[opendtv] CE's fiefdom mentality

  • From: "Manfredi, Albert E" <albert.e.manfredi@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2006 15:20:53 -0500

A somewhat different take on this year's CES. Instead of
marveling about hand-held videos, Rick is noticing the
emergence of more walled gardens. I agree more with this

As to integrating the web with your home entertainment
system, that's not so hard to achieve even now, and
there are several ways of doing this. Even if it it means
working around the impediments the CE and PC vendors put
in your way.


CE's fiefdom mentality

Rick Merritt
(01/16/2006 9:00 AM EST)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=3D177100126

The entertainment industry looked like the Old Europe at the
Consumer Electronics Show. Rather than strike bold alliances
to push toward a better world, each aging fiefdom tended to
its own small garden. This industry needs to embrace the
Internet, a small set of interoperable home-networking
standards and a universal managed-copy architecture - and
then get on with the business of creating really cool products
and services for the digital living room.

The $60 billion cable TV industry took a small step forward by
agreeing to deploy a Java-based middleware layer so that
anyone can write applications on their networks (see Jan. 9,
page 1). But when we asked the gathered execs whether they
were developing a browser, their blank stares seemed to say
"What? You mean connect my network to the Internet?"

Hey, it's only the single biggest application in the universe.
This Web thing looks like it really might take off.

Instead of live presentations of new Web video search engines
or services that grab data from live digital TV streams, we
watched a canned demo that consisted of three applets: an
electronic program guide, parental controls and pay-per-view.
I've got most of that on my cable box now, so what's new? The
new bit is that cable companies are making a minimal response
to an FCC mandate for greater openness.

Some, such as Comcast, are working with OEMs like Panasonic
to create Java apps that simplify the transition to high
definition. In the Web era, HD must look like a real
differentiator to a cableco, but I think their marketing
departments are a tad out of touch with reality.

I suppose a few videophiles would love to reduce the number
of remotes and displays they must navigate to switch on
their HDTV home theater. But a whole lot more people are
interested in bridging the gaping gulf between their TV and
PC networks so they can get all those MP3 files, digital
pictures and Web resources flowing to their quality TVs and
stereos. That's the real digital living room.

Meanwhile, a handful of satellite TV players clustered
around the properties of Rupert Murdoch's media empire
announced advances in copy protection (see story, page 16).
Their Secure Video Processor Alliance (SVPA) will help
upgrade chips so that managed copies of content delivered
to a satellite TV set-top can be made to hard drives, DVD
recorders and portable players.

That's a step forward, but one that so far has no public
participation from the cable TV industry or much of anyone
else outside the ecosystem of News Corp. I don't blame the
SVPA - which seems to be delivering something useful and
is open to sharing it - as much as the rest of the
industry and its not-invented-here attitude. Motorola
Broadband and Scientific-Atlanta, that goes double for you.

It goes treble for Apple and Microsoft. Pretty much the
entire entertainment industry is trying to hammer out a
way for any digital rights management system to talk to any
other DRM, so content can flow freely between any two
devices. The work of the Coral Consortium sounds like
exactly what consumers would want.

So how come the makers of the iPod and Windows won't join?
The France and Britain of the electronics industry think
they are ecosystems unto themselves. While we wait for them
to join the rest of us, I suggest makers of all other MP3
players unite to define a standard interface to enable a
world of low-cost Internet stereos, boom boxes and docking
stations. That might shake up things in Cupertino, if not

Like their brethren in cable, most of the old-line consumer
electronics companies see high definition as their last
bastion of proprietary - i.e., highly profitable -
technology in an age of open standards like the Web. So
it's no surprise they are starting to beat themselves about
the head with competing Blu-ray and HD-DVD formats.

At a CES press conference announcing the company's first
HD-DVD products, a Toshiba marketing director explained why
we need HD-DVD. Sales of existing DVD players are slowing,
as are sales of prerecorded DVD movies, she explained.

That is a crying shame for OEMs and Hollywood, but take a
look at what consumers are bringing home. According to the
Consumer Electronics Association's own numbers, sales of
flash memory, blank DVD-R media and personal video
recorders are booming. That's because the real
next-generation format is taking off, and it is not a
supersized optical disk. It's the Internet, stupid!

Ironically, Toshiba is using the Web as the linchpin in its
marketing program for HD-DVD. No doubt that will spread the
word a whole lot faster than putting it out on HD-DVD
disks, which will probably occupy a very small corner of
the larger Blockbuster outlets for the next year.

Surprisingly, I credit Hollywood studios with one of the
few bright ideas I heard at CES. With its Blu-ray titles,
Disney will take "the two worlds of movies and interactivity
and blend them into one experience that rivals videogames,"
promised Disney exec Bob Chapek, the president of Buena
Vista Home Entertainment. "The benefits [of Blu-ray] go well
beyond HD to a whole new medium."

That's something I will be watching for this year. The other
thing I want to see won't arrive until 2007's CES: the
Network Aquos, Sharp's concept for a flat-screen TV with
built-in home networking and Web browsing. Like the Disney
interactive movie, the Sharp Web TV will probably be better
as a concept than in its final delivery. The Network Aquos
will use HomePlug AV, one of about four competing power line
technologies for home networking. How well it works with
products geared for Wi-Fi or networking over coax or phone
lines remains to be seen. You also have to wonder whether it
will use the downloadable conditional-access security in the
cablecos' Java middleware or the SVP technology of the
satellite-TV world.

There's a long and winding road to the vision of
interoperable consumer products that can plug into any
network and share premium content with any other device. If
CES is where we look for such a device, the show will have a
life longer than its notorious cab lines.

-Rick Merritt (rbmerritt@xxxxxxx), editor at-large for EE

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