What’s wrong with the concept of the digital home

The world of spin is a wonder to behold. Everything in the house is connected, we’ve got entertainment everywhere and we’re eagerly using huge capacity removable disks. Then someone tells us all the stuff we’ve been storing on CD and DVD will disappear in hours if not minutes.


live in Silicon Valley which really isn’t part of the real world. Everything is connected. We use all the latest gadgets. We have outstanding connectivity — ok most of the time. But “we” aren’t the ruler people should use.

Outside the Valley

Not long ago we went to Missouri to celebrate my dad’s birthday. We set up our system in his home and suffered with 52K connectivity. We begged to give him a computer, Internet connection and training. No way! Hadn’t used it before. Didn’t need it. Didn’t want it. If we wanted to talk to him “pick up the **** phone.”

At dinner one evening while there we received a call on our cell phone from Japan. After a pleasant 30-minute call dad asked how the caller knew to reach me in Missouri. Some things you simply can’t explain!

That is more typical of mainstream American. It isn’t Silicon Valley and it isn’t people who live on the technology edge.

Wireless is beautiful and with a lot of work, frustration right now it is great. But reality has to match Intel’s vision because right now making everything at home wireless will tax the patience of a monk.

Wireless Soon

Every manufacturer agrees we need seamless connectivity (as long as we do it their way) so we are enduring multiple standards and everyone “knowing” theirs is the best approach. We’re glad to see leaders like Cisco and Intel working together to push things along but then there are the telcos, cable/dish firms, CE manufacturers and the ever present Microsoft wanting just a little enhancement which happens to include their royalty technology.

Best guess is we’ll go through five generations of changes over the next two years before we have arrived at the wireless utopia. That’s pretty fast, actually.

We’re pretty happy with what we have right now — BlackBerry cell phone that lets us make/receive calls as well as send/receive e-mail, and wireless connectivity for our notebook with “decent” battery life.

But it doesn’t come cheap. Your wireless service takes a big chunk for each added service. When you’re outside your area someone will let you in…at an additional cost. Security is always a concern because you can grab everything out of the air.

Companies are working on all of these issues and they’ll be solved…shortly.

It’s great to retreat to the safety of your home where you can move your computer from your office to the kitchen to the bedroom and even the backyard. And your cell phone works as well.

Time to Relax

At the recent WinHEC conference it was obvious that Microsoft has the perfect home entertainment solution that brings everything together and just happens to be built around its technology. Certainly it is slow, bloated, buggy and prone to outside attack but come on now what do you want? Linux? Silly person.

Intel and MS are in relative harmony on one point though. There will be a central PcE entertainment management solution with remote stations throughout the house. On the surface it sounds logical and great. Trouble is it is a “little” slow, bloated, buggy and prone to outside attack. And at least in our household there is disagreement as to where the main entertainment solution should be — in the kids’ rooms, in the kitchen, in the den, in the living room, in my office.

The result?

Four entertainment PCs in different parts of the house and configured slightly differently for each person/use. They all have Windows and Linux living in different parts of the hard drive thanks to a technology called InstantON from InterVideo. The family room PcE has PVR capabilities to capture shows we miss and store them to the drive. The kids systems are used for school and a combination of something they call music and DVD-Audio playback. They use an external TV capture solutions from ADS Tech to grab the shows they miss. The office system is a combination music playback/video production/work system.

We looked for a centralized CD/DVD storage solution that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and have seen a couple. But they still aren’t inexpensive and they aren’t idiot-proof yet.

Just as in the office everyone agrees with centralized control and access but…

The but is my information is different and more valuable so I want it on my system. That’s human nature —even in families. So everyone has his or her particular version of the centralized PcE. But who knows. Your experience may vary.

Big DVD Is Here…Sort Of

Even though it got off to a slow, painful start double layer DVD+R is finally here giving us 8.5GB of storage on a single side of a disc. Sony was first with the burner followed in quick succession by BenQ, LiteOn and LG (and re-labeled units from Apple, HP, Dell, Plextor and others claiming they were first, best and totally unique . . . sheess).

Don’t worry the DL DVD-R will be here very shortly from Pioneer. And others will follow quickly.

The LG burner (say Dell) reminds us of something Jon Peddie of Peddie Research once said, “just because you can do it (build in all kinds of features) should you?” You name a DVD format and they threw it in . . . R, RW, RAM, single layer, double layer, DVD, CD.

The manufacturers are looking for instant volume because the units have been cheap right from the start (under $300. All prices US) and now are below US$200. They are great buys even though the DL media is still in short supply. That problem will continue until the end of the year.

While some questionable DL media from Taiwan is starting to appear on stores, we’re sticking with the product from the technology developer, Verbatim/MKM. They poured a lot of time and money into developing the unique media and certainly have the lead on the processes and procedures. Making the two-film sandwich wasn’t easy but they are way ahead of the quality curve again.

The $10 price, when you can find the media, is a little steep right now but being able to do big video projects in DVD9 format is a lot of fun right now. And by the end of the year the price will be down in the $3-$5 range bringing the cost per GB down from $1.18 to under $.50 and in our mind that’s cheap!

Funny thing is you find — now that you have such a wide media choice — you write more CD that regular DVD discs because most files, including carefully edited videos, take up about 500 — 700MB. It usually takes three to four video projects to fill a 4.7GB disc. Only the content developers or professional videographers really fully use DL to its optimum.

What about Blu-Ray?

Yes there is another big storage blip on the horizon and 25-30GB per disc sounds so appetizing. Trouble is it involves another standards fight that won’t end up with peaceful coexistence as DVD did because the technologies simply can’t be meshed onto the same burner. These are totally different paths that will take an engineering/chemist genius to merge.

Sure it’s ideal for content providers and that’s where it is being used.

But it won’t become a consumer product until at least 2006 and by then “regular” DVD could have some capacity growth spurts to extend it into 2010. More importantly none of the millions of DVD players and drives in use will handle the Blu discs. We know manufacturers have the answer . . . buy the new stuff and get real.

But if HD is almost here and DV is so fantastic why are people still buying analog camcorders over digital camcorders four-to-one?

People don’t buy technology. They buy solutions. After ten years we’re just comfortable with CD. We’re learning to work with DVD and haven’t even plumbed the depths of its applications. Only the techies who buy anything new or people who are really into bleeding-edge punishment care about the technology.

Maybe if manufacturers spent more time with firms like IDEO that helps design products for real consumers they would get the message. Or if the bosses (and engineers) got out of the safety of their corporate offices and behind store counters four or five days a month they would get the message.

Yeah sure. Like that will happen.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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