the TV via the TiVo box. At CES, TiVo announced TiVoToGo; it provides a way to send recorded TiVo programs back to a laptop or PC for viewing or recording to DVD. They have also added the capability to remotely program your home TiVo through any Internet connection, including those on wireless phones and PDAs. TiVoToGo will be released in fall 2004. ( www.tivo.com )
  • Video Without Boundaries introduced its MediaReady 4000, which combines a PC, a DVD player, and a jukebox for audio and video media into a piece of equipment designed for the home entertainment center. It's designed to connect to a broadband Internet provider and a home network. The MediaReady 4000 is more a consumer device than a traditional PC; targeted to a consumer price point, it is based on CAC Media's MediaReady Convergence Software Suite (MCSS) rather than Windows. It will be marketed under the Lafayette brand and is expected to be available in a few months. ( www.vwbinc.com ) ( www.cacmedia.tv )

Multi-room PVRs and DMAs

In addition to the individual products described above, several companies have introduced complete media systems with both server and adapter components. PCs based on Windows XP Media Center Edition add media functionality to PCs. Denon's new NS-S100 multimedia server adds PC-like functionality to a "traditional" audio/video component. DigitalDeck and Ucentric provide multiple components acting as bridges between the PCs and consumer electronics in the house.

DigitalDeck

DigitalDeck introduced their DigitalDeck Entertainment Network--a "whole home" entertainment system--at CES. As previously reported, it allows users to watch or record TV shows or digital media from any TV or PC in the home, under the control of a central management unit--either a Windows- or Linux-based computer or a stand-alone unit; this arrangement allows multi-room access to DVR content or a DVD player. Networking is done over wired Ethernet connections. The retail package includes the software, a Send & Play adapter and a Play-Only adapter; it will ship this spring and sell for $450. ( www.digitaldeck.com )

Denon

Jeremy Toeman demonstrates the Denon NS-S100 server and client functions powered by Mediabolic --> Click for larger pictureDenon Electronics won the TechTV “Best Of Show” award at the 2004 CES for its new NS-S100 Network Multimedia Server, a networked personal video recorder (PVR) that stores and organizes digital music, photos, and videos, and records live television and radio broadcasts. Denon also demonstrated the NS-C200 Network Multimedia Client, which accesses all content and functionality available from the NS-S100 over a digital home network; the devices communicate via IP-based networking over Ethernet. ReplayTV (a sister company to Denon) delivers the electronic program guide (EPG) data via its back-end ReplayTV Service. ( www.denon.com ) ( www.replaytv.com )

Mediabolic’s M1 middleware provides the platform for the integration of Denon’s NS-S100 and NS-C200. The same Mediabolic platform also powers connected entertainment devices for other companies, including HP, Creative Technology, and Fujitsu. ( www.mediabolic.com )

Microsoft

5 different Windows Media Center Extenders --> Click for larger pictureMicrosoft announced the Windows Media Center Extender, software that allows Windows XP Media Center Edition PCs to be used as an entertainment hub for the home. It will be complemented by TVs and set-top boxes from companies including Dell, Gateway, HP, Samsung, Tatung and Winstron that will support Media Center, making it easier for users to access content stored on the Media PC. Microsoft also introduced an XBox Media Center Extender kit that allows users to access the Media Center PC through an XBox connected to the TV. ( www.microsoft.com )

Ucentric Systems

Ucentric Systems announced the release of its Whole Home High Definition Digital Software Suite of products including a photo application and off-air high-definition multi-TV digital video recorder (HD DVR) application. These were showcased along with the Ucentric multi-TV DVR and Whole Home Music 1.0 products at CES. Ucentric also announced a joint trial of its Whole Home Music 1.0 product with Comcast and Samsung; this trial is an extension of the ongoing whole home multi-TV DVR trial. Finally, Ucentric announced that its software is powering the VOOM HD Home Media Network, a whole-house solution designed specifically for HD programming, which is expected to be rolled out this summer by Rainbow DBS, Cablevision Systems Corporation's satellite division. The VOOM receiver box is made by Motorola Inc., with interactive software provided by OpenTV Inc. and a conditional access system provided by NDS. ( www.ucentric.com ) ( www.comcast.com ) ( www.samsung.com ) ( www.voom.com ) ( www.motorola.com ) ( www.opentv.com ) ( www.nds.com )


Setting Standards for Digital Media: DENi and DHWG

It's easy to run into problems with DMAs. There are many different audio and video formats--some standards-based and some proprietary. Some DMAs support many different audio formats, while others play only MP3s and don't recognize tracks that have been coded in formats like WMA and AAS. DMAs that render video are typically limited to a maximum speed of 3 to 5 Mbps; some PC video is coded at higher rates and doesn't play correctly. DVRs such as TiVO and ReplayTV can exchange video programs with other devices from the same brand, but not across brands. Current rules for digital rights management (DRM) prevent playing a DVD on a PC and transferring it across a network to a TV.

These problems and more must be overcome if DMAs are to become mainstream devices: consumers will not put up with what leading-edge techies will accept.

Two groups have been working to establish standards for digital networking: the R7 home networking group at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), and the recently-formed Digital Home Working Group (DHWG). We previously wrote about DHWG; in the past few weeks, we have looked more deeply into both efforts and met with several of the principals of DHWG.

DENi

CEA's R7 home networking group published the Digital Entertainment Network Initiative (DENi) standard, also known as CEA 2008, during the summer of 2003. DENi is a comprehensive standard, based on more than 60 existing standards, for audio-video networking over IP and Ethernet. Key features of DENi include:

  • It assumes that “backbone” distribution in the home uses Gigabit Ethernet over Category 6 cabling (Fast Ethernet over Category 5e cabling is also supported) with bridges for wireless networks and adapters for 1394 devices such as digital TVs.
  • It defines a new type of network: a “DENi network”. This is an Ethernet network containing at least two DENi host devices – network routers, media servers, media players and/or media controllers – conforming to the DENi standard. While the DENi standard is primarily designed to define the proper interaction of DENi host devices, it recognizes that a unified network will also contain legacy non-DENi devices.
  • It recognizes that video streams require quality of service, and mandates a approach for QoS over Ethernet. It defines rules to allow network controls (highest priority), real-time bidirectional streams (telephony, gaming, videophones), unidirectional streams (video, security camera monitoring) and best efforts data (lowest priority) to coexist in the same network.
  • It specifies the transport and control mechanisms for many media types including video, audio and images. It defines specific requirements for different types of media players – for example, an audio player does not need to support video and a video player does not need to support high definition. The specification defines required video, audio and image formats for each type of player, with optional support for many additional formats.
  • All DENi devices use UPnP for discovery and control. This is a key element in network unification since Windows XP fully supports UPnP and many existing networking devices already have UPnP built in.

DENi is a very attractive standard that deals with many of the issues when combining PCs and consumer electronics systems over the same network. But our conversations with many players indicate that few if any consumer electronics companies are moving forward with DENi; instead, they are focusing their attention on DHWG.

( www.ce.org )

DHWG

The Digital Home Working Group (DHWG) is addressing many of the same issues as DENi. The key difference is that a much larger group of companies--including key players in the PC, consumer electronics and mobile markets--are working together to address a larger problem with a very tight announced timetable. While DENi was narrowly focused on audio/video networking, DHWG is focused on "PC, CE and Mobile convergence".

A few months ago, we reported on our interview with Intel's Bob Gregory, a member of DHWG's board of directors. At CES, we met with Bob and three other members of DHWG's board--Pat Griffis of Microsoft, Ko Togashi of Sony, and Chung-Kon Ko of Samsung--to get an update on DHWG status and forecasts.

When we talked with Bob a few months ago, DHWG had about 30 member companies; now there are 92 members including some of the biggest names in PCs, consumer electronics and mobile. The board consists of HP, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung and Sony; additional "promoter members" include major players like Fujitsu, Gateway, IBM, Sharp and Thomson.

DHWG sees the Digital Home as having two kinds of devices: servers and renderers. A server can acquire, record, store and source media, and may also be able to render it; examples include advanced set-top boxes, PVRs and PCs. A renderer can only render and playback media; examples include stereos, monitors, home theaters, multimedia phones and game consoles.

One of the clever approaches DHWG is taking is to set the minimum media format requirements fairly low, with options for higher-level formats. DHWG has addressed the conflict over competing audio standards by requiring only stereo Linear Pulse Code Modulation (LPCM) audio -- the same uncompressed audio format used as a minimum on DVDs. Other audio formats--MP3, AAC, WMA--are optional and are used only when both the server and the renderer support them; if both don't support an optional format, the server converts the source content to LPCM before sending it to the renderer. JPEG and MPEG2 play the same roles for images and audio/video.

DHWG is working on a fast track, and has announced a target for first products based on the DHWG guidelines during 2004. Since the guidelines are not scheduled to be completed until the end of the first half, and interoperability testing will start only in the second half, we questioned whether it would be possible to have interoperable products on that timetable. We learned that a more realistic expectation is that some products may well reach the market by the end of 2004, but these might not be interoperable. Products that have passed certification tests--and identified with a "DHWG" logo--won't be available until some time in 2005.

We've heard before about CE industry plans to produce interoperable standards-based products, only to see good intentions evaporate. So we were impressed when the Samsung and Sony representatives--both senior executives--assured us that it will really happen this time, and we should expect to see DHWG-compliant products on the CES floor this time next year.

( www.dhwg.org ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.sony.com ) ( www.samsung.com )


Connected by Design -- Our Broadband Odyssey

In early October we received an email from someone who had found us through the Web, looking for help on a project called "Home by Design" which was to open at CES in Las Vegas in January. We were intrigued: it sounded like an opportunity to demonstrate many of the ideas we write about in this newsletter, and we agreed to be the "Broadband Architects" for the showhouse.

Home by Design, 3 days before CES --> Click for larger pictureFast forward to January 6th, just three months later. Imagine a mostly-completed house in the parking lot of the Stardust Hotel, in a whirlwind of last-minute construction, trimming and painting, with CES opening in less than 48 hours. We and various colleagues were trying to duck around the stonemasons, painters, carpenters and decorators to get the broadband infrastructure in place -- so we could set up the broadband applications that the house promised to demonstrate. Equipment from our sponsors was piled into storage containers in the parking lot, but the house wasn't quite ready to bring it in and set it up. There was one other small detail: the electricity in the house hadn't been turned on yet.

None of us got a lot of sleep between then and Thursday morning, but thanks to the wonderful project team, the house was open and welcoming visitors on Thursday morning. Broadband was running like a charm as we welcomed visitors from Cox headquarters in Atlanta and demonstrated their HDTV with digital video recording, high speed data services on Media Center PCs and IP telephony. Although the kitchen counters hadn't yet made it in, the rest of the house was gorgeous and somehow we had all managed to avoid killing one another in the process!

Home by Design sign across from the Las Vegas Convention Center --> Click for larger pictureAs we write, the showhouse is still open for visitors. It will close after January 28th and will be moved to a suburban subdivision and sold. If any of you visit Las Vegas before then, we invite you to visit the house.


Connected by Design Tour

We wanted to demonstrate a few simple premises:

  • Broadband is the new residential utility; it should be part of the plan in building any new house or community
  • The purpose of all this technology is to make people's lives more enjoyable, convenient and productive
  • Broadband and connected technologies are not just about high speed data services but increasingly about entertainment, when and where you want it
  • Real people can afford this technology without breaking the bank.

To demonstrate these premises, we created a "Connected by Design Tour" of the house covering three basic building blocks:

  • Broadband infrastructure to the home
  • Home networking (the broadband infrastructure in the home)
  • The applications and services provided and the devices (appliances) upon which they were run.

Visitors to the home are guided through the tour by an Acoustiguide--a device like those used in museums so you can learn more details about items of interest. (Although we list a number of vendors who sponsored this project, our inclusion of them here should not be construed as our endorsement of either the companies or their products.)

Broadband to the Home

Much of the "broadband plumbing" was located in the mudroom --> Click for larger pictureVisitors could make free phone calls or check their email at the Internet café --> Click for larger pictureSince this is largely outside the home, there isn't much to see, except the terminations, which are placed in the "Mud Room". Cox Communications provides a full range of video, Internet and telephone services. Cox’s network is connected to the showhouse by a fiber-optic line provided by Corning; Wave7 Optics technology provides the connections between the fiber and the in-home network. Although all Cox services could have been provided over a standard "hybrid fiber coax" connection to the home, we installed fiber and associated electronics because of the increasing demand of developers to install fiber for "future proofing". Cox uses a cable modem for its high-speed data services and uses MTAs (multimedia terminal adapters) to connect its voice over IP services to Panasonic phones. Cox invites visitors to use these phones and its VoIP service to call anywhere in the world.

Home Networking

The house demonstrates that one size does not fit all applications -- different types are most suitable for different applications. For new construction, structured wiring provides future-proofing and is a long-term investment; despite the progress being made by other forms of networking, structured wiring is still superior. We show other types of home networking including Wi-Fi wireless and HomePlug powerline.

Leviton Structured Media Center, the central distribution panel --> Click for larger pictureStructured Wiring: The "nerve center" of the house is the Leviton Structured Media Center which brings all of the broadband connections to and throughout the home to a central distribution panel. On one side it connects to Cox’s network and on the other to each room of the house using differently colored cables. Black and white coaxial cables carry video services throughout the house; blue and white Category 5e cables carry data and telephony services.

Wireless: Wireless is clearly the right solution for mobile devices in the home, such as laptops or SmartDisplays like the ones we had from Viewsonic. Three SMC 2870Ws create a Wi-Fi network covering the entire house: two in the house and the third on the outside terrace. This is undoubtedly "overkill" for the size of the house, but we designed it to accommodate numerous visitors and our own group working at the house. Everybody working on the project used their laptops on the network as soon as we got it set up, and it is now running as a hotspot for visitors to the house.

Visitors try out Asoka's PlugLink IP Camera --> Click for larger pictureHomePlug: We have written in the past about using HomePlug to extend our Ethernet network to our Audiotron in our dining room. In the showhouse, Asoka's Security Camera connected through an Ethernet/HomePlug adapter attracts lots of attention.

Applications and Appliances

The broadband connection and home networking provide the "plumbing" for the applications we demonstrate and the products they run on.

Football on a 50" screen feels like you are there --> Click for larger pictureGateway Media Center PC in the away room --> Click for larger pictureThis part of the tour starts in what architect Sarah Susanka calls the "Away Room". It's a multi-purpose room which can be used for adults to chat alone, a media room, an in-home office or an extra guest room. A plasma TV screen shows video entertainment from Cox, including HDTV, HD digital video recording and video on demand. For other entertainment and work-at-home aspects, we have a 610 Media Center PC from Gateway -- an "all in one" design that fits well in this space. We use it not only for the usual Web surfing, but also for playing newly-created sponsor videos and for enjoying pictures and music stored on the machine and moved across the network. This room is a favorite for the night watchman, who probably has the best equipped house and the most enjoyable job one could imagine!

Looking from my PC in NJ at the 4 cameras showing visitors touring during IBS --> Click for larger pictureThe central control panel for Leviton’s Decora Home Control system is mounted on the wall outside the kitchen. It controls all the lighting and energy management applications in the home. A touch screen simplifies system setup, and provides a browser-based interface for user control of lighting, thermostat, shade and drapery controls. Using the display, a parent can deactivate electrical outlets in a child’s room for improved child safety. Parents can also monitor cameras and manage power usage on the screen. The screen also displays views from four Panasonic cameras mounted inside and outside the house; the cameras can be remotely accessed, moved and zoomed.

Last year, Mark Francisco of Comcast wrote a guest article on applying broadband to energy management, and the showhouse demonstrates an interesting implementation of this concept. A key design goal was to create a home that not only fits the way we live, but does so with as little impact and waste of energy and resources as possible. Builder Paul Trudeau partnered with Nevada Power to help make this home as energy-efficient as possible. Nevada Power can monitor the patterns of energy usage in this home and determine the home's specific energy-load requirements. At peak times, the utility can make small adjustments to energy use in individual homes; by doing this in many homes at the same time, Nevada Power can shift large energy loads from peak to off-peak times. Nevada Power communicates with the home through Cox’s cable network. In exchange for participating in this program -- which ultimately allows the utility to save money by making better use of its power generating capacity and not building more generating stations – homeowners receive a discount on their electric bill. So this system not only saves energy, but it puts real money into the pocket's of the homeowners.

In another demonstration of energy management, Square D is showing a technology that allows local and remote control of a home’s power, lighting and HVAC systems. A new motorized circuit breaker plugs into a standard QO Load Center. Square D worked with Leviton to create a complete system for both new construction and for retrofit in existing homes. The Square D breakers use power line networking with Leviton’s Control Bus Interface to communicate with other devices in the home network and – over Cox’s high-speed connection – with the outside world. This system can automate the switchover between normal electrical service and a backup generator, and makes it possible to conserve energy from appliances like hot water heaters during peak loads or when the homeowner is away. Homeowners can remotely de-energize appliances during severe weather, reducing the risk of damage.

A press visitor in the bedroom, with Dell Media Center PC interface --> Click for larger pictureThe Master Bedroom is designed as a personal space, with technology for entertainment as well as possibly sneaking a peak at your email. Furniture designer Doug Green (whose pieces we've admired for years) placed a media armoire housing a Dell Media Center PC and a Cox-provided S-A 8000HD set top box for high definition TV and digital video recording. Above the armoire, an NEC plasma TV shows all the cable video services plus movies downloaded to the PC from the Movielink service. This is also a great place for using PC-based subscription audio services like Rhapsody, MusicNet and MusicMatch.

In the Living Room, Roku's HD1000 Digital Media Player shows great art or nature scenes in high definition on a Dell 23" LCD display when it isn't being used for other applications.

On the Sunporch, a Gateway 42" plasma display and a Gateway Connected DVD Player show product videos stored on a PC hard drive.


What Did We Learn?

Here are a few of our lessons from the project.

  • People have a hard time accepting that so much of this technology is available today. Many of the PR companies for sponsors kept trying to write releases about the showhouse as the "home of the future". We had to keep repeating that was the wrong positioning: all the products and services in the house are available today and most are very affordable.
  • Companies have some challenges to overcome in making their products easy enough for consumers to install and use. You've all experienced what we mean.
  • Standards like those under way at DHWG (see the previous article) are critical for making interoperability work. We had some sponsor videos encoded in MPEG2 and planned to send them wirelessly from one of the PCs via a media adapter to a screen in another room. But we discovered the video had been encoded at too fast a bit rate and there was no time to re-encode it.
  • Not surprisingly, we learned that getting multiple broadband services, systems and applications installed and running in a house in a very short time requires planning, planning and more planning -- followed by lots of flexibility and having a "plan B" ready.
  • It wasn't necessarily the most expensive products that had the biggest "wow factor" for people working on and visiting the house. One example was the PlugLink IP Camera from Asoka: you just plug it in and it transmits pictures to a PC on the network; you can also manage it remotely through a browser interface.

( www.homebydesignshowhouse.com/designtour.asp ) ( www.cox.com ) ( www.corning.com ) ( www.wave7optics.com ) ( www.panasonic.com ) ( www.leviton.com ) ( www.viewsonic.com ) ( www.smc.com ) ( www.homeplug.org ) ( www.asokausa.com ) ( notsobighouse.com ) ( www.gateway.com ) ( www.hilltopdevelopmentinc.com ) ( www.nevadapower.com ) ( www.squared.com ) ( www.greendesigns.com ) ( www.dell.com ) ( www.sciatl.com ) ( www.nec.com ) ( www.rokulabs.com )


Wireless Video Networking -- Update on Bermai and ViXS

With growth of flat screens and HDTV on the upswing, the quest for wireless video networking has taken on greater importance. The ideal is to be able to create home networks that carry multiple channels of high quality video plus other data and voice traffic wirelessly, not just within rooms but around the home.

We have written previously about wireless video networking, and took the opportunity to meet again with Bermai and ViXS at CES. Both companies are developing chip technologies to facilitate wireless video networking. They are both targeting consumer electronics companies that want to sell portable flat-screen TVs.

Both Bermai and ViXS aim to support high-definition television and both are using 802.11a as the base standard in the 5 GHz spectrum; they take very different approaches to maximizing bandwidth utilization and maintaining video quality in the presence of interference and other bandwidth users.

Bermai

We first interviewed Bermai's CEO and President Bruce Sanguinetti almost two years ago, and were delighted to meet him in person at CES. Bruce and his team gave us an update and showed us a demonstration of Bermai's technology.

Bermai is using two approaches to get high-quality video. The first is MIMO -- using multiple antennas at both the base station and the subscriber station to increase the performance of the wireless link. The second is implementing the 802.11e draft standard for QoS to assign higher priorities to video streams.

Our attitude as we approached the demonstration was skeptical. Having run many tests of wireless technologies in our own home, we understand first-hand the impacts of walls, floors and disturbances in the environment (like people walking around). Their impressive demonstration showed two simultaneous high-definition video streams, a standard-definition stream and file transfer between two PCs -- all running in the same 802.11a channel. The base station was at one end of a hotel room, and several of the subscriber stations--including a high-definition station--were in another room with two walls in-between. We could see the effect of the QoS -- the file transfer data rate varied over time while the video kept operating properly at a constant rate. We left the demonstration being more optimistic that it will be possible to get high quality wireless video using approaches like those Bermai is employing.

ViXS

We first interviewed ViXS more than a year ago and met with CEO Sally Daub at CES last year. This year we met at CES with Director, Corporate Marketing Ciricia Proulx for an update and demonstrations.

ViXS is using two different approaches to get high-quality video. Their Matrix chip uses two 802.11a channels simultaneously to address the "near/far" problem - when running 802.11 in a a single channel, the far subscriber can easily hog the channel and leave insufficient bandwidth for a closer subscriber; it also includes support for multiple antennas to increase receiver sensitivity. The Matrix chip is typically built into a wireless base station, while subscriber stations use standard low-cost chips.

The second approach--embedded in the XCode II chip--is to adjust the bit-rates, resolutions and formats of multiple MPEG video streams in real time, adapting each stream to changing network bandwidth while maintaining the video frame rate. We wrote about the original XCode chip in 2002; the new XCode II chip can encode up to four analog audio/video streams, transcode between different digital video formats, transrate to adjust speeds, and convert between different video resolutions.

ViXS has announced design wins with Daewoo, Arcadyan (a Philips/Accton joint venture) and Toshiba. At CES, ViXS and Daewoo showed Daewoo products based on both ViXS chips. ViXS also demonstrated the use of the XCode II chip to transcode/transrate MPEG2 video streams for playback on a low-resolution PDA screen.

We will continue to watch how consumer electronics manufacturers embrace the very different ideas in the Bermai and ViXS chips, and expect to see a variety of consumer products based on these chips later this year.

( www.bermai.com ) ( www.vixs.com )

Note: Press reports indicate that Magis Networks, another player in the video networking space, has entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is auctioning off its remaining assets. Unlike Bermai and ViXS, Magis had been developing a proprietary technology operating in the same 5 GHz spectrum as 802.11a.


Making Life Simple -- An Interview With Motive

Just one year ago, Motive Communications completed its acquisition of BroadJump, a provider of broadband software for DSL, cable, and wireless broadband providers. The companies appear to have achieved the difficult task of integrating the product lines of the two companies and then going on to win the business of such service providers as Telus, Cox, NTL and many others. As of September 2003 their software had been implemented by service providers to manage connections and support for more than 20 million broadband subscribers worldwide.

As we have read the many press releases about companies in the service management business, it became clear that this is an exceedingly complex space that touches consumers, communications service providers, hardware and software technology companies, and cuts across people, technology and processes. To get a glimpse into this industry, we interviewed Kenny Van Zant, Executive Vice President, Consumer Business Unit, whom we first met when he was one of the founders and COO of Broadjump. Kenny explained that in the world of system and service management, some companies concentrate on specific processes, like auto-provisioning, billing or call centers; others like Motive focus on "holistic service management".

Motive's direction is to "focus on the more critical processes that have the biggest impact" on deploying and supporting broadband services. This includes getting the services to customers, configuring them and making them work, supporting the customers and their service providers. With home networking on its strong growth curve, Motive has a service specifically for home networking, which helps with configuring and installing broadband and home networking to multiple PCs and residential gateways. It handles all the CPE integration work--addressing, authentication and a myriad of other details--that customers can't or don't want to do on their own, and service providers can't afford to do without automated tools. Their tools enable information to be gathered directly from the connected devices within the home, and then used to guide subscribers and, if needed, customer service representatives (CSRs) through complex home networking processes. The solution has been licensed by Telus, Sprint and Verizon, among others.

After our experiences at Home by Design in rapidly setting up a complex networking environment with loads of different end-points, we sympathize with installers and especially customers who don't have the technical knowledge and experience to deal with the problems they confront in making broadband, home networking and different devices all work together seamlessly. Although the configurations and kinds of devices Motive supports would not have covered all that we were doing, we enthusiastically support efforts of companies like Motive, whose goal is to make life simple for the consumer and more profitable for the service provider.

( www.motive.com )


Your Voice -- Readers' Comments

A couple of nice notes from our readers:

  • "I stumbled on your website for the first time today while researching trends and developments in computer networking. What a pleasant surprise it is to find current, topical, focused and unbiased information and commentary on the subject matter! I really appreciate your presentation style and compendious treatment of the topics. I apologize for adding to your incoming email burden, but since you've saved me quite a few hours of searching, sorting and reading, I simply wanted to say, 'Thank you.'"
  • "By the way, I forgot to give a feedback on the job search that you published for me: thanks a lot for this, I receive very interesting applications coming from this, especially one from an engineer located 10km from me."

Subscription and Copyright

If you are aware of others who would like to receive our report, please ask them to visit ( www.BroadbandHomeCentral.com/report/subscribe.html ) to subscribe.

To change your email address, report format, or other subscription information, or to unsubscribe, please visit ( www.BroadbandHomeCentral.com/report/change.html )

Please send your comments and feedback regarding this issue of our report to editor@bb-home.com. Your suggestions for topics to be covered in future issues would be greatly appreciated.