Industry groups seek HD dominance

High-definition entertainment is coming, and that means more standards bodies and trade groups are mobilizing.

Call it the battle of the four-letter acronyms.

The High Definition Audio Video Network Alliance (HANA) debuted Wednesday with a stated goal of setting standards and certification procedures to ensure that hardware, software and content for high-definition movies, TV and audio will be compatible with each other.

The group's members include cable operator Charter Communications, chip designers ARM and Freescale, Mitsubishi Electric, Sun Microsystems, Samsung and NBC. The first HANA-certified products will come out in the first half of 2006.

Getting all these products to work together is crucial for both consumers and corporations, said Bob King, a technology liaison from Vulcan Ventures, one of Charter's principal investors.

Consumers, of course, buy the products, and no one wants to spend an evening cursing at their new TV for not playing well with the rest of the entertainment system. For corporations, the HANA guidelines are expected eliminate many regulatory problems and costs associated with convergence of information technology and television.

In the future, for instance, PCs will decode and encode HD TV signals, which will reduce the costs of deploying set-top boxes. Deploying cable TV through a PC, however, potentially turns a cable company from a broadcaster to a distributor, which creates a contractual problem.

"What we want to do is create a reference guideline," said King. By 2010, 63 percent of U.S. households will have at least one HD TV, according to HANA.

It's a dream, however, shared by others. With its Viiv PCs , Intel is forming alliances with movie studios, software developers and hardware makers to ultimately enable consumers to buy, swap and view premium content on PC networks.

"There is no unifying platform that brings it (entertainment) all together," said Eric Kim, Intel's chief marketing officer. "We've spent a lot of energy time with the content providers giving them the necessary assurances so they can put their content online."

Viiv is an offshoot of the Digital Living Room Alliance (DLRA), spearheaded by Microsoft, Intel and Sony. (Last year, it use the acronym DHWG, or Digital Home Working Group.)

Rather than concoct a completely new collection of standards, both HANA and DRLA will leverage existing ones. HANA, for instance, will support 1394, a high-speed networking standard. A "HANA-certified" sticker on a piece of hardware will mean that piece of equipment complies with a series of standards, according to King.

Among other tasks, HANA-certified set-top boxes will be capable of recording five separate HD streams without glitches in service. Certified equipment will also let consumers share files inside a home, but comply with digital rights management protection inserted by copyright holders.

Some HANA-compliant equipment will be shown off at next month's Consumer Electronics Show . Two companies, for instance, will show how 1394 can be incorporated in CAT-5 wires found in homes today, obviating the need for additional wiring.

HANA is also in discussions with standards bodies such as the Consumer Electronics Association, CableLabs, Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), and UltraWideBand Forum.

King said that the conflict between the two groups is not direct because each has a slightly different focus.

"We have a lot of common members with DLRA," he said. "(DLRA's) focus is on photos and music. HD is not something they are covering."

Not exactly. Besides certifying Viiv PCs, Intel will also test TVs, Internet-enabled DVD players and set-top boxes for Viiv compatibility. These products will tout their compatibility with Viiv, similar to how hotspots tested by Intel bear a logo asserting Centrino compatibility.

Similarly, Intel is garnering partners. The company has already announced that 40 content providers, including Britain's BSkyB, will port entertainment to Viiv PCs and that more partners will be announced at CES. The first Viiv PCs will arrive in the first quarter.

 

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