[opendtv] News: A Home Network Where Your TV Talks to Your Fridge

here is another indication of future directions for convergence of the TV in the family room with the Internet...


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/25/technology/25ifa.html?th&emc=th

A Home Network Where Your TV Talks to Your Fridge

By KEVIN J. O'BRIEN
Published: August 24, 2008

BERLIN - Across the consumer electronics industry, leading players are revamping their audio and video equipment for a future centered around the Internet, a world in which televisions, stereos and computers - even dishwashers and refrigerators - can communicate with each other over a wireless home network.

Expanded lines of networked entertainment equipment will take center stage this week at the Internationale Funkausstellung in Berlin, the largest consumer electronics convention in Europe, with 1,200 exhibitors and 200,000 visitors.

Sony plans to introduce plug-in adapters to enable some of its Bravia television sets to connect to the Internet wirelessly. The Dutch consumer electronics maker Philips will demonstrate a line of stereo systems that can wirelessly tap into music stored on personal computers or laptops in other rooms, streaming music through the house.

Pioneer, Samsung and Sharp will present flat-panel TVs that hook up to the Internet, some with wires, some without. Hewlett-Packard's MediaSmart L.C.D. TV will wirelessly stream high-definition video.

Some industry executives say the new focus on Internet content and wireless networks reflects a fundamental shift in home entertainment.

"The Internet is so massive," said Tim Page, technology marketing manager at Sony Europe. "So are the opportunities for electronics makers, content providers and consumers to get connected." The convergence of telecommunications, consumer electronics and computing is bringing together a new set of competitors. Telecommunications operators, seeking to increase their revenue from data traffic, are actively promoting home Internet access that is both easier and more sophisticated. One way is through so-called residential gateways, boxes that combine an Internet router with a modem and software than can wirelessly shuttle video and audio among devices in a home. France Télécom has sold six million of its Livebox gateways through 2007, according to Parks Associates, a research firm in Dallas.

Major online businesses also view the living room as a potentially lucrative new location for their services, with consumers turning to their TVs instead of PCs to reach the Internet. Google and Yahoo have said they will jointly produce software to make it easier to display Internet content on TV screens.

But the development of wireless home networks will require a shift in consumer thinking.

"Consumers really aren't driving the trend toward networked devices, the device makers are," said Steve Wilson, an analyst at ABI Research in New York. "The companies are pushing this to try to build a new business, to offer new services. It is really a matter of getting the infrastructure in place."

While networked devices like Internet-ready TVs, set-top boxes, residential gateways and game consoles are increasingly common, the truly networked wireless home is still a few years off, industry experts say. By the end of this year, 370 million homes worldwide will have broadband Internet, Parks Associates estimates. But only 5 percent, about 17 million, will have residential media gateways.

The technology already exists to enable many home electronic devices, including kitchen appliances, to communicate over a wireless network, said Alon Ironi, the chief executive of Siano, an Israeli company that makes video receivers for devices like digital picture frames. The problem, Mr. Ironi said, is that most devices are unable to communicate with other manufacturers' products because of different technological standards.

Although most major consumer electronics makers - Samsung, Sony, Philips, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sharp, Toshiba - belong to the Digital Living Network Alliance, a consortium whose common protocols ensure that their devices communicate with one another, that has not stopped some from hedging their bets. In July, Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Hitachi and Motorola joined the Israeli company Amimon in a new standards group for wireless communication, called Wireless High Definition Interface, which is working to produce a new HD video standard.

"What this means for consumers is that some people may bring products home and discover that they can't communicate with others on their networks," said Kurt Scherf, a senior analyst at Parks Associates. "We are just starting to see the first networked products roll out and a shakeout in standards is inevitable."

Still, manufacturers clearly think the appeal of a new information age centered on the living room couch will be strong enough to win over consumers who may be unimpressed by the early results. That is one reason that the former cordless telephone business of Siemens is starting to think about combining its phones with the Internet. Siemens sold 80.2 percent of the telephone unit, which makes Gigaset cordless phones, to Arques, a private equity firm in Munich, on Aug. 1. Although the transaction will not be completed until Oct. 1, the company is already considering plans to combine its phones with audio players and a wireless home network.

"Very soon, I don't think there will be any consumer electronics device on the market that isn't connected to the Internet," said Jochen Eickholt, the chief executive of the Siemens unit.


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