New technologies like broadband and home networking are changing how consumers experience audio and video entertainment. Every week, there are multiple announcements of new products and services that promise to improve our home entertainment experience. These include new digital media adapters, entertainment PCs, broadband movie and music services and portable flat screen TVs. At FastNet Futures last month, we assembled industry experts to explore what new entertainment experiences broadband and networking make possible for consumers; what new technologies are key to this transformation; and the efforts underway to conquer the remaining problems. These efforts are sorely needed--without them, our homes will continue to fragment into multiple "islands" of technology which remain isolated from one another and confound users with their inability to interoperate seamlessly.
Sandy Teger, Broadband Home Central
Sandy led off the session by describing what users desire: "To get the entertainment content I want, anytime and anywhere in my home." If this were true today, we would all be able to do things like:
Although broadband data is increasingly networked, we are just at the beginning of the process for entertainment. Professionally-generated entertainment comes to the home in three ways today: broadcast (radio, cable TV, satellite TV), packaged media (like CDs and DVDs) and digitally over broadband.
In the worlds of broadcast and packaged media, households have multiple TVs, audio systems, CD and DVD players and set-top boxes. Although they may be "wired" to one another, they are not "networked".
By contrast, broadband content is increasingly carried to PCs and other devices over home networks, wired and wireless.
To progress toward the goal of networking home entertainment, many stakeholders--including content owners, consumer electronics manufacturers, PC manufacturers, Broadband Service Providers, Broadcasters, and consumers--are all looking for their needs to be addressed. There's no end of thorny questions which must be answered, including what networking capabilities are required, how to protect content owners while not taking away the capabilities users expect, what media formats are supported, and who supports the end user.
Jason Ziller, DHWG and Intel
Jason Ziller of Intel, who is Chairman of the Certification & Logo Subcommittee of the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG) spoke about the group's efforts toward enabling consumers' devices to work together and share content. Jason described the group's vision, framework and media strategy.
Jason said that the target for first products using the DHWG Guidelines is late 2004. Since Jason's committee is focused on certification and logoing, it looks like he will be pretty busy for the rest of the year!
We've written previously on the important role we think DHWG is playing. See our January article for more detail.
Neil Hamady, Bermai Networks
The growing number of flat screen TVs and the growing penetration of HDTV create another set of needs--for wireless video networking. The ideal is for home networks to carry multiple channels of high-quality video plus other data and voice traffic wirelessly, not just within rooms but around the home.
Neil Hamady, Director of Products at Bermai Networks, described how we'll be able to move around the house and still receive high definition TV on our flat panel portable TV. Bermai uses two approaches to do this. The first is MIMO: using multiple antennas at both the base station and the subscriber station to increase the performance of the wireless link. The second is implementing the 802.11e draft standard for QoS to assign higher priorities to video streams. Neil described the technical basis for both approaches, both implemented in Bermaiís 802.11a+e QoS chipset for wireless multimedia.
He also reviewed the impressive demonstration we had seen at CES: two simultaneous high-definition video streams, a standard-definition stream and file transfer between two PCs--all running in the same 802.11a channel. The base station was at one end of a hotel room, and several of the subscriber stations--including a high-definition station--were in another room with two walls in-between. For more detail about the Bermai technology and demonstration see our January newsletter.
John Gildred, VP of Engineering at Pioneer Research Center USA, a division of Pioneer Electronics, spoke on two major technical issues in implementing networked digital entertainment: synchronous Ethernet and DRM. Neither of these is covered in the initial version of DHWG since these standards do not yet exist.
Although Ethernet operates at very high speed--most of today's PCs are equipped with 100 Mbps Ethernet, and many now come with 1 Gbps--Ethernet is "best efforts" only. Video transfers can "break up" when other applications, such as a PC-to-PC file transfer, run on the same Ethernet network at the same time.
"Synchronous Ethernet" or "Sync-E" is a proposed approach to extend Ethernet to support isochronous communications for applications such as digital video transfer between a PVR in one room and a high-definition TV set in another room. An IEEE group is working toward extending the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet standard to support synchronous Ethernet at 1 Gpbs and higher speeds.
Digital rights management (DRM) is a critical issue in the networked distribution of home entertainment. Owners of premium content are reluctant to permit networked distribution of digital content for fear that unprotected content will be copied and distributed without their permission. There is currently no open standard for DRM.
John observed that "vendors are waiting for standards and publishers are waiting for vendors." He described work on Protected Entertainment Rights Management (PERM), an open DRM standard originally proposed by the DENi Alliance.
PERM divides DRM into two parts: Part 1 defines an open standard protocol, Part 2 defines a mechanism for key licensing and product certification; the two parts are independent. PERM is currently a "work in process" Internet draft -- the draft specification is available for review and comment.