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Vegas lineup: From Net phones to DTV

Home networking, Internet phones, digital TV, and new PC bundling deals will be all the rage at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show.

Home networking, Internet phones, digital TV, and new PC bundling deals will be all the rage at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The Winter CES show, which starts tomorrow and runs through Monday, will feature announcements from Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, and Compaq Computer among other companies in a sign of the show's increasing importance as a venue for discussing technology trends.

Hewlett-Packard, for instance, will See special report: 
When worlds collide use the show to showcase new consumer PCs that depart from the standard beige-box design. HP will also announce deals with Internet access providers that will simplify consumers' connection to the Web. HP only made token announcements at November's Comdex show.

One of the prominent trends will be home networking. A variety of firms small and large will be talking about strategies for connecting a growing array of digital devices in households such as PCs, DVD players, handheld devices, and televisions.

A new survey by The Yankee Group said that 30.5 percent of the households in the United States with PCs are interested in a way to connect and control devices such as PCs, printers and televisions inside their homes.

Judging by the announcements expected in Las Vegas, computer and consumer electronics companies are searching to address this nascent market.

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's senior vice president of consumer strategy, is scheduled to talk about home networking and intelligent appliances Thursday. He also will discuss "universal plug and play," which lets users plug in such peripherals as printers without manually reconfiguring the system.

Whether or not Microsoft counters moves by consumer electronics companies such as Sony, Philips to create a Java-based standard for networking devices remains to be seen.

Philips, Sony, and six other large consumer electronics companies are hammering out a Java standard to connect DVD players, video cameras, stereos, digital VCRs, and digital TVs.

The standard, called HAVi, will be able to automatically "discover" other devices on the network, coordinate functions, and install applications and user interface software on each appliance.

Compaq, meanwhile, will continue to emphasize a PC-centric vision of home networking by offering new computers featuring networking technology from Diamond Multimedia. The Diamond technology allows the PCs to communicate over existing phone lines.

Cisco, the networking equipment giant, is expected to formally announce a strategy to enter the consumer networking market by creating a business unit centered around technologies that cater to homes and individuals. CEO John Chambers will enunciate the strategy in a keynote speech Friday.

Networking won't be the only topic of discussion in Las Vegas, though.

IBM will announce revised versions of its recently introduced "i"-series ThinkPad notebook computers, and Gateway is expected to announce a deal with a direct broadcast satellite (DBS) provider to offer service with its Destination brand PC-TV computers.

One company, Enikia, is talking of sending data at over 10 mbps (megabits per second) using no more than an electrical outlet and a home's wiring as the connection. Basically, a consumer would plug in a network-enabled device, and a chip inside would translate data into a signal that can be sent over the power line and received by another device with Enikia's technology.

To date, most attempts to use power lines to network devices have met with only modest success because of their limited bandwidth, but Enikia is hoping to change that. The company isn't shipping any products yet, but Bob Dillon, vice president of marketing, said Enikia is talking to modem makers and consumer electronics companies about incorporating the technology into upcoming devices.

Meanwhile, a company called Epigram will give a public demonstration of technology that can send data at over 10 mbps on existing phone lines, which is several times faster than current phone line networking technology.

It's too early to say which technology will win in the market, said Uppal. Phone line technology has gotten out of the gate first, but wireless and Power line technologies are now getting more attention from manufacturers, she noted.