RealTime IT News

PC Home Networking On the Rise

Bill Gates calls it the "Digital Decade". Steve Jobs envisions the "Digital Hub". But one thing is for sure - we are connecting to the Internet in some pretty new and original ways.

Research released this week by Dallas-based market research and consulting firm Parks Associates indicates that increasing numbers of U.S. households are using media-enabled PCs in the same room as their home entertainment systems.

A randomly selected swath of 10,800 Internet-enabled households surveyed by Parks Associates show an increasing trend among consumers to combine the media functionality of their primary PCs with consumer electronics products, such as televisions and stereos.

"We attribute this growth to the increasing number of PCs on the market that have media functionality, such as CD-Rom burners and DVDs," said Michael Greeson, a senior analyst for Parks Associates. "As consumers buy these devices, they are moving desktop PCs into their family space to colocate with home entertainment equipment."

The study found that almost 61 percent of broadband homes with a PC colocated with their primary home entertainment system have a home network in place. According to Greeson, out of 6,000 broadband users and 4,800 dial-up users, between 6-8 percent of the survey's respondents said they have either a stereo or television connected to their PC, indicating a strong inclination to network the primary household PC with legacy home entertainment equipment.

"We're interested in observing the emergence of entertainment networking, as opposed to a PC-centric network," said Greeson. "Our research consistently indicated that the number-one drive for the adoption of home networks is to share a single Internet connection among multiple PCs. What were seeing, however, is an increasing level of importance among those who adopt home networks for sharing music files."

The growing trend toward home entertainment networking has not gone unnoticed by companies such as Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard and Intel Corp. , which over the past year have gone to market with products that bridge the PC and home entertainment worlds.

In partnership with Microsoft Corp. , HP released the HP Media Center PC in October 2002 as a crossover product aimed at integrating the PC into the realm of the home entertainment center.

The Media Center runs on Windows XP Media Edition and comes with live television programming capabilities via remote control or keyboard and mouse, a built in Personal Video Recorder (PVR) for playing and recording television programs, gaming options, DVD and CD burning features, and a feature for editing and storing digital videos, photos, music, and data. All combined with more traditional Windows XP applications like Word, Excel, Microsoft Messenger, and Internet Explorer.

"Increasingly we're seeing the PC market explore the possibility of combining PC technology with consumer electronics," said Charles Smulders, a PC analyst for Gartner. "These are referred to as hybrid, or crossover products, and their success depends on targeting particular types of users."

Just a few weeks into the New Year, HP unveiled its new HP Digital Media Receiver 5000 series, a set-top device that circumvents the need to interact with a PC and instead enables users to browse, view, or listen to their music or photo files on a standard television or directly from a stereo via a remote control.

HP is marketing the Digital Media Receiver toward early adopters who already have a home entertainment network in place and merely want to enhance their ability to view and manipulate digital photography and music.

Intel is also chasing after early adopters in the home networking market, and this past Fall released its Digital Media Adapter, a small, low-cost set-top box that attaches to a television or home entertainment appliance and can wirelessly access files on a PC.

PC makers Dell Computer and Gateway are currently developing similar adapters that will be bundled with next generation PCs.

"We identified these opportunities years ago," said Greeson. "Instead of trying to replace all of these home entertainment pieces, the early market is about bridging these two worlds. How do we combine the PC that I already have in my home and my consumer electronics equipment without having to spend a fortune."

The 300-page report titled Broadband Access @ Home III was commissioned by a group of consumer technology companies. The survey is for sale through Parks Associates and offers statistics on a cross-section of residential services, including digital cable, satellite television, Internet, home networking, Internet telephony, and home security.