Electronic Design

Digital Entertainment Takes Center Stage

The TV still may be the main source of entertainment for most consumers, but now it has some company—and competition.

The VCR changed the way people watched TV when it hit the market in the 1970s. No longer tethered to their television sets, consumers could record their favorite TV shows to watch at their own convenience. Consumers now have even more options for recording, storing, and viewing content. Timeshifting devices like TiVo and placeshifting devices like the Slingbox have found favor with from all walks of life (Fig. 1).

This creates a need for pervasive connectivity throughout the home, the Internet, and between networked devices. According to ABI Research, end-user revenues for home networking and linked entertainment are projected to grow from $14 billion in 2005 to $85 billion in 2011.

"The market has reached a major turning point," said ABI analyst Michael Wolf. "Home networking has moved beyond a basic broadband sharing model to one of networked entertainment and convergence the PC, consumer electronics, and communications devices."

Market research firm iSuppli attributes increasing widespread consumer adoption of digital content to the DVR. According to one study, the number of global subscribers to DVR services will reach 83.4 million by 2010, rising at a compound annual growth rate of 43.5% from 12.9 million in 2005.

"DVR is driving the transition of consumer video consumption from broadcast or linear programming to nonlinear video consumption and personalized viewing," said Mark Kirstein, vice president of multimedia content and services at iSuppli.

"As a result, DVR is a pivotal disruptive technology as traditional TV programming adapts to an array of video on demand (VoD), Internet Protocol television (IPTV), and broadband-distribution technologies," he continued. "And DVRs represent most consumers' first exposure to interactive television."

So where will consumers find their digital content? And more importantly, what devices will they use to store and view that content? No one can say for certain. But a lot of it has to do with how consumers use their PC.

The Personal Computer
The PC has long been viewed as a tool for accessing information and completing tasks. In the past couple of years, however, consumers have started to look at their computer as a source of entertainment.

"We have been talking for years about the PC being more than a database storage mechanism," said Sean Wargo, director of industry analysis with the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). "Consumers are thinking more and more about the PC as the center of their entertainment universe, and a number of devices are building on that."

One thing that is changing the consumer's view of the PC is he declining price of the laptop. A desktop PC is anything but portable, making it an unlikely hug for digital content. The laptop, though, can be taken anywhere. And as the price gap between the desktop PC and notebook computer continues to narrow, more and more consumers are looking to their laptop as a source of entertainment.

"The reality is that people are spending more time in front of their PCs than they do in front of their TV," said Brian Jaquet, a spokesperson for Sling Media, the maker of the wildly popular Slingbox. "There is so much that you can do with that screen. If you can deliver TV on it, what else can you do with it?"

TV Still A Mainstay?
Consumers may be warming up to the idea of accessing, storing, and viewing digital content on their laptops, iPods, and cell phones. But that doesn't mean they're losing interest in their TVs.

In a study conducted by the CEA about display purchases and preferences, 21% of respondents said they connect a set-top box to their TV. When asked what they would like to do with their TVs tomorrow, 54% said they would want to watch content from a DVR, and 47% said they would want to watch video from a PC (Fig. 2). Another 44% want to view digital photos on their TV, and 29% want to listen to audio from the household PC.

"The message here is that strong numbers of consumers are gaining interest in bridging the gap between the PC and CE-based entertainment spheres," Wargo said. "All this suggests the need for either a greater number of PC graphics and sound cards with the traditional audio-video outputs, or more TVs with PC type inputs."

Silicon Image released a high-definition multimedia (HDMI) chip earlier this year that lets consumers transmit high-definition movies from HD DVD or Blu-ray drives and HDTV tuners to HDTVs and other displays. Toshiba has adopted the chip for its Qosimo G30 and 697 HS notebooks, the first family of laptops to feature an internal HD DVD drive.

Royal Philips Electronics recently announced that TDA18271HD, a multistandard hybrid silicon tuner IC that can receive both analog and digital terrestrial broadcasts. The silicon tuner provides a full system for PCTV hybrid terrestrial applications. Smaller personal video recorders (PVRs) can take advantage of its approximately 780-mW power consumption.

Bringing Digital Content Home: The Broadband Connection
Perhaps the biggest driver in the interest in home entertainment networking is the widespread adoption of broadband, which is becoming more and more affordable for the average consumer. Already, 84 million U.S. residents have broadband Internet access at home, up 40% from 60 million last year. And, more than 19 million of those consumers use a wireless network to share their Internet connection between PCs and other devices.

The resulting market for home networking-over-coax chip sets and physical-layer units will grow by over 150% from 2005 to 2010. In-Stat analyst Joyne Putscher says that service providers are deploying coax-based video local-area networks utilizing MoCA, Coaxsys, and HPNA V3 over coax, while evaluating HomePlug AV over coax and other technologies. Yet at this point, no one technology seems poised for major adoption, though wireless seems to have the edge.

One company has developed an Ultra-Wideband (UWB) wireless chip set solution that has non-line-of-sight operation. By incorporating multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) techniques, the set enables video devices to communicate wirelessly through walls to extend across multiple rooms. Tzero's TZ7110/TZ7210 features 480-Mbit/s performance over a range of less than 5 m and more than 100-Mbit performance at 20 m, exceeding the typical WiMedia standard UWB capability. The chip set also can run a completely wireless network that connects multiple devices throughout the home or office at the same time.

The Future Of Digital Entertainment
While digital entertainment is here to stay, issues like digital rights management (DRM) and network neutrality have yet to be settled.

"When it comes to digital rights management and consumer access (CA), conflicting interests abound, both among industries and among companies," said iSuppli's Kirstein. "Each industry has its own standards associations and trade groups, which have spurred an array of various incompatible standards and DRM-related proposals. The diversity of interests in DRM has resulted in competitive deadlock regarding interoperability."

Kirstein said DRM is more than just a market barrier for digital media and the underlying equipment markets. He said that DRM also represents one of the most strategic and competitive technologies influencing the competitive landscape. So while manufacturers of consumer electronics may have been able to put off DRM and other issues until now, they will soon have to face them if they want to stay in the game.

See Associated Figure 3

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