Electronic Design

Hot Spots At CES 2006: Media Portability And The NextGen Home

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) proved to be another massive success this year. The hype factor may have actually been toned down a few notches this year—no ski slopes across from the convention hall and fewer stage shows. That’s not to say that there still wasn’t sensory overload aplenty. But the booth designs and the emphasis at the show seemed more about the technology itself, Which is as it should be, at least from an Electronic Design point of view.

I heard Bill Gates’ opening keynote on Wednesday evening. Looking back at it, what stuck with me was not what he said, but what he demonstrated. Gates showed the power of “fluid media,” demonstrating how a user’s customized content can “follow” him seamlessly from device to device throughout his day.

In Gates’ keynote scenario, the day starts with a central display in the kitchen. The display gives all the “To Dos” of the day, includes a streaming media feed with headlines, and allows graphical tracking of family members (if they are allowing tracking via GPS on their phones). Then, Bill indicates which news stories he would like to continue to track, and those follow him along on the commute via his personal communicator and auto infotainment systems, and then finally to a corner of the large multipanel display that sits on his office desktop. His office workspace allows seamless integration of data from multiple communications and data streams. He can graphically pull coworkers into videoconferences, pull in data and charts for all to share, and so on. And at the same time, there is an ongoing “personal assistance” function running in the background—monitoring the time until a flight, checking traffic from the Internet, and adjusting departure time to the airport to account for weather or other variables.

Of course, Gates’ keynote was a perfect intro to some of the new multitasking features of the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system, but it was also a fitting keynote because media portability was certainly one of the top trends at the show. Hardware and software makers announced partnerships with content providers (for example, Philips and Disney, Comcast and Panasonic, Microsoft and DirecTV) in an attempt to create the sort of hardware/software integration that has made the iPod such a runaway success.

Content is king because “content players” are the major products moving the market, with multimedia cell phones on one end of the spectrum and high- definition DVDs, PVRs (Fig. 1), and TVs on the other (with IPTV on the horizon). With all the seeds planted at last year’s show, this year HD is really coming to fruition. There were HD TV sets for all the competing types of television technology: 1080p not only for plasma, but LCD, DLP, and now DLP/LCD. The first HD-DVD players are hitting the market with Blu-ray not far behind.

Chipmakers, of course, are riding a successful wave powering all this video processing. I met with TechWell to learn about the company’s LCD flat-panel controllers and LCD display processors. In addition, Xilinx executives told me that much of the strong growth for programmable logic is related to TV manufacturers wanting to shorten design cycles and to extend the range and variety of their product lines without having to spin more custom chips. LSI Logic has the largest market share of chips for DVD recorders with their DoMiNo processors, but are looking for growth by moving into the HD-DVD market and into portable electronics with the introduction of their new ZEVIO development platform.

And, of course, Intel made a big splash with its Viiv technology, adding a major push to the media processing momentum. The dual-core processors enable major media-processing horsepower in smaller form factors (Fig. 2).

A show highlight for me was a stop across the street from the convention center at the NextGen home, where technologies from HP, Microsoft, and Intel were integrated to showcase a home-automation vision similar to the one Gates had outlined in his keynote. While the bits and pieces of the smart home have been on the market for the last few years, they have previously been hard to integrate and have been affordable only to the very high-end homeowner and/or the ultra tech-savvy homeowner who can handle complex integration on their own.

The NextGen Home did a great job of showcasing Microsoft’s Windows XP media Center software coupled with HP Digital Entertainment Centers, Media Center PCs, and HDTVs. Exceptional Innovation’s Lifeware software merged home control with digital entertainment to manage the home’s Vantage lighting system, ZON whole-house digital audio, and DSC security system, as well as thermostats and cameras accessed from any of the HP TVs or PCs throughout the house. (As a showcase home, the NextGen house also included Life Touch high-definition touch panels.)

OK, I’ve got to admit my bias toward the NextGen project, as I helped produce the first NextGen home three years ago. Still, the improvements in the home automation and integrated media technology during that time period is startling!

Another example of the advancements in home automation came from Control 4, which introduced a home-control system combining ZigBee with WiFi to integrate media. The system is bringing the promise of ZigBee wireless networking to the forefront of the mainstream consumer market (see “Flight Of The ZigBee: A Top Hit For 2006” ED Online 11687). It was interesting to hear some of the ideas for “controlling the occupants” as well as the home itself: The system allows for programming restrictions on the hours available for gaming or TV time. The system can also send e-mail or text message notification of security breeches, which could include something like the opening of a door in the middle of the night.

There are different scenarios in how the cell phone is brought into the network. Near-field communications (NFC) will likely play a role in the vision of “fluid media” in terms of allowing cell phones to manage eCommerce but also to communicate easily with other devices. The NFC Forum made one of its first outreach efforts with a booth at the ShowStoppers media event on Thursday evening.

Integrating the cell phone via IP is the approach behind the startup Netomat Inc., whose offering allows members to set up groups on the web and to communicate with those group sites from their phones as well as from their PCs. Netomat is a startup company also making its debut at ShowStoppers. The CEO of the company is Alan Gershenfeld (Fig. 3), and it was interesting to meet him having just heard his brother Neil keynoting the IEDM conference.

UWB is still on the horizon, but has taken a big step from last year. This year there was a pavilion of UWB vendors brought together by the WiMedia Alliance, many with products coming out this year. One of announcements I found most interesting was the merging of HomePlug (powerline) communications with UWB. Wisair and Intellon have teamed up to distribute high-definition content via a hybrid of UWB and HomePlug Powerline Networks. The companies were demonstrating Intellon’s HomePlug 1.0 with Turbo technology as the in-home network backbone, transmitting HD content over a power line from a media server to an Intellon-enabled Wisair HomePlug bridge, which then transmits the HD content to a laptop equipped with a Wisair Wireless USB adapter (Fig. 4).

For more detailed reports on the latest from the show, check out Dave Bursky’s show report (ED Online 11879).

TAGS: Components
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