What we are starting to see is the arrival of the “multimedia router” which is a device that is primarily targeted at the home and small-office user, the people whom this blog is written for.
What is this product class
This product class is a single-band Wireless-N broadband (Ethernet WAN) router with integrated multimedia playback functionality through an integrated screen and / or speakers. They have access to the popular online multimedia services and are able to play media held on local storage.
The screen in some of the devices also acts as a local “instrument panel” for these routers and if the device has a touchscreen, it could permit the device to have a local control panel.
They have come about because the cost of integrating these functions in the one shell has become very cheap and it has allowed manufacturers to differentiate their product range in a deeper manner.
Could this product class have a place in the broadband-router market
These devices may appeal initially as a novelty device but they could add an independent media playback device in the location where the Internet router would also go. This would typically be the home office or study or the back office of a small shop. In households where the phone is customarily installed in the kitchen or hallway, it could be feasible to make maximum benefit of these locations by locating these routers there alongside an Ethernet-ended DSL modem because these units could provide a picture display or “there-and-then” information display and, in the case of the proposed design, Internet radio in one box.
Similarly, even if another router like a VPN-endpoint router is on the network edge, these units can work as an integrated multifunction wireless access point that can be moved around the house.
What the device class needs
The first two iterations of this device class need to support DLNA-compliant LAN media playback so that media held on NAS boxes and media server devices that exist on the local network can be played through these devices. They could support DLNA MediaRenderer functionality as a controlled device so a PC or other device can become the control point.
They would also have to work well as an access point or as a router with a simple configuration routine for units that are connected to existing routers. They could support working as dual-band single-radio or dual-band dual-radio access points for those networks where a dual-band 802.11n segment exists.
These kind of features could be introduced in to this device class as more manufacturers introduce devices in to the class and the competition heats up. The previously-mentioned DLNA functionality could come in to play through a firmware update during the existing router’s service life.
Once this device class is developed further, it could be the arrival of a router that can acceptable be on show in that credenza in the home office.
This concept that Big W is trying, as well as the “on-demand” book-printing machines being tried at some bookshops could easily upset the applecart when it comes to the distribution of “soft-goods” (books, music, video and computer software). It would be achieved through an Internet-connected server installed at a “soft-goods” retailer which is connected to optical-disc burning and/or high-speed “print-to-finish” document-printing hardware that is also installed at the same retailer. These setups could typically take up the same space as a free-standing office copier and be based on today’s computing and networking technology.
Similarly an online content retailer like Amazon could engage in using the technology to “print and deliver” titles without needing a huge warehouse to run their operation from. In some cases, they could use smaller offices to fulfil “print and deliver” orders local to the delivery locations. As well, there have been proposals to set up “buy-download-burn” arrangements so that people can buy music or video material and make it to optical disc on their computer equipment at home. This is in conjunction to the supply of legally-downloaded music through the likes of iTunes, Destra and Big Pond Music and the various proposals to provide legally-downloaded video material, such as AACS’s “Managed Copy” that is currently practised with Blu-Ray.
There could be the idea of titles still being available even though they reach the end of their print run and the contract with the author may preclude further print runs. This definitely can be of benefit with titles that have demand that outstrips agreed supply and it can allow publishers to liaise with the author about whether to do extra runs or not. Similarly, there could be less risk of shops dedicating shelf space to slow-moving titles, yet these titles can be made available irrespective of this fact.
Similarly, there could be “mass-customisation” being available for particular classes of titles. For example, there could be the ability to have computer-software disks full of appropriate programs for the customer’s needs. Similarly, a reference-type title like a Bible or dictionary could be printed with indexing that suits the customer’s needs, such as “white-on-black” for the current letter in a dictionary or a book of the Bible.
What I see with this kind of technology is that content creators who want total control over their content will find that they have lost that control. This may be of concern to content providers who want to be sure of a limited number of copies in existence or make sure of having their content “vaulted” for significant time so as to create a public “want” for re-releases.
It will be interesting to see whether this concept will achieve the mass-market as a way of providing current and legacy “soft-goods” or just simply flounder.
What Rovi is doing is integrating the vehicle in to the home network and its content pool. This will, as far as car entertainment companies are concerned, legitimise the feasibility of a hard disk / solid-state drive and/or WiFi network connection in the car AV system.
Content-description metadata would be available for CDs, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs in a manner similar to the current practice with iTunes or Windows Media Player. This can also work well with setups that have a built-in hard disk and a “rip-to-hard-disk” function for CDs. This can be updated with new data over the network connection or with the user transferring data from their PC using removeable media.
There would also be the ability to have improved content lookup available for applications where the media is stored as files in a file system like in an SD card, USB memory key, mobile phone or MP3 player like the Apple iPod.
Another key feature that Rovi has established in the press collateral has been the concept of transferring and syncing media content between the vehicle and a media collection hosted on a DLNA media server. This again would work with a 2.5” hard disk that is located in the car and used as the data storage.
There is even the concept of sharing data held in the vehicle or devices plugged in to the vehicle with associated networks which could allow for such things as map updating for satellite navigation and, I may have said this before, collection of diagnostic information from the vehicle.
Where do I think this will exist
The concept will typically appear initially as equipment installed at the factory in high-end cars and / or as high-end aftermarket car AV equipment that appeal to young men who turn their highly-customsied cars into “mobile discos”.Also these kind of markets are based around people who are usually more willing to spend big on the new technologies.
The primary form factor for aftermarket deployment may typically be in the form of the 2-DIN car navigation/audio/video head-unit with a large touchscreen on the front. It is because these head-units will typically have room for an integrated hard disk alongside a CD drive.
Some manufacturers may move towards moving the hard disk out of the head unit so as to reduce costs or design equipment that fits in to a 1-DIN car accessory space. This will typically allow for a USB or eSATA hard disk in an enclosure with an automotive-rated power supply located somewhere in the dash. On the other hand, highly-compact SSDs could become part of 1-DIN head-units which become part of the home network.
The network connectivity issue may be worked out either with an integrated WiFi-Bluetooth radio platform in the head unit or a WiFi network adaptor on the end of a USB cable or WiFi-Ethernet bridge on the end of an Ethernet cable located near the windscreen (windshield) or the rear window.
Once Rovi have established this technology, it could mean that the car will exist as part of the home entertainment and information network.
Two years ago, there was very little activity concerning the handheld PDA and smartphone front save for a few devices based on the Symbian S60 / UIQ platform and Windows Mobile (CE) platform.
Then Apple brought their touchscreen-enabled all-singing all-dancing iPhone on the market and businessmen became addicted to Research In Motion’s Blackberry smartphone with push e-mail functionality. Now Nokia (Symbian S60), Google Android and Microsoft have jumped on the same bandwagon as these previous companies. In the case of Nokia and Microsoft, they have released handset designs based on the iPhone-style “touchscreen” model as well as a QWERTY-style keypad. Some have even designed a handset that works sideways and uses a pull-out QWERTY keyboard. As well, Google had built up the Android Linux distribution for smartphone applications and a few manufacturers are releasing smartphones bast on this platform; while Palm, known for the classic “Palm Pilot” PDA, have come back from the dead with the Palm Pre smartphone platform.
This had stirred up things very significantly with the contract-driven high-end smartphone market.
A new expectation was required for this class of device in the way they operated, the features they came with and how the additional software that extends their functionality is marketed. The devices will have 3G (or better) cellular voice and data interface, 802.11g WPA2 Wi-Fi networking, Bluetooth connectivity while being capable of working as a digital video camera, phone, portable media player, personal navigation unit and Internet terminal at least. Additional programs will be typically sold or provided through a PC-based or over-the-air application store hosted by the device’s manufacturer or platform provider.
As part of this showdown on the smartphone front, handset designers, operating-system and applications developers will start to develop very interesting handsets and handheld applications. The handset designers and operating-system developers will end up at the point which was common for consumer electronics in the 1970s and 1980s where manufacturers pitted themselves against each other to design the best product and as models evolved, the features that were in the top-end model gradually appeared on midrange and low-end models. Mobile service providers will also have to provide cost-effective mobile service plans which consider increased data usage on these devices as they become work and lifestyle information terminals for their users.
This could lead to inclusion of digital radio and TV reception in some of the models; 802.11n Wi-Fi networking; OLED user displays, improved battery runtime on “full-feature” use; and the like.
As far as applications are concerned, developers who write handheld applications, whether operating as a dedicated program or as a front-end to a Web page, will need to make the applications suit the different platforms and application stores. This may be easier for the Microsoft and Symbian platforms because the developer can have the option of providing the application through their Web site, a competing application store like Handango, or a mobile phone operator as well as the official application store for the platform.
There is a risk that certain features will be missing from the smartphone market during the smartphone platform showdown. One will be the support for WPS “quick-setup” functionality for Wi-Fi networks. These devices really need to benefit from this technology – how could you enter a WPA passphrase that is “security-ideal” in to a phone with a 12-key keypad or “picking through” a small QWERTY keypad. As well, most of the desireable wireless routers and access points that are being released at the moment are now equipped with WPS, These phones should have support for WPS, preferably as part of the operating system’s Wi-Fi functionality, but at least as a reliable application that the user downloads to the device for free.
As well, DLNA media-management support should be available across all of the platforms, preferably as a playback and download (to local storage) function and a media control point. Similarly, the phone could be set up to act as a media server so that pictures taken with the phone’s camera can be shown on larger screens. At the moment, Symbian is providing the functionality native to their S60 3rd Edition platform and third parties, mostly hobbyist developers, are developing implementations for use on the Apple iPhone and Windows Phone platforms.
It will be very interesting over these next few model years as we observe mobile phone manufacturers, smartphone operating-system developers, independent application developers and mobile phone service providers grapple with this new reality.
My comments on this next step for the home network
When I was young, the typical kind of bathroom scales that were commonly available were of a mechanical type that needed adjustment before anyone could be weighed. As well, a person who didn’t have good eyesight couldn’t easily weigh themselves and had to require someone else to read the weight. There was a trickle of electronic scales but these were very expensive and mainly available through selected mail-order catalog stores rather than the homewares departments of a typical department store.
In the last 20 years, we have seen the arrival of cost-effective electronic bathroom scales that had a large digital display or, in some applications, voice synthesis; didn’t need to be adjusted every time each person weighed in and could allow a person with limited eyesight to weigh themselves. These units are becoming available through most homewares stores and departments.
This bathroom scales is the first unit that does more than the typical bathroom scales can do. It can measure fat mass and body mass index; but works with a Web portal that keeps record of this data for up to 8 members of a household. The data is transmitted to the portal using the WPA-secured Wi-Fi segment of your home network and is kept in a secure manner on the portal. As well, there is a local application available for the Apple iPhone / iPod Touch platform which provides the data in a manner optimised to that handheld device. But the Web dashboard can be visited through a regular Web browser setup.
From what I have seen of this device, there isn’t anything about what is involved in integrating the scales in to a secure wireless network. As far as I am concerned, these are the kind of devices that WPS-Push-Button-Connect is made for. Another thing I would like to see for these scales is an API being available so that one can write software such as integration into various desktop, network and Internet health-records programs.
As well, this has actually been the first kind of personal-health device available on the market that is able to be part of a home network. It could pave the way for more of these networked health-measurement devices to be made available for home-network use.
There is a new trend concerning the small network in that the car will have its own IP-based network with a link to the Internet. This has been brought about by manufacturers making WiFi “edge” routers with a 3G wireless link on the Internet side for installation in vehicles. Similarly vehicle builders like BMW, Chrysler and Peugeot are using this feature as a product differentiator in some of their vehicle models.
But what use are these devices?
Primarily these devices provide Internet access to passengers in minivans, limos and the like; and some bus fleets are taking this further for provision of Internet access to their premium routes. Some people may also think that these routers may have the same appeal as the “component-look” car stereo systems of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; where they only appealed to young men who were customising cars and vans in order to impress others.
What could they offer
Like the typical home Internet-edge router, all of these routers offer Ethernet and WiFi for the local network connection, which means that car devices can be directly connected to these Internet gateways. This can lead to online applications being made available to integrated or aftermarket-installed equipment which is being considered as sophisticated as a typical personal computer.
Ethernet port on the car stereo
A car stereo system could have an Ethernet port and support the same kind of network media services as some of the in-home entertainment systems offer. One application could be Internet radio functionality, where the set could have access to the Frontier Platform, Reciva or vTuner Internet-radio directories; and be able to pull in Internet radio from around the globe. An idea that may come to mind is the concept of young men “cruising” along Chapel Street in South Yarra; Campbell Parade in Bondi; Surfers Paradise or other “show-off” streets in Australia or coastal USA with the dance grooves from Heart London’s “Club Classics” program thumping out of the “subs and splits” in their souped-up machines during a special UK long weekend. Another function would be to support the “visual radio” platform that is part of most mobile-phone FM-radio implementations.
Another more interesting application is an in-car DLNA media network. The 3G WiFi router could work as a WiFi client when, in the presence of the home network, cause syncing of content between the home DLNA media network’s server and a hard disk built in to the car stereo. This allows for newly-added music content from the home network and up-to-date podcasts to be available in the car.
Similarly, there could be the ability to play content held on a DLNA-capable WiFi-enabled mobile phone or portable media player through the car speakers. As well, a small NAS like the Thecus N0204 miniNAS which I have mentioned about in this blog could be shoehorned to work from a car’s power supply and become a DLNA-enabled media storage unit for the car.
This functionality can be extended to the back seat in the form of access to newer video content from the home network or access to online video content to the back screens. As well, the vehicle’s music system could work as a DLNA media server for use in providing media at secondary locations like holiday homes or worksites. This would be in conjunction with a DLNA-compliant media player connected by a WiFi segment between the vehicle and the building’s network.
There is more information about how DLNA is investigating implementation of this standard in the automotive context in this white paper (PDF) at their website.
Ethernet connection for navigation systems
The “sat-nav” systems can benefit from Ethernet connectivity for integrated units or WiFi connectivity for portable navigation devices. This could allow for these systems to have up-to-date information about new points of interest as well as another link for receiving real-time traffic information.
The IP feed can work very strongly with real-time information being received from the wireless Internet in order to provide updated traffic information and / or real-time service information for garages, restaurants, motels and the like. This will then allow drivers to make better decisions about their journeys such as alternate runs or use of services. It could cater for “social recommendation” functionality for the roadside services so one can go to where the food’s known to be good for example.
Support for IP-driven vehicle telemetry
The vehicle could have an Internet-based direct link to the garage that the owner has a working relationship with, or to the fleet-management service in the case of a vehicle that is part of an organisation-owned fleet. This link can allow access to historical diagnostic information about the vehicle thus allowing for informed decisions concerning what repair work needs to be taken or whether the vehicle should be pensioned off.
Similarly, there could be the ability to implement vehicle / driver surveillance techniques which can be of benefit to parents of teenage drivers or organisations who need to keep in step with workplace safety or professional-driver regulations.
In some cases like public and community transportation, it may be desireable to have IP-based closed-circuit TV surveillance that streams the vision “back to base” instead of or as well as recording it to a local hard disk. This will also please the police force where officers are in a “first-response” situation and need “many eyes and many brains working together” on an emergency situation.
Electric vehicles (including hybrid-electric vehicles)
These vehicles will typically benefit from network and Internet connectivity in order to permit flexible power management situations like optimised battery charging or vehicle-to-grid setups. They will also benefit from the above-mentioned IP-driven vehicle telemetry so that the user or preferred mechanic knows if the battery is not holding its charge in the same way that it used to, thus knowing when to have it replaced.
What needs to be done
I would prefer the in-vehicle network to be capable of working as its own network with a 3G or similar-technology WWAN as proposed by the vehicle builders in their implementation or as a member of user-selected WiFi LANs in a client / access-point (WDS) role. This can be determined by a list of “preferred” SSID / WPA(2)-PSK combinations held local to the vehicle.
The “Ethernet behind the dash” concept of using Category 5 Ethernet to create a wired LAN amongst in-vehicle subsystems has to be researched, This includes how Category 5 Ethernet can handle the problems associated with an automotive electrical system which is known to be very noisy or prone to surges and spikes such as while the vehicle’s engine is being started.
Once the concept of the automotive local area network is researched properly, there is the ability to use it as a simple data conduit across vehicle systems for all data-transfer applications, not just for Internet surfing by passengers.
My comments on this mobile Internet device after reading the review
This device, provided by SFR for their “triple-play” (Box SFR, NeufBox) subscribers in France, is primarily a mobile Internet device. Primarily it is the “Webby” terminal marketed under SFR’s banner. But it isn’t the typical mobile Internet device that is in the typical handheld form. Instead, it is designed as a tabletop “mini terminal” for use in the kitchen, bedroom or home office. The French-language article even described the unit as a “mini terminal familiale” (family mini terminal).
Hence it is in the form of a small free-standing device that has a footprint similar to a small radio,with a 3.5” touchscreen LCD display that is mounted on its cone-shaped base. It will connect to your home network via WiFi (with WPA2 security and WPS “two-push” setup) or Ethernet.
The unit has IPTV functionality which works in conjunction with SFR’s IPTV service as well as Internet radio and “widget-driven” information services. The widget-based services focus typically on the local weather, financial information (stock portfolio) and your horoscope for your star sign. You can also get it to monitor RSS feeds, including audio / video podcasts and photofeeds. It has an SD card slot and USB host port so you can load digital audio files or JPEG pictures from your digital camera. A subsequent firmware version will provide for video file support. Of course the unit can work as an alarm clock that is always set to the correct time and can wake you to an Internet radio stream, a digital audio file or a buzzer sound.
When you set up the Hubster device, you will need to visit the Hubster Web site (http://hubster.sfr.fr) as part of registering it. This is where you would customise the local weather, financial and horoscope information.
The reviewers reckon that this device needs more capabilities in order to be a full-on auxiliary Internet terminal. It would need to support general Web browsing, be capable of true cordless operation by working with a battery pack and use a screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. I would add to this list the support for common video-file formats; and at least UPnP AV / DLNA playback support so it can play media files held on PCs or NAS boxes that exist on the network. The latter functionality would be relevant to SFR “triple-play” subscribers who hook up an USB external hard drive to their “NeufBox 5” or “Box SFR” Internet gateway devices and use the UPnP AV media server function integrated in these Internet gateway devices to stream out multimedia files held on the external hard drive.
What is this leading to?
The SFR Hubster’s main target was to compete in the nascent “connected information display” market created by WiFi-enabled electronic picture frames, Internet-enabled TVs and similar devices. Here, these devices pull up information of use to the public like news, weather and financial information from selected Web portals and present it on their displays, either as part of a continuously-changing display or on demand when a user selects a particular option on the device’s menu.
These “connected information displays” would thrive on a strong market relationship between companies involved in making or selling these display devices; and the owners of Web portal and information-streaming services as well as their content providers. This could then lead to these displays being considered the “fourth screen” of influence and companies involved in telecommunications and the Internet being considered as of influence as the classic media companies.
There have been many people who have said that regular free-to-air TV, like regular local radio or newspapers would lose out in the Internet age. But it has been able to survive the Internet challenge. This has been achieved through the technology being able to work as an adjunct to the classic media.
The Web page
One way of surviving the Internet challenge is for stations to augment their video content with a Website. This is usually achieved by the station creating a “master” Website with separate links to Websites about the various programmes on offer.
Extension to the news service
The most common beneficiary is the station’s news service where an up-to-date “electronic newspaper” is provided for all of the news that the station reports on. Typically this has been extended with key stories getting the “interactive treatment” such as data mash-ups or interactive diagrams. In most cases, a key story would have its own Web page with all articles, audio, video and interactive content that is relevant to the key story.
Another common practice is to have news stories clustered in to geographic areas local to the station’s operating territory with the user being able to “swing” between the areas. This can allow users to see more than the evening news service.
Some stations provide a moderated comment option on the stories so that they offer citizens the opportunity to speak up about the issues at hand. They also may offer the opportunity for the public to pass on news tips or still/video images for inclusion in the stories being broadcast. This allows for the broadcasters to make the audience relevant to the news broadcast.
Secondary scoreboards / leaderboards
Another common application is to turn a Web page in to a secondary scoreboard or leaderboard for a sportscast, reality TV show or similar show. This usually allows for the broadcaster to provide extra detail on the event. It is typically in the form of users gaining an always-live always-updated leaderboard independent of when the tally is shown on the TV screen, as well as user-selectable detail sheets for the contestants.
Fan sites for TV shows
The other common application is to provide a “fan site” for TV shows that are being produced by the station. This is a way of gaining extra value out of the TV shows through the provision of extra information and collateral about the show or having a sounding board for the show’s fans.
Sometimes the message boards that are part of these Websites may yield information about fan-created Websites for the shows or key personnel in the shows.
Recently, most TV Websites have hosted video-on-demand material such as clips or interviews from the whole show. These may range from extended-version interviews for public-affairs shows to whole episodes of a TV serial. The last application is typically described as “catch-up” TV because of the way that users can view the prior episodes in order to catch up with the current episode.This application has come to the fore in Australia when Channel 10 screened the MasterChef cooking contest series over the last two months.
At the moment the video-on-demand service is primarily provisioned through a Web application hosted by the TV broadcaster or the TV show’s production company; or simply as files or vision that is part of the TV show’s Web page. This typically requires one to view the video material at their home computer, which will typically have a small screen, rather than on their television’s large screen.
There are plans to provide this kind of interactive online TV service in the form of a set-top box, typically as port of an established “personal TV service” platform like Tivo. Such platforms will use the broadcast reception abilities in the “personal TV service” devices to obtain the regular broadcast video that is part of the service and download the extra video to the device’s local hard disk. This service, which may be known as “over-the-top” video, will be an attempt by the TV establishment to bring the video content to the big screen in the living room.
Live IPTV broadcasts
This application is simply like Internet radio in which a live TV broadcast is streamed via the Internet’s infrastructure. It is considered a thorn in the side for the TV establishment because it allows anyone with the necessary computer hardware and software and the necessary Internet connection to broadcast to the Internet. Due to the reduced cost of this hardware, software and connection, it may allow anyone to broadcast a TV service that can be complimentary to the existing broadcasters’ offerings or totally work against the grain that the existing broadcasters have laid out.
For example, the established US TV networks and cable channels may see themselves being threatened by this concept if, for example, an IPTV broadcaster sets itself up to run content services in a similar manner to Australia’s SBS. This situation may draw people who are living in the big cities or the college towns away from the kind of content typically run by these broadcasters.
This same application is also part of “single-pipe triple-play” Internet services where a multi-channel TV service is provided as part of an Internet and VoIP telephony service. These services are already common in some countries like France and are starting to come on the map in countries like the USA where fibre-optic broadband services are being deployed.
The effect and benefits
One effect of this technology I have noticed is that some normally technology-shy friends that I know are using the Internet extras to gain more value out of their favourite TV shows. This has allowed these shows to work as a bridge to them gaining more out of online technology and becoming comfortable with it.
Similarly, the Web pages have encouraged people to bring laptop computers in to the lounge area where the TV is and use these computers to log on to the Web sites associated with the TV shows they are viewing.
Most of the online TV content is pitched for viewing on a computer rather than on a regular TV set. This is because the accepted culture is for the content to be seen only as complementary to the existing broadcaster’s offerings.
But some providers are trying to bring the broadband service to the TV through various set-top-box platforms. These platforms would be extensions of any open-standard or proprietary interactive-TV platforms that are in service or being developed like DVB-MHP or Tivo’s proprietary interactive-TV platform. Similarly, the Consumer Electronics Association, a US trade group who represent consumer-electronics manufacturers, distributors and retailers, have established a standard for bringing the Web to the TV.
Similarly, there is the issue of controlling and monetising the video content that passes across the Web. This is typically of concern when high-value content such as sports, movies or headline TV series are concerned. It has also affected the idea of establishing free-to-air or subscription IP-TV services which can complement or compete with existing TV services. It can be typically answered through the provision of software DRM systems but they have to be designed to be robust, secure and less onerous for the customer.
The other key issue is providing an IPTV viewing experience that is akin to viewing regular TV. This usually involves providing a channel list that allows for “up-down” channel-surfing, numeric “direct-entry” selection, as well as selection through a menu. It also will involve providing high quality-of-service so that the viewing experience is akin to watching regular TV where there is good reception. At the moment, this is typically provided through a closed set-top-box environment but there is activity taking place for it to work with devices like television sets and PVRs that are standards-compatible. Similarly, a lot of currently-released routers are supporting quality-of-service management in order to prioritise multimedia data transfer across the network.
At the moment, the online experience provided by most regular TV broadcasters and producers is directed towards the co
mputer screen but, if it is to challenge the status quo, it will need to appear across all of the three screens (TV, computer and mobile / PDA), especially the TV screen.
Once these current issues are overcome, then IPTV can become more prevalent either as a free-to-air or subscription medium.
When I first read about Hewlett-Packard’s Web-connected printer in this article, I thought that the idea may not be real but they have followed the same path as the recent crop of Web-enabled TVs and the smartphones that are part of most currently-running mobile-phone service contracts. This all-in-one printer could be the start of another development arena for these devices, allowing for a new scope of applications that are “printer-based”. These could include “print-on-demand” like the initial offerings from Google (calendars), Web Sudoku (sudoku puzzles) and DreamWorks Animation (colouring-in sheets) and extend to such applications as image-upload interface points for photo-sharing / social-networking sites and online file storage services.
If this idea pulls off for printers and “all-in-one” devices, then it could lead to other devices that are capable of working with the home network being able to work with the Web and the home network in a manner beyond their obvious design. For this to be achievable, the devices would have to work on platforms like the Windows CE / Windows Mobile platform, the Symbian S-series or UIQ platforms or the Android platform and allow an easy yet secure way of installing the software.
Over the past few weeks, a couple of announcements around consumer electronics connectivity have caught my eye. In late April, the DiiVA Interactive TV standard was announced after a year of development, with the backing of mainstream CE manufacturers LG, Panasonic, and Samsung, along with the Chinese government and a number of major Chinese CE manufacturers. The DiiVA standard was designed to integrate HD Video, multi-channel audio and bi-directional data (Ethernet and USB) in a single cable. Then, just last week, the HDMI Licensing group announced the HDMI 1.4 specification, which will integrate Ethernet connectivity within the HDMI cable.
My Comments on this concept
The concept behind the DiiVA stamdard and HDMI 1.4 is to cut down the “spaghetti junction” that exists behind a home-entertainment system by avoiding the need to run an Ethernet cable between each Internet-enabled AV device and the home network.
The current problem is that most Internet-enabled equipment that is in the field will require use of a direct network connection, typically an Ethernet cable, even if the AV setup includes equipment that has the new connections. As the standards gain traction, users will have to work out which component will be the interface to the home network; and some equipment will need to always have a direct connection to the home network as well as support for Ethernet connection via the new standards.
When the standard reaches momentum, I would still prefer that certain classes of equipment always have an Ethernet socket or MoCA/HomePlug AV interface. Primarily, I would require that a television set (with built-in TV tuner); and a surround-sound receiver would have the home-network interface. Similarly, I would require that devices performing the role of a surround-sound receiver like “home theatre in box” systems and single-piece “soundbars” be equipped with the home network connectivity. This is typically to allow one to assure network connectivity to all consume AV-equipment setups that use these connections, as these setups evolve. Some AV peripherals like optical-disc players or games consoles may just rely on their network connectivity coming via the AV connection.
Another factor that needs to be worked out with this connection setup is making sure that the network-enabled AV setup just works. Issues that can impede this ideal could include “network collision loops” where devices that are directly connected to the home network and are interconnected with network-enabled connections create an infinite data loop. This can lead to extensive operational and performance difficulties, similar to when a laptop is connected to a WiFi router with an Ethernet cable while its WiFi network functionality is active. This issue could be addressed by the use of a priority-based algorithm for determining the data flow in the AV setup.
Once these issues are addressed, these connection standards should then lead to trouble-free network-enabled home AV for all setups no matter how sophisticated they are. Similarly, this could lead to such concepts as the AV devices providing extra network services such as in-fill WiFi access points or Ethernet switches.
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