In early January I flew to Las Vegas for the International Consumer Electronics Show. Despite the tough economic times and rumors that attendance was down, the show floor was a bustling place. Overall there was a lot of excitement around big tickets items such as sub-inch thick televisions, netbooks and 3D television. I’d say the top four areas where I saw significant traffic focused on booths which featured:
· wii gaming accessories (chairs, 3D monitors, interface devices, killer audio systems with rumblers)
· car audio and gadgets (tons of products on location based services)
· TV’s with a strong focus on the new 1/3″ to 1″ thickness and 3D (bad news on 3D, it still requires glasses)
· netbooks (sony just released a small screen with a conventional laptop keyboard)
From a consulting and business perspective, I think the netbooks bear the most watching. These netbooks won’t be mistaken for a gaming notebook nor will you be crunching any Microsoft Excel spreadsheets on them. However, if you’re signed up with Google Documents or Zoho, then the netbook will work just fine for you. This baby cousin of the notebook computer will offer you a rapid boot and easy to use platform. Trying to hop into the netbook game with a software solution is Phoenix Technologies via their Hyperspace software. I’ve heard they manufacture the majority of the motherboard used in computers. I saw the demo of Hyperspace in their booth. It was impressive and they gave me a disk to take home with me. Sadly, three laptops later I have yet to find one which can install the software. So if you need a fast booting, lightweight machine then stick with the netbooks. If you are looking for a manufacturer, try Sony for a big name. At the International Pavilion on the other side of the show, there were dozens of Chinese companies with knockoffs selling for half-price. You might even be able to buy a generic netbook at your local street vendor or pharmacy in the near future.
Several other technologies should be watched for potential business opportunities. These include the Digital Living Network Alliance’s DLNA standard.
…A few years back I went to a technology presentation for the then developing Bluetooth wireless standard. The industry representative promised that Bluetooth would someday connect all of the electronics you owned. A couple of years later the ultra-wideband working group promised the same trick with wireless USB 2.0….Well, Bluetooth and ultra-wideband didn’t happen as planned…maybe because they required totally custom and new hardware?
Skip ahead several years to this year’s CES show where I dropped by the DLNA booth, saw the presentation and then witnessed the demonstration. DLNA is going to do for the audio/visual/data world amazing and magical transformations. DLNA is way cool and it works in other places too — such as your living room, your car or the office. This DLNA standard already has accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time; should it complete even half of its roadmap of milestones it will become a formidable standard.
Here’s what I saw: the DLNA rep using their Nokia N95 phone as a ‘controller’ directed a video from the ‘server’ to be played on a television ‘client’. The video streamed flawlessly and the onscreen display was easy to follow. What is cool to me was that the N95 was running on WiFi, the server was connected to a LAN, and the client a ZyXel DMA1100P was receiving the data over a powerline interface…3 different media layers all sharing data seamlessly and in real time. I was so enthusiastic about this standard I’ve set it up in my home office/lab.
What I’ve built has a little bit more power than what I saw at the show. (Maybe it’s the Tim “Toolman” Allen part of me… grunt grunt grunt, more power)
I’ve be experimenting with the VortexBox from VortexBox.org which is shareware (to be honest I sent a small donation), so if you don’t like it then it is free. Vortex allowed me to resurrect an old Dell Pentium 4 machine with 256MB of RAM from the scrap pile…making me a little bit green. In about 20 minutes the P4 was a VortexBox. Now let me tell you why this is so cool…the programmers at Vortex have put a SqueezeCenter interface on this little package which by the way also includes DLNA, UPnP, SMB, and a whole host of standards/interfaces. The Vortex has now become my network area storage (NAS) via SMB, media library for iTunes, SqueezeCenter for my Logitech Squeezebox and SlimDevices SoftSqueeze, video/picture resource for my XBMC devices and soon to come my DLNA server for my televisions. Initially I was leaning towards a Microsoft Media Center install — which requires licensing and a more expensive box; but the VortexBox did the trick. Total cost for the Vortex $55 because I put in a 160GB hard drive.
The SoftSqueeze software is also a free software package. It’s made by SlimDevices which is now owned by Logitech; who by way of acquisition now owns the SqueezeBox. I’m guessing it is a loss leader to convince the American consumer to buy the SqueezeBox. It worked for me. I recently headed down to the soon to be defunct Circuit City and bought a SqueezeBox Boom for $239 (which is $100 better than at PCConnection.com and $60 better than Logitech/SlimDevices online stores.) The SqueezeBox Boom was easy to install as it supports a WiFi connection with WEP. In about 5 minutes or less I was streaming digital radio from the Internet and able to access of the music on my VortexBox. The Squeeze product line can connect to pay services such as Sirius, Rhapsody, etc. So this product can run independent of the rest of my system.
The final piece of my network is yet to happen…which is to integrate the DLNA video stream. For this I picked up the ZyXEL NBG318S kit which includes a powerline adaptor for $199. I won’t need the kit as the ZyXEL DMA1100P has a built in powerline adaptor; I picked it up to have an extra network jack available if needed. The DMA1100P will run you about $269. The ZyXEL is sitting behind a Linksys WRT54G wireless AP/router; so it was a little finicky to install. The trick I found to installing it was to set it up in the same subnet as my Linksys and then to go into the advanced setting screens and turn on the IGMP, any IP setup and all between LAN/WAN options. The information I read on the web said static routes don’t always work with Linksys; and my experience with SOHO devices has taught me to use what works. The DMA1100P is still in transit to me, so early in February I’ll be blogging about how easy it was to set up and use (hopefully.) I have been using the powerline adaptor to access both the internet and the VortexBox. It couldn’t be easier.
So far my out of pocket costs for this experiment has been:
$55 hard drive (optional)
$50 donation for shareware (optional but suggested)
$239 SqueezeBox Boom (optional)
Now I could have done without the SqueezeBox Boom. But now that I have bought it at a discount and used it…I just can’t get that quality of sound out of my laptop. If you can add this item, I’d strongly suggest it.
You could forgo the DMA1100P if you own a Samsung LCD HDTV. Today a few manufacturers, such as Samsung and Sony, are beginning to bundle DLNA in their sets. The DMA1100P will enable you to breathe new life into your older TV’s which soon will need cable or satellite feeds to receive signals without an adaptor. My wish lists for DLNA is the ability to grab live, recorded and on-demand signals from my VortexBox or maybe another device.
Thanks for reading. As usual, we’re available to help with your technology needs.
Netbook Article on FoxNews http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,483564,00.html?sPage=fnc/scitech/personaltechnology
Digital Living Network Alliance http://www.dlna.org
Slim Devices http://www.slimdevices.com/
Samsung’s Committment to DLNA http://www.samsung.com/my/consumer/learningresources/tv/mediasolution/dlna_introduction.html
Sony’s Overview of DLNA http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/technology/technology/theme/dlna_01.html
Links to Buy Products
ZyXEL NBG-318S 200 Mbps Powerline HomePlug AV 802.11g Wireless Router