Tech Heavyweights Align for Swapping Digital Content

Looking to simplify the way that consumer electronics devices share digital music, photos and video, 17 major vendors Tuesday joined forces under an umbrella of interoperability, open standards and digital rights.

Dubbed the Digital Home Working Group (DHWG), the non-profit organization will build a platform based on certain technical design guidelines. Companies will then be able to use the specs to develop digital home products that share content through wired or wireless networks in the home, while protecting the content from piracy.

The group’s membership reads like a “Who’s, Who” of tech giants including: Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM, Kenwood, Lenovo, Matsushita Electric (Panasonic), Microsoft, NEC CustomTechnica, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, STMicroelectronics and Thomson.

“When Intel and Sony initially conceived the idea of a blue chip working group collaborating and applying open industry standards to speed up development of interoperable products, we knew we were onto something big,” said Intel vice president Louis Burns. “Bringing the power of the PC to the Digital Home is going to be key to allowing consumers the ability to create, edit, store and stream their music, videos and photos to anywhere in the home.”

The group said plans on testing some products and systems ready in the first quarter of next year, and have products on the market by the second half of 2004.

Some of the products the DHWG has in mind include PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, printers, stereos, mobile phones, PDAs, DVD players, digital projectors and other devices.

The need to come together is based on the huge increase in broadband adoption and digital media device sales. The companies say their consumers want to enjoy their content, regardless of the source, across different devices and locations in the home. However, the group points to a number of conflicting standards and media formats.

The DHWG is expected to use well-known and established standards such as Internet Protocol (IP), Universal Plug-and-Play , Wi-Fi , and other common formats. Over time, the group says the guidelines will evolve to incorporate emerging or subsequent versions of existing standards.

To make the playing field completely level, the DHWG says format interoperability will be achieved by requiring certain formats that meet specific criteria. The format must be an open standard that has been formally ratified by an internationally recognized standards organization, and IP must be licensed under reasonable, non-discriminatory terms.

“One of the critical requirements for mass-market success of networked devices is true and reliable interoperability. IDC Consumer Devices & Services Programs director Danielle Levitas said in a statement. “The Digital Home Working Group has proposed a sound and fair baseline of interoperability standards, which is an important milestone towards realizing this vision.”

Based on these guidelines, the group will then consider a set of programs including certification, compliance logos, marketing and promotion, which all communicate the benefits of the digital home to consumers and the industry alike.

Some of the biggest obstacles will be issues surrounding digital rights management. In the past proprietary methods have either been ineffective or too complex. The DHWG says it will instead create a format that can be used by all devices but can accommodate other formats.

The group did not say if it would court additional membership such as Apple or Palm, which also deal with consumer devices.

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