CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Is 2005 the year of the digital home?
By Allen Fear
(January 14, 2005)
Another CES has come and gone, and as in years past, the digital home is playing a central role in the marketing strategies of the electronics industry for 2005. Old debates about the "digital hub" of the future resurfaced this year. Will it be the PC, the set-top box, or something else entirely?
Although I expect to see the digital home take center stage at CES 2006, I doubt that many in my income bracket will be connecting HDTVs to home networks in 2005. Setting up a multimedia network is still prohibitively expensive, and wireless networking gear isn't reliable enough yet to support the heavy lifting of multimedia applications. Also, the hodgepodge of alternative networking standards is confusing, and the question of digital rights management is still awaiting an answer that the market will tolerate. Affordable digital home solutions probably won't make their appearance this year, but a few trends were apparent at CES 2005.
Ultra wide band and Bluetooth
Once again, CES failed to usher in the killer app that would make Bluetooth a hit in personal area networking. Instead, a future Bluetooth competitor arrived on the scene: ultra wide band, or UWB. Ultra wide band delivers hundreds of times more bandwidth than Bluetooth, which makes it a far better tool for transferring large amounts of data, such as digital music, photos, and video. Several companies offered demonstrations of UWB adapters that could dampen Bluetooth's prospects for growth. Texas Instruments, TDK, Philips, and Mitsubishi all discussed UWB plans. Unfortunately, industry infighting stalled progress on an IEEE UWB standard in 2004. Now, a powerful group of major companies called the MultiBand OFDM Alliance, or MBOA, is taking the floundering specification into its own hands. Expect to see ultra wide band products at CES 2006.
MIMO gains traction
As predicted, MIMO announcements abounded at CES this year. Belkin was the first to the party with the launch of its Pre-N router last year. At this year's CES, Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link all expressed their intent to ship MIMO-capable products in early 2005. Next year's show will likely usher in a new wave of 802.11n products. Generally, it's good to stay away from networking products that aren't based on a ratified spec, but this new generation of MIMO gear is an exception because it offers standards-based interoperability with 802.11g/b devices plus substantially increased range and throughput when used with matching MIMO gear.
Delivering digital multimedia content to consumers and sharing it within the home were also hot topics at this year's CES. 2Wire announced its MediaPortal, a set-top box that SBC will be offering to customers of its upcoming Home Entertainment Service. The multipurpose MediaPortal functions as a digital video recorder, an HD satellite receiver, and a DVD player. The 2Wire set-top box also delivers broadband content over SBC's DSL service and functions as a media adapter that will let you stream music, pictures, and video stored on your network to your home theater. Also, Linksys announced its Wireless-G Media Link, which uses the new DTCP-IP standard (Digital Transmission Content Protection over IP) to stream high-quality video straight from the Internet, and Buffalo introduced its LinkTheater, a wireless DVD player and DVR. Hooking up to broadband content providers and streaming multimedia around the home promise to be big networking trends in 2005.
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