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The March 6, 2006 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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In This Issue


Heard on the Net

News about People and Companies Influencing The Broadband Home


People News

Anthony Au was appointed VP of Sales at Cambridge Broadband. He was formerly with Redline Communications. ( www.cambridgebroadband.com )

Antony Carbonari has been appointed director of interactive and commercial media for the television services business of BT. Carbonari was previously director of broadband services for the Walt Disney Internet Group. ( www.bt.com )

Patrick Donovan was appointed as VP of Product Management, and Dan O'Connor as VP of Engineering, at Gotuit Media. Donovan was previously with Motorola and O'Connor was at TV Guide On Screen. ( www.gotuit.com )

ICTV has announced the following new positions in conjunction with its merger with Switched Media: Ed Forman is returning as Executive VP and COO; Michael Taylor is joining as Senior VP of Business Development and Distribution; and Jeremy Edmonds has joined as System Architect. ( www.ictv.com )

Jef Graham was named chairman and chief executive of RGB Networks. He was previously with Juniper. ( www.rgbnetworks.com )

Sarah Hackforth has joined Entone Technologies as VP Sales & Operations EMEA. Previously, she was with Terayon and Motorola Broadband Systems Group. ( www.entone.com )

Alfred Mockett has been appointed chairman and CEO for Motive. He was previously CEO of American Management Systems. ( www.motive.com )

Neil Parkinson was appointed CEO of Irish Broadband Internet Services Ltd. ( www.irishbroadband.ie )

Ciricia Proulx has accepted a new position at Intel in the Service Provider Business Group. She was previously with ViXS. ( www.intel.com )

George Riedel was hired as chief strategy officer for Nortel Networks. He was previously with Juniper Networks. ( www.nortel.com )

Mike Roudi has joined Time Warner Cable as VP of wireless operations. He will manage the MSO's participation in the joint venture between Sprint Nextel Corp., and MSOs Time Warner, Comcast, Cox and Advance/Newhouse. ( www.timewarnercable.com )

Mike Snyder is becoming CEO of Vonage Holdings, while founder Jeff Citron assumes the role of Chairman and Chief Strategist. Snyder was previously with ADT.( www.vonage.com )

Ali Taslimi was named VP of Corporate Development for Coaxsys. His previous positions were focused on broadband networking and IPTV. ( www.coaxsys.com )


Company News

Acquisitions

IDT is acquiring Net2Phone by merging with NTOP Acquisition, a wholly owned subsidiary of IDT. The Net2Phone name would survive, but the company will be a privately-held, wholly-owned subsidiary of IDT. "The aggregate consideration payable in the merger would be approximately $28.1 million." ( www.idt.net ) ( www.net2phone.com )

Irdeto is acquiring Philips' conditional access business unit (CryptoTec). No financial details of the transaction were disclosed. ( www.irdeto.com ) ( www.philips.com )

Tandberg Television is acquiring video compression company SkyStream Networks for $80 million in cash and Tandberg Television shares. ( www.tandbergtv.com ) ( www.skystream.com )

Funding

FON, a Spanish peer-to-peer Wi-Fi network provider, has obtained $21.7 million in Series A funding from Google, Skype and others. The company convinces people to share their home hotspots with others so that, in effect, users trade their Internet connections so everyone’s connected wherever other users are. ( www.fon.com )

Newport Media, a developer of silicon for mobile TV receivers, has closed a $25 million Series B round. The company supports all major mobile TV standards. ( www.newportmediainc.com )

picoChip, which makes silicon for a variety of wireless technologies, has raised $20.5 million in its third round of funding. The funding includes an undisclosed sum from AT&T. ( www.picochip.com )

SpaceWave Technologies, an advanced wireless technologies chip maker, raised nearly $12.1 million in its first round of venture capital. ( www.apacewave.com )


Other News

ArrayComm and Texas Instruments announced a collaboration to combine ArrayComm's smart antenna technology with TI's digital signal processing for wireless infrastructure applications. ( www.arraycomm.com ) ( www.ti.com/wimaxwi )

ICTV, which makes a platform for delivery and distribution of interactive television content, announced that it is merging with Switched Media, a developer of solutions for mass customization of live video streams. The Switched Media team will join ICTV, and the combined companies will retain the ICTV name. ( www.ictv.com )

IPWireless made several recent announcements:

  • Starting in March, Sprint Nextel will test the next generation of IPWireless' mobile broadband technology. Sprint recently invested an additional $10M in IPWireless.
  • Orange will be the first UMTS operator globally to trial TDtv, the company’s recently launched mobile TV and multimedia solution based on the 3GPP Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Standard (MBMS).
  • IP Wireless is also developing jointly with MobiTV mobile television delivery solutions that combine today’s unicast technologies with TDtv multicasting. ( www.ipwireless.com ) ( www.sprintnextel.com ) ( www.orange.com ) ( www.mobitv.com )

MovieBeam, originally launched by Disney in 2003 in three test markets, announced its VOD service which will be sold at retail. To use it, consumers buy the Linksys-branded set-top box for $200 and pay a one-time activation fee of $30. The service digitally delivers up to 10 movies a week to the box through over-the-air datacasting. New releases cost $3.99 per title; other titles run $1.99. HD movies cost an extra $1. ( www.moviebeam.com ) ( www.linksys.com )

NTT DoCoMo and Nippon Television Network have formed a partnership to investigate mobile digital TV services in Japan. Each company is investing 5 billion yen ($42 million) in a fund that will consider opportunities for bringing Nippon TV content to DoCoMo users. ( www.nttdocomo.com ) ( www.ntv.co.jp/english/index.html )

Octalica, an Israeli chip vendor, has joined the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA). Octalica will provide an alternate source of silicon for the MoCA standard. ( www.octalica.com ) ( www.mocalliance.org )

Widevine Technologies announced digital copy protection for high definition DVD-based content in both Blu-ray and HD-DVD delivery formats. Widevine recently formed a partnership with Sigma Designs to embed Widevine protection capabilities into Sigma's digital media processors. ( www.widevine.com ) ( www.sigmadesigns.com )


Standards and Trade Associations

The ITU has approved a suite of CableLabs' PacketCable specs as standards for the international version of services including VoIP. The PacketCable-based standards, known internationally as IPCablecom, cover such topics as architecture, network call signaling, call management server (CMS) to CMS signaling and QoS over a cable television network using IP. The ITU also standardized on CableLabs' contributions from DOCSIS and CableHome project. ( www.itu.int ) ( www.cablelabs.com ) ( www.packetcable.com )

The Open PLC European Research Alliance (OPERA) announced the development and approval of a global specification for Powerline Communications (PLC) access, also known as Broadband over Powerline (BPL). Spanish chipmaker DS2 says its technology was selected as the baseline for the specification.( www.ist-OPERA.org ) ( www.ds2.es )

The International Packet Communications Consortium (IPCC), an international trade association dedicated to the advancement of VoIP over broadband, announced its transition to the IMS Forum whose mission will be to accelerate the adoption of IP Multimedia Subsystems (IMS) by providing an environment for discussion and resolution of implementation issues. It will also provide consultancy on IMS best practices. Its founding members include Alcatel, Cisco, CopperCom, Sonus, Sprint Nextel and UTStarcom. ( www.IMSForum.org ) ( www.alcatel.com ) ( www.cisco.com ) ( www.coppercom.com ) ( www.sonusnet.com ) ( www.sprintnextel.com ) ( www.utstar.com )

Countries

US

President Bush signed a budget bill which includes the federal mandate to transition the United States from analog to digital TV broadcasting by midnight February 17, 2009. This will be the biggest TV transition in the US since households moved from monochrome to color receivers over 45 years ago. Consumers will be able to use their analog TVs if they purchase a set-top converter box. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted a consumer fact sheet about the transition.


Briefly Noted: Updates, Observations and Trends

Each month, we collect miscellaneous happenings, studies, trends or observations you might have missed. This month we feature some market statistics, muni Wi-Fi, BPL and a perspective on projecting the future.


Market Growth

European DVR Growth: A study by IMS Research estimates that by the end of 2005, over 2.6 million households in Europe were using a DVR and that by 2010, the market will swell to over 41 million households. They expect the main source of growth to be operator deployments of integrated DVRs, although Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) will also contribute. DTT DVR shipments grew significantly in 2005 due to strong adoption of DTT services in the UK, France and Germany. According to the report, DTT is expected to remain the second largest platform, after satellite, for DVR adoption in Europe through 2010. ( www.imsresearch.com )

Cable Digital News reported that "cable operators and phone companies wrapped up 2005 with record quarterly gains in broadband subscribers, raising the total number of high-speed data customers over the 47 million mark in North America." They also report that DSL providers captured 54.1% of all new residential high-speed data customers in the fourth quarter while cable operators took home the remaining 45.9%—the fifth time in the last seven quarters that DSL providers have gained more subs than cable operators. ( www.cabledatacomnews.com )


Muni Wi-Fi Keeps on Rolling

The municipal wireless phenomenon is staying on a roll. A sampling of some recent developments includes:

  • MichTel has an initiative to blanket all 910 square miles of Oakland County, Michigan with free wireless Internet by 2007. The network is expected to cost $100 million to build and $1 million a month to operate. It is pursuing a fee-based model and expects revenues from extensive advertising. There are seven pilot communities -- Troy, Birmingham, Madison Heights, Royal Oak, Oak Park, Pontiac and Wixom. ( www.michtel.com )
  • City officials in Chicago announced that the city will invite technology companies to submit proposals for wireless broadband this spring and that the system would be paid for by whatever private vendor is chosen to build it.
  • The City of Houston intends to issue an RFP to solicit proposals from private sector companies for the financing and management of a Wireless Broadband Network. The City posted a draft of the RFP on February 17 to allow interested parties to comment or suggest improvements to the RFP.
  • Miami Beach's Mayor laid out a vision for connecting all of Miami Beach wirelessly and for free. Two companies -- IBM and Wireless Facilities Inc. have been given permission to set up Wi-Fi antennas in two neighborhoods -- one in North Beach and one in South Beach -- as part of a pilot system.
  • Cincinnati has a different approach for delivering Wi-Fi free of cost and free of pop-up and banner ads. Project Lily Pad is a volunteer-driven initiative spearheaded by Give Back Cincinnati to bring free wireless internet access to public spots, business districts and common areas throughout the Cincinnati Region. It has the cooperation of the City of Cincinnati and Time Warner Cable and follows the model of "Adopt a Highway" in the US, in which donations are used to sponsor individual hotspots for three years. Time Warner Cable, for example, is the sponsor of the riverfront hotspot.
  • Meanwhile, the city of Philadelphia finalized its plans for muni Wi-Fi by signing contracts with EarthLink and Wireless Philadelphia (WP), the nonprofit group overseeing citywide Wi-Fi network development. ( www.earthlink.com ) ( www.phila.gov/wireless )

Houston BPL: Internal Use For Now

CenterPoint Energy and IBM announced that 44,500 Houston Electric customers will participate in a broadband-over-powerline (BPL) rollout as a stepping stone toward an intelligent grid system for electric and gas companies. The deployment will center on utility company applications and not on broadband for high-speed Internet in homes. Houston Electric is piloting an "intelligent grid" that will allow the power grid to transmit its status using sensors and new "smart" electric meters to be installed at its customers' homes. The BPL equipment, being supplied by Corinex, is based on 200mbps chipset from DS2. ( www.centerpointenergy.com ) ( www.ibm.com ) ( www.corinex.com ) ( www.ds2.es )


Projecting the Future

We noted with some amusement a recent survey by Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets. The Wall Street Journal reported the survey finding that 75% of U.S. mobile phone users aren't interested in watching TV or movies on their handsets.

25 years ago, before voice mail had been deployed, AT&T researched consumers' reactions to whether they would want such a capability. Answers included: "I wouldn't use it", "I don't want to talk to a machine" and (from the department of the really old) "I'd be upset if I made a long distance call and got a machine. I wouldn't want to be charged for that call".

By any measure, voice mail is a widely deployed and used service. We may not always love it, but it is an invaluable tool for most people today.

The lesson is that you can't ask people whether they are interested in some new service that they haven't experienced and for which the applications are not yet well understood. We think it's prudent to approach consumer surveys for new services with a very large dose of skepticism.


Going Digital -- A Time of Flux

Over the past six years we have been writing about the transition from the analog world to the digital one and about the lack of connection between isolated islands of technology in the home. So it's surprising we didn't understand just how complex it would be to choose and install wiring and systems to support networked media and communications—video, audio, data and telephone services—in a way that worked well now and had flexibility and "staying power" for the future. Our recent experience of equipping our Florida condo for networked digital media showed us the difficulty of "doing the right thing" at a time when so much is changing simultaneously and solutions are in a state of flux.

In this and the next two articles, we summarize what we took away from our recent experiences. This first section talks about the three worlds of audio/video, the PC and home networking and describes the dozen or so variables now changing simultaneously in them.

The second article "Media and Broadband In Our Condo: Some Answers, More Questions" highlights the process we went through in deciding what we wanted to achieve and what we were able to get working during the past few months.

The third section "Digital Interconnects and PCs for Television" reflects on two key questions that remain unresolved—based on our experience and what we have heard about vendor plans for the future: the "right" interconnect for the highest-quality television, and the role of PCs for television.


Parallel Evolving Worlds

The A/V and PC worlds have been evolving in parallel:

  • The audio/video (A/V) world has been analog, standard definition and self-contained in a home entertainment center. All equipment is assumed to be in close proximity. If there are several A/V sources (AM/FM tuner, CD or DVD player, VCR, cable or satellite box), an A/V receiver selects which source is heard on the loudspeakers and seen on the TV screen. Equipment is connected together with interconnecting cables that are mostly analog, short and run "point to point" from the output of one device to the input of another.
  • The PC world has been mostly been about data, graphics, web browsing and email, and mostly self-contained in a home work center. All equipment (PC, monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, scanner, perhaps digital camera and digital camcorder) is in close proximity. Interconnecting cables (serial, parallel, USB) are digital, short and "point to point" from the output of one device to the input of another.
  • Home networking has mostly been about moving data between a broadband modem and several PCs. There is usually no network connection between the TV world and the PC world.

These are all changing rapidly:

  • Television broadcasting and television sets are both going from analog to digital, and from standard definition to high definition;
  • DVD players (which have always been digital) are going from standard definition to high definition; new DVD formats are required to handle high definition (and there are two warring formats);
  • Personal video recorder (PVR) functionality is appearing in many forms—in stand-alone devices like TiVo, as features of advanced satellite and cable set-top boxes, and in PCs;
  • On-demand music and video are appearing in many forms, both for the TV and for the PC;
  • Downloading music and video over the Internet is growing rapidly, moving from illicit peer-to-peer file sharing to legitimate services such as iTunes and MovieLink;
  • PCs—running software such as Windows Media Center Edition—are increasingly used to record and play audio and video content;
  • Video screens—increasingly high-definition—and loudspeakers are installed in several rooms, and people expect to be able to view on-demand and stored A/V content on any screen;
  • Home networking has been installed in many homes, and people increasingly expect to include the A/V world as part of the networked home;
  • Intel is introducing Viiv, the next generation of PC hardware, designed for high-definition TV;
  • Microsoft will introduce Vista, the next generation of Windows PC software, with many features for the TV; and
  • Content owners are afraid of illicit copying, and increasingly insist on securing content with digital rights management (DRM) encryption and usage rules.

Interconnecting the equipment in the new digital home is a huge challenge:

  • New digital audio/video cables are required to provide the interconnects between digital A/V devices
  • A huge installed base of legacy A/V equipment—VCRs, DVD players, and TV sets—will be around for a long time, so A/V receivers need to support both analog and digital A/V interconnects and need to provide analog-to-digital "up-conversion" for legacy analog devices;
  • DRM has pushed A/V interconnects to uncompressed digital formats, which require very high data rates and short cable lengths
  • Audio/video "sources" (such as CD players, DVD players, set-top boxes, VCRs, PVRs and PCs) and "sinks" (monitors, TVs and loudspeakers) are likely to be in several different rooms.

As the A/V and PC worlds come together, neither the new digital interconnects nor the new home networking technologies address all the problems. A/V content is "isochronous", requiring close time coordination between video and audio channels; PC data is "asynchronous", with no time coordination. The media networked home needs multi-point distant isochronous connections. Digital interconnects, while isochronous, are optimized for close point-to-point connections. Although home networking technologies are designed for multi-point distant connections, nearly all are asynchronous and few if any have sufficient capacity for multi-channel uncompressed high-definition digital video.


Media and Broadband In Our Condo: Some Answers, More Questions

We have previously written about our ongoing project to equip our Sanibel condo to exemplify the capabilities provided by many of the technologies we write about. Our earlier articles covered the more straight-forward projects including providing a PC and broadband connectivity for our guests.

Open walls in our condo --> Click for larger pictureBetween August 2005 and January 2006, we completely remodeled our condo, tearing out some walls and installing new wiring throughout. This was a perfect opportunity to consider what wiring and systems we should install to support networked media and communications—video, audio, data and telephone services—both for now and for the future. In the previous article in this series, we reported on the start of our project.

Media and communications turned out to be far more complex than PCs and broadband. Everything seems to be in flux. Television is transitioning from analog to digital and from standard definition to high definition; during the transition, selecting the appropriate cabling and equipment for audio and video is quite challenging.

Consumer electronics, PC and video services companies are encroaching on each other's turf. It is difficult to assess the impact of emerging technologies from Microsoft and Intel such as Vista and Viiv, and emerging standards for consumer electronics devices such as DLNA.

Remodeling gave us the opportunity to pull new cabling in the walls, and we wanted to select good equipment for ourselves and our condo guests. So we had to make the best choices based on what we know now. And there may still be some wild cards in the deck.

As with our home, we chose to plan and manage the project ourselves rather than hiring an integrator. As industry analysts, we have the benefit of hearing many people's views of the future. In planning the cabling and equipment, we wanted to apply our best judgments of future needs and technologies.

We found that we needed to think about two kinds of cabling: the long cables in the walls, and the short ones between pieces of equipment. It's difficult and expensive to change the cables in the walls, much easier to replace the ones between boxes. Today these cables seem to come from different worlds—A/V cables connect A/V equipment, networking cables connect PC equipment—and it's hard to create a "bridge" between them. At this point, we have not interconnected the PC and A/V equipment in our condo, but hope we've installed the suitable infrastructure in the walls to do so in the future.

This article is a summary of the full story on our website.


Planning

Our planning included several steps:

  • Defining the media and communications needs for our guests and for ourselves
  • Figuring out what technologies and services will be available to meet those needs in the future, and which of these we want to use
  • Deciding what cabling infrastructure to provide to enable these services -- both for today's largely analog services and tomorrow's digital services
  • Deciding which services to subscribe to now, and which to postpone until later
  • Deciding which devices to buy now -- both to provide today's services and to have a reasonable prospect of compatibility with tomorrow's services

User Needs and Technologies

Computer desk in our condo --> Click for larger pictureOur first step was to define the needs: what facilities and services we want to provide for guests staying in our condo, and what in addition we want for ourselves. During the first phase of this project, we defined the PC and Internet needs, and identified several key technologies including Virtual Private Networking (VPN) and Dynamic DNS (DDNS). We quickly installed a PC and a cable modem, and set up wired and wireless networking for us and our guests.

Plasma screen on top of media cabinet --> Click for larger pictureAs we started planning for the remodeling project, with the opportunity to install new cabling, we addressed the additional needs for telephone, audio and video services. Since we rent our condo in a competitive market, we decided to include high-definition television, surround sound and distributed audio in our planning. We wanted to provide future support for broadband telephone service, digital telephones and video telephony. Our website has a detailed discussion of the media and communications needs and the key technologies including structured cabling, A-BUS multi-room audio, digital telephone services, flat-panel screens and digital video interfaces, digital television, PVR and Windows Media Center Edition.

Cabling Infrastructure

We decided to run new low-voltage cabling throughout our condo. Although several emerging technologies based on existing wiring may provide a lower-cost solution in the future, we felt that spending the money to provide Category 5e and RG6 cabling was a prudent investment.

Low-voltage outlets behind the computer desk --> Click for larger pictureStructured cabling panel --> Click for larger pictureWe decided to provide outlet plates for the computer desk; the media cabinet (the main entertainment center); in the kitchen; and in the front and back of the two bedrooms. We ran Cat 5e to all locations, providing outlets for data at all locations and for telephone service at most; we also specified at least one spare Cat 5e at each location. We ran RG6 coaxial cable to any location we thought might have a TV.

We prepared detailed drawings and schedules for the low-voltage cabling, panels and outlets. We selected the Leviton Structured Media Center panel to centralize the low-voltage cabling, and created a diagram of the panel layout. We prepared detailed plans for each outlet plate, specifying the outlets at each location.

Russound A-KP2 A-BUS keypad module --> Click for larger pictureLoudspeakers and lighting over the bed --> Click for larger pictureWe had decided to use A-BUS for distributed audio (see a description of A-BUS) and worked with Russound, who introduced A-BUS to the North American market, to determine the best combination of A-BUS components for our purposes. We chose a fairly simple configuration of hubs, keypads and loudspeakers, and documented the plan for our electrician.

Our planning for cabling and outlets is described in more detail on our website.

Services

For our guests and ourselves, we're currently providing the following services:

  • High-speed Internet access, using a cable modem and a broadband router with wired and wireless connections
  • A desktop PC
  • Digital and high-definition cable television services, using a cable set-top box and two flat-screen TV sets
  • PVR functionality in the set-top box
  • Analog telephone service

For our own use, we're working to create a VPN link between our condo and home networks.

In the future, we expect to enable Windows Media Center Edition on the PC, and resolve the outstanding issues with the VPN link. We expect to install digital telephone service fairly soon, and have wired the telephone outlets so they can be used with analog telephones today and with digital telephones once those become suitable for consumer use.


Interconnect Cabling for Digital Television

Our most complex decisions had to do with flat-screen TVs and home theater. The United States is in the middle of a transition from delivering television services with traditional analog signals to using new digital signals, and from standard-definition formats to high-definition formats. We decided to equip our condo with equipment and services prepared for high-definition television.

Interconnect cabling is used to connect the video and associated audio outputs from one consumer electronics A/V device to the video and audio inputs on another device. Interconnects used to be pretty simple, but the new world of digital and high-definition television has made them far more complex and confusing.

There are currently five ways of connecting video between consumer electronics devices, and five ways of connecting audio. Only the latest interconnects are digital, and only one supports audio and video in the same cable. Only high-end equipment supports the most advanced forms of interconnects. Which formats will work properly between devices can only be determined by connecting devices together and testing them.

A/V and PC equipment in our condo --> Click for larger pictureIn our condo, we need three sets of A/V interconnect cabling:

  • In the living room, we need to connect the outputs from the cable set-top box and the DVD/VCR to the inputs of the A/V receiver, and to connect the outputs of the receiver to the inputs of the plasma TV.
  • We need to connect the A/V outputs from our Media Center PC to the inputs of our A/V receiver so we can use the Media Center features on the plasma screen in the living room.
  • We'd like to be able to watch video sources from all our A/V equipment (the cable set-top box, the DVD/VCR and the Media Center PC) on the screens in the two bedrooms, so we'll need appropriate interconnects for those as well.

We spent many hours on the web and at retail stores trying to implement the best approaches to these interconnects. We returned several cables we found we didn't need or that didn't work the way we expected.

At this point in the project, we and our guests can watch high-definition television in the living room, but not as yet with the best video or audio quality. We have more work to do before we can establish interconnects between the Media Center PV, the A/V receiver and the remote screens.

We pondered the interconnect choices for months, but while the walls were open we weren't able to come to a decision on how to interconnect between the media cabinet in the living room, the Media Center PC and the bedroom TVs. We followed the electrician's suggestion to place "smurf tubes" in the walls to make it easier to run the appropriate cables once we make the decisions.

Please see the details on our website.


Remote Controls

Once all the equipment was installed and working in the living room, we found that using four remote controls—the plasma TV, the A/V receiver, the cable box and the DVD/VHS player—was pretty confusing even for us. It was far from clear which remote should be used to change channels or adjust the volume.

Harmony 688 Remote --> Click for larger pictureOne of our children is using the Logitech Harmony Remote at her home, and she suggested we buy one for our condo. There are several models of the Harmony remote, but they're all pretty similar.

With a Harmony remote, you push a single button for each standard task. For example, to watch television from the cable box in our living room, you push the "Watch TV" button. This turns on the cable box and selects the channel you want to start with; turns on the A/V receiver and selects the cable input; and turns on the plasma TV and selects the HDMI input.

The Harmony Remote is programmed through a web application. You first select the equipment and answer some questions about interconnect cabling. Then you use a USB cable to connect the remote to your PC and Harmony software on the PC programs the remote for your A/V equipment.

While not a perfect solution, the Harmony Remote works well—and sure beats having to learn to use four separate remote controls.


For More Information

( www.leviton.com ) ( www.russound.com ) ( www.logitech.com/harmony )


Digital Interconnects and PCs For Television

As we finished remodeling the condo, we realized that two key questions remained unresolved:

  • What is the "right" interconnect for the highest-quality television?
  • What is the role of PCs for television?

Is HDMI the Right Interconnect?

Everyone agrees that the A/V world of the future is digital. Digital cameras have replaced film cameras. Digital camcorders are replacing analog camcorders. After a slow start, digital television sets are selling fast and prices are dropping. All satellite television and an increasing percentage of cable is digital. The U.S. Congress recently voted to end analog terrestrial broadcasting in February 2009—three years from now.

In remodeling the condo, we expended a lot of time and effort researching how to interconnect several digital devices. We think we'll need to use six different kinds of digital interconnects:

  • HDMI for video and audio—between some devices in the media cabinet;
  • Optical and/or coaxial digital audio—between other devices in the media cabinet that don't have HDMI (along with analog video)
  • Ethernet for video and audio—between the Media Center PC and a Media Center Extender
  • A-BUS for multi-room remote controls—between the bedrooms and the media cabinet
  • USB—for our printer and digital camera
  • IEEE 1394—for our digital camcorder

We're more knowledgable than most consumers, and we found this very difficult. Why should we (or any other consumer) have to cope with so many different interconnects?

HDMI cable --> Click for larger pictureThe consumer electronics industry appears to have agreed on HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) as the high-quality interconnect for high-definition video and audio. HDMI is a point-to-point interconnect technology, using a single cable to connect an audio/video source—such as a DVD player, set-top box or A/V receiver—to an audio/video monitor such as a digital television set. HDMI is designed to support all formats of HDTV and multi-channel audio in a single cable.

After some research, we decided to use HDMI in our condo. For our living room entertainment center, we purchased a plasma TV with HDMI inputs, and the latest HDMI-equipped A/V receiver. Our cable set-top box also has an HDMI output (we're not sure it will work with our other HDMI equipment, but intend to find out soon).

Other A/V equipment, such as our DVD player, doesn't have HDMI output, so we need to use component video interconnect cables. Our A/V receiver includes analog-to-digital up-conversion to HDMI. When playing a DVD disk, the DVD player converts the DVD output to analog component video, and the A/V receiver up-converts it back to HDMI digital. This digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion will certainly cost some video quality from the DVD.

Our PC with Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) is another source of audio and video. We're perplexed as to how to get the highest quality audio and video to the entertainment center, which is about 20 feet away. The PC has a DVI output port, which we understand we could use with HDMI (HDMI claims to be back-compatible with DVI), but has only analog audio ports. It's not clear how we could point the MCE remote control at the plasma screen 20 feet from the PC and get the signals back to the PC.

Our current thinking is to use an Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender; it has an HDMI connector, and communicates with the MCE PC over Ethernet cabling we've already installed. But the MCE PC has only analog video input, so we're not sure the picture quality will be acceptable on the plasma TV. Other solutions based on DLNA (see below) are starting to come to the market, and we might choose one of those instead of the Xbox 360.

Finally, we already have a second high-definition TV set in the master bedroom, and are planning to install additional flat-panel sets in the guest bedroom and the kitchen. How will we get high-quality video from our PVR-equipped set-top box, DVD player and PC to these additional sets?

HDMI doesn't seem to be the right solution, since it's point-to-point from one device to another, rather than providing a "bus" architecture to interconnect many devices. There's only one HDMI output on our A/V receiver, and it's being used for the living room TV.

We have learned that some key players in the consumer electronics industry have been asking similar questions, and we've started talking with them to learn about the new approaches being proposed to simplify the A/V interconnects. We'll update you as we learn more.


Digital Television and PCs

As television moves to digital and high definition, one of the biggest questions is the role of the PC. Should PCs play a role in the future television environment? What roles should PCs play? Should the PC and TV be connected together in the same room, or can they be in different rooms and connected through a network?

The industry is certainly not of one mind on the answers to these questions. As we reported last month in Vista, Viiv and Video: "With Viiv and Vista, Intel and Microsoft seem to be expressing somewhat divergent views on the role of home networking." Intel wants a new advanced PC in the living room as part of the entertainment center; Microsoft wants a Media Center PC somewhere in the house, with a Windows Media Extender at each TV.

Many companies in the consumer electronics industry can see a role for video servers in the house—but most don't think they should be PCs. Video service providers have become enthusiastic about providing PVR functionality in set-top boxes they provide—but aren't sure whether or how to support video servers purchased by consumers.

The Digital Living Network Alliance has brought many of these players together to define how video servers (which might be PCs) can interconnect and talk with video screens. Some products based on the initial DLNA specs were shown at CES 2006, and should appear on the market soon.

Vista, Viiv and DLNA will probably all be part of the future of high-definition television. As these products appear in 2006 and 2007, we should have a better idea of how these devices will work together.

( www.hdmi.org ) ( www.intel.com ) ( www.microsoft.com ) ( www.dlna.org )


A Healthcare Update

Healthcare is an application for new broadband and wireless technologies that most people can relate to personally. Our last article on the subject "Hurricanes and Healthcare" was back in the fall, so we cover here several new items that have come to our attention.

  • A note from Dr. Joe Kvedar, Director of Partners Telemedicine, says Partners has "launched a new website dedicated to Connected Health. The website’s Discussion Forum is a place where thought leaders can converge to dialogue and move the concepts of connected health from vision to reality."
  • The Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST) was formed in three years ago to lead "the national charge to develop and deploy emerging technologies that can improve the aging experience in America." The CAST Web site has continued to collect and share information about technology related pilot projects, products or research in aging services. They now have available on the Web site a video titled "Imagine - the Future of Aging" that dramatizes what the future of aging could look like with help from developing technologies. Eric Dishman, whose title is currently General Manager, Intel Health Research & Innovation, continues to be CAST Chairman.
  • We exchanged email and talked with Vince Kuraitis, a Principal at Better Health Technologies. He brought to our attention a new Web site and journal on the subject of the medially integrated home ("MiHome"). The MiHome Journal's subtitle is "Product Development and Distribution Strategies for the Medically Integrated Home". Vince provided this perspective on how society has thus far chosen to apply technology: "We have all this information about what's going on in your car, but not in your body." It is a sobering thought.
  • Parks Associates has published "Delivering Quality Healthcare to the Digital Home", a report analyzing emerging technologies and their applications in the healthcare industry. The report projects that the two fastest growing areas, wellness monitoring services and e-health services, will both achieve a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 50% over the next five years, while geriatric care monitoring services will achieve a CAGR of 22% and acute care monitoring services a CAGR of 35% over the same time period.
  • Intel continues to put significant resources into what they term "digital health". In January 2005 Intel re-aligned its organization and added the Digital Health Group, led by Louis Burns. The group continues to be focused on developing products and exploring business opportunities for Intel architecture products in healthcare research, diagnostics and productivity, as well as personal healthcare.

( telemedicine.partners.org ) ( agingtech.org ) ( www.bhtinfo.com ) ( www.parksassociates.com ) ( www.intel.com )


Upcoming Conferences

IPTV World

If you are following the developments in IPTV, you may be interested in attending IPTV World at the Las Vegas Convention Center on April 26, 2006. It is a one-day summit which will be co-located inside the NAB show. It will cover such topics as whether cable has an advantage beyond incumbency; what opportunities IPTV offers for competitive advantage between telcos, broadcasters and broadband providers; and what the IPTV-over-telco industry has to do to be successful this time around. ( www.ihollywoodforum.com/iptvworldApril2006.htm )


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