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The CES 2006 Story: Silicon Valley and Hollywood on a Date

Scott M. Fulton, III, Barry Gerber, Wolfgang Gruener, Tim Higgins, Patrick Schmid
January 13, 2006 22:46

Multimedia networking: Reaching reality again

One refreshing discovery was that the CE industry appears to have come to its senses and is moving away from hyping wireless as the way to distribute digital media content throughout the home. Instead, the trend seems to be toward using the good old coax wiring that cable and satellite TV service providers use to connect up the set top boxes in the first place.
But while the physical medium of choice seems to be coax, we saw multiple methods used for moving the actual data. Verizon was showing a new Motorola STB that uses MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) for in-home distribution of its FiOS TV service. Or at least it will use the MoCA interface, once it is enabled later this year.

MoCA was also featured at pods in both Samsung's and Panasonic's expansive booths, but not in products that were shipping anytime soon. Panasonic has dubbed its MoCA-based networking "c.Link", and the booth rep said it was "real close" to being available in the U.S. But it was shown only as a standalone adapter and not integrated into any products. Panasonic also had a large booth pod featuring its proprietary HD-PLC 190 Mbps powerline adapters, which are slated to ship in March at around $130 a pop!

Samsung didn't appear to be doing any branding for the multiple multimedia networking approaches that it was showing. We found a pod for the "Home AV Center II" concept system tucked away in the backwaters of the booth. It used MoCA to interconnect a media center and "thin clients" for up to three HDTV sets.

Over in an area of Samsung's booth aimed at service providers, we found STB's sporting HPNA3 (phone line), MoCA, and 802.11g networking interfaces. But curiously missing in action was any form of power line networking.

Before moving on from Samsung, we have to mention the High-Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance (HANA) tent that it is trying to gather other companies under. HANA's basic pitch is that the 1394 (Firewire) standard is just dandy for secure in-home distribution of multimedia content. The pitch includes media converters to Ethernet, Coax and even fiber for connecting gear in other rooms. The group was formed not even a month ago, so it's too early to tell whether it will get any traction.

Also in the coax distribution camp, but not using MoCA is Scientific Atlanta's MCP-100 DVR with DVD. The HD-capable STB DVR supports connection to a second set using good old modulated RF, but in SD, not HD. This same approach is used in Dish Networks' new VIP222 Receiver and VIP622 HD DV-R. This method is simple, gets the job done, albeit at SD resolution, and avoids any DRM issues.

The sole vendor we found promoting wireless for multimedia distribution was LG with its LRM-519 Digital Media Recorder. This DVR/DVD-recorder hybrid can share content with Windows Media Center PCs only using built-in 802.11a/b/g and 10/100 Ethernet. In a refreshing change from most of the other products we've mentioned, you can actually buy this one now if you don't mind its Windows-centric approach.

Wrapping up our networking survey are companies that weren't showing much or anything. Sharp appears to have retreated from its ill-conceived wireless AQUOS sets based on 802.11b and was showing its Network AQUOS concept set. It supposedly will be able to access Internet-based content via powerline networking, but there were no other details available nor did Sharp booth reps seem at all interested in discussing the product.

Sony's sole nod to networked digital media products was an LCD set that's currently available in Japan that can talk to DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) products over 10/100 Ethernet. No plans for a U.S. version however. And finally, Toshiba's only nod to networked digital media was its gigastyle RD-XS55 Multi-Drive DVD Recorder. Virtually all of its sharing features via its built-in Ethernet port are for non copy-protected content and shared with PCs or a second unit only.

The take-away from all of this is that while the industry seems to have come to its senses regarding multimedia sharing via wireless, there still remain so many ifs, ands, buts, and gotchas with networked digital media due to DRM issues that our only recommendation is to keep your money in your pocket.