CES Products Get Consumers Connected

The term “home entertainment system” is being redefined — yet again. This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicking off this weekend in Las Vegas is the launchpad for a new generation of products that can make anyone’s living room a high-tech, networked showcase.

Compared with shows from previous years, this latest gathering will tie the consumer electronics and computer industries together moreso than ever before. And Craig Barrett, Intel’s president and CEO who delivers Friday night’s keynote speech, is expected to echo that sentiment through software developments like the company’s AnyPoint Home Network.

“In the extended era, the home PC will be tasked to do even more and consumers will be at the center of their own Internet experience,” Barrett said in his prepared remarks.

Despite Barrett’s optimism, though, others would argue that, at the end of the day, the importance of any hardware is still resigned to what role it will play in the home.

“This year electronics driven by software is really starting to come into
the home in a big way,” Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, told The New York
“You see it with music, you see it with photos, you see it with
TV, you see it with the ways people are using PC’s as a creativity center.”

For instance, The Media Terminal, unveiled by Nokia is described by the
company as a “home infotainment center that seamlessly combines the Internet
and digital television broadcast…allowing consumers to utilize one central
device for organizing and storing today’s technologies.”

The product blends digital video broadcast satellite service with full
Internet access and personal video recording — all through a television
set. Consumers are able to view TV/Internet split screen, digital television
recording to a hard disc with pause-and-play and video-on-demand options.
MP3, video and digital photo file storage, 3-D and interactive games and
digital television/radio are also offered.

What would home entertainment be without music? Liquid Audio has released
Liquid Player Plus, a SDMI-compliant digital music solution created
specifically for hardware manufacturers to custom brand and bundle with
secure digital audio devices.

The product enables streaming, downloading, purchasing, playback and
exporting of digital music content on the Internet and transfers it from a
PC onto audio CDs.

Partners in this venture include OEMs Aiwa, IOData, Sanyo, TDK and
Toshiba — all who have incorporated the product into their devices.

Panja, on the other hand, launched a subscription-based broadband music
player. The BMP-100 allows subscribers to stream MP3 music content from the
Internet without using a PC connection. With an IP address and an Ethernet
connection, the product allows Audio Blast service subscribers to listen to
streaming digital audio, access MP3.com’s inventory, play music files stored
on a PC, manager an entire music collection, control with remote and
TV-based menus and upgrade features via the Web.

Meanwhile, 3Com debuted two products: the wireless gateway and the home
Ethernet gateway. The products are part of a suite that caters to the
“digital home experience,” according to Julie Shiner, vice president and
general manager for 3Com’s residential connectivity group.

“Our vision of the digital home experience is one that connects family
members and important information — both within and outside the home,” she
said. “Home networking will dramatically improve with our new products. We
deliver breakthrough customer experiences through radically simple home
networking connectivity, Internet appliances and broadband access products.”

Microsoft’s Consumer Electronics Play

Microsoft was scheduled to introduce its X-Box video-game console. Expected to be released in this coming fall, the X-box aims to make an impact in the $20 billion game industry and unsea

t rival Sony Corp.’s popular PlayStation 2.

According to J. Allard, a spokesperson for Microsoft, the online gaming console addresses an arena that began as a novelty but will become a necessity.

“People care about games. This console is a next-generation platform that will take gaming forward,” he said. “This is the most powerful game box there is. Now, we are working with systems developers to build killer content.”

Microsoft is also expected to announce the arrival of satellite-based interactive-television service
Ultimate TV, according to published reports.

The Ultimate TV devices, which are being offered in conjunction with
DirecTV, were scheduled to be ready before Christmas but were now expected
to be shipped on a limited basis this month and for wide availability in
February, the report said.

To be sure, the PC will still receive a fair amount of attention at this year’s show. “The PC is at the center of the universe and the universe is expanding,” Barrett explained.

Executives at Agenda Computing Inc. agree. The company has launched
Agenda VR3, a portable PC addressing the wireless market. The four-ounce PC
is reported to have the power, the speed and storage resources to run most
current and future desktop-class computer applications.

“We recognize that digital and wireless technological advancements will
transform the way people communicate and organize their work and play,” said
Brian LaRonde, president of Agenda Computing. “We created this portable PC
to address consumers’ needs.”

“As digital devices evolve, they will migrate toward more the PC’s
capabilities and blend into the PC environment, enhancing and extending the
home PC,” Barrett added.

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