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The October 20, 2003 Issue Provided by System Dynamics Inc.
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Intel's Digital Home: Corporate Initiatives That Work

It's logical, it works and we applaud it. Having watched Intel create various initiatives to grow their market, we're delighted to observe how a corporation rationally addresses the need for market growth. We've seen Intel variously supporting videoconferencing, broadband and wireless. Not all have been as successful as their current Wi-Fi efforts, but each has had its impact.

Intel looks for new opportunities for chips that require lots more horsepower. They find markets where the momentum seems to be heading (e.g., Wi-Fi), identify impediments that are slowing progress, select promising new applications and technologies, and promote standards. They create a plan that pulls in (or joins with) other industry players to overcome the obstacles. They grow the market and position Intel to be a real winner in its growth, with a big budget to associate Intel's name with the winning formula. If the technology they first supported isn't the winner, they get behind the one that will be.

Saying this is a lot easier than making it happen! But in a nutshell, it summarizes what Intel is now busy pursuing through its Digital Home Initiative and its membership in the Digital Home Working Group.

"Mob" at IDF (Intel picture) --> Click for larger pictureAt the recent Intel Developers Forum, Paul Ottellini, Intel's President and COO, said "Convergence has gone mainstream" and is driving up processor gigahertz as well as requiring a collection of additional technologies to deliver new consumer capabilities.

Recently, Gary Matos of Intel helped us set up an interview with Bob Gregory, Director of Initiatives Planning and Advanced Development, who is responsible for Intel's Digital Home. We were also joined by Brian Tucker who spearheads Intel's Digital Home premium content and technology strategy.

Long-time readers of these newsletters will find many familiar themes in our discussion with Intel, since we are wildly in agreement about the opportunities and the problems. These include:

  • Consumer electronics devices and media are moving from analog to digital
  • Many households have PCs and increasingly are networking them to share their broadband connection, printers and files
  • Personal content such as digital pictures and movies are increasingly being created on new digital devices
  • External and professionally-generated content like music and movies are also increasingly digital
  • BUT, when users think about how to share their digital content around their homes, emerging digital and existing analog equipment like TVs and audio systems don't "talk" well to one another--and fixing this is not simple. The logical desire to watch a movie recorded on a DVR on a TV in another room is one of countless examples.
  • If you're Bill Gates and can throw money and technology at the problem, solutions exist; for average people who want it to be affordable and easy to learn and use, lots of work remains to be done.

SMC WMR-AG universal wireless receiver --> Click for larger pictureWe first wrote about Intel's work in addressing this problem a year ago in 'Intel Inside' Means Music and Media Too. Since that time we've seen a number of Digital Media Adapters (DMAs) come to market. These initial units address the problems of sharing photos and music, but most leave out video because of the sticky digital rights management issues and the added bandwidth and QoS video requires. The Linksys Wireless-B Media Adapter) is based on Intel's reference design, while SMC's new Wireless Multimedia Receiver does include video and is based on a different design.

The Digital Home Working Group

Intel is now gathering support to solve this problem through the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG), which started with seventeen leading consumer electronics, computer, and mobile companies. The organization has dedicated itself to a collaborative approach to simplifying sharing of digital content--such as digital music, photos and video--among networked consumer electronics, mobile devices and PCs. When we observed that getting agreement across these diverse constituencies seemed like "herding cats," Bob Gregory admitted that the scope of the task sometimes interfered with his getting a sound night's sleep.

Original DHWG members --> Click for larger pictureThe group's approach to creating an interoperability framework for networked media devices is to use established open industry standards wherever possible in developing their design guidelines. In looking at the initial member companies--Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Intel, IBM, Kenwood, Lenovo, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), Microsoft, NEC CustomTechnica, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, STMicroelectronics and Thomson--we observed that no broadband service providers are included at this time. Bob pointed out that because of the breadth of the problem, DHWG is taking a stepwise approach in which getting device interoperability is the first step. They are, for example, not yet including telephony as part of the scope (although it will be later). There are now over 30 new contributor members with more being added.

For devices to transparently collaborate on a service for the user, DHWG has defined an interoperability framework to allow the devices "to communicate with each other and exchange meaningful information." To quote from the DHWG's white paper, the framework includes:

  • Transparent connectivity between devices inside the digital home
  • Unified framework for device discovery, configuration and control
  • Interoperable media formats and streaming protocols
  • Interoperable media management and control framework
  • Compatible quality of service mechanisms
  • Compatible authentication and authorization mechanisms for users and devices.

The scope also includes methods for content owners to protect their digital content, and manageability and support for digital home devices.

What should we expect to see next? The success of the DHWG initiative depends in large part on educating consumers about some of the new devices and what they make possible--and then getting them to buy and use them. It is difficult for one or a few small companies to make this happen--witness the slow initial take-up for PVRs. But with the combined product and marketing push of companies such as Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, H-P and Gateway, we expect DMA-like devices to be increasingly visible. That should ratchet up the attention being given to products such as those available today from companies like Linksys and SMC and increase awareness and market acceptance for the coming generations of consumer devices.

Protecting Content with DTCP-IP

Professionally-generated content like movies is perhaps more important than user-generated content. After watching the troubles of the music industry, video content owners have been reluctant to provide high-quality content in digital formats; for content owners to support networked digital video, content protection is critical. The success of the digital home requires addressing these complex issues, and Brian Tucker is actively pursuing how to make this happen. To aid this process, Intel announced the first release of DTCP-IP (digital transmission content protection over internet protocol) at the Intel Developer Forum. Its goal is to allow users to get high-value content and move it around the home and play it on multiple devices, while still protecting the content owner's property.

The DTCP-IP spec is a copy protection method for copyrighted content transferred across digital interfaces. It provides link layer protection and moves the original "5C's" spec announced in Sept 98 into the IP world. 5C's refers to the group of companies--Hitachi, Intel, Matsushita, Sony and Toshiba--which created an independent licensing authority to license DTCP to interested businesses.

Brian indicated that Intel is working with content aggregators and consumer electronics manufacturers to develop an SDK to support DTCP-IP. At IDF, Intel (in collaboration with Warner Brothers) demonstrated the protocol embedded in a Linksys media adapter, allowing content from Movielink to be shown on a connected TV, not just on a PC.

DHWG guidelines 1.0 are expected out in the first half of 2004. Intel expects that products will come to market in compliance with these guidelines in the second half of next year.

UPnP AV2

In another concrete step, the new generation of DMAs is supporting UPnP as a baseline middleware element. Intel is now working on an extension called AV2, which sets up a profile for an A/V device so that it is exploited to its fullest. Products with AV2 embedded are expected in the first half of 2004.

Bridging the analog and digital worlds

One of the elements we didn't hear addressed was the real-world problem of bridging the analog and digital worlds. Our home is filled with analog audio and video equipment, with several types of cabling (coax and speaker wire) used to move the analog video and audio signals from room to room. These new digital media adapters are fine for taking signals that originate in digital format, but they don't handle ones in analog format. We've expected for some time to see consumer products that convert originating analog signals to digital form, carry them over CAT5 cabling with Ethernet or 1394b, and convert them back to analog at the terminating location. GE Smart showed prototypes of UPnP-based devices that did this nearly two years ago; too bad they haven't reached the market yet.

We've been pleased to watch Intel's push to encourage digital media adapters. Now we're hopeful that DHWG will make good progress on the complex problems they are addressing. We encourage them to include broadband service providers as soon as possible--and also to help ease the transition from analog to digital media.

( www.intel.com ) ( www.dhwg.org ) ( www.dtcp.com )