Interoperability and Simplicity the Key Trends at Connections 2008

In the home entertainment world, there are a few key conferences to attend: one is Electronic Home Expo (EHX), another is Custom Electronics Design & Installation Assocation (CEDIA), and the third is the Consumer Electronics Association/Parks Associates Connections conference.

"Everything Digital Living" was once again the theme for the most recent Connections conference, held recently at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley. Unlike past years, which emphasized the building blocks and nuts and bolts of creating a digital lifestyle, this year’s conference emphasized a key trend: Now that the digital home industry has moved past infancy and toward maturity, the industry needs to find a way to pull itself together, both literally and figuratively.

To this end, competing and complementary connectivity solutions were on display, along with a handful of technologies that help simplify the consumer experience. Interoperability was a key trend, now that many consumers have multiple display options (such as digital TVs and PCs) and multiple content source devices (such as set-top boxes, PCs, media servers, and game consoles).

Several companies and industry consortia, including Pulselink, HomeGrid, the Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA), and WirelessHD, discussed their different approaches to both wireless and wired connectivity throughout the home. After years of setting up individual standards around home power lines, phone lines, coaxial, and wireless delivery options, it appears the competing connectivity groups are prepared to take the offensive against one another, while at the same time working together to coexist by forming larger competitive camps that acknowledge and take advantage of multiple delivery methods.

A Unified Standard?
While the competing claims about range, quality of service, customer designs, and price continue to rage—a topic we’ll look at in a future article—at least one group, the HomeGrid Forum, is looking to neutralize the debate. Working with the ITU-T working group to develop and promote a unified wireline home networking standard, HomeGrid is bringing together companies such as Intel, Panasonic, Texas Instruments, Pulse~LINK, and D2.

One question that always plagues the consolidation and convergence of multiple technologies revolves around true collaboration: Can such a standard be built if service providers and leading organizations and companies such as MoCA and Broadcom don’t sign up?

The second, and more critical issue, is that of silicon. At present, the vision of the ITU-T group is to create MAC addresses and PHY (physical layer) that support all standards in one chip—an expensive proposition and one fraught with peril as new "standards" continue to emerge while old "standards" are continually being tweaked. To date, ease of use and price have been key drivers working against the adoption of many home networking technologies so, while proponents claim a unified standard will enhance adoption and subsequently drive prices down, the thought of many non-unifed standards all co-existing on the same silicon seems a bit premature.

Simplifying the Consumer Experience
On the ease of digital living front, several companies demonstrated ways to improve and make simpler the consumer experience. SingleClick Systems demonstrated software that allows consumers to stream their entire personal content library of music, videos, and documents stored on a home network, as well as to monitor live webcam feeds. Content can be streamed with virtually no latency to a variety of devices, including an iPhone on the WiFi connection. The catch? The consumer not only buys the software, but must pay a monthly fee for SingleClick’s service.

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