Join Date: Aug 2006
Digital Content Everywhere and The Flag Will Soon Fly
<i>The following article is written by an industry insider, anonymously referred to here as Steve Sanders.</i><br /><br />Sometimes it's tough to separate fact from fiction from wishful thinking at IDF (Intel Developer Forum) but you have to try or you'd swear that tomorrow you're going to go out and buy an ultralite notebook with a battery life of days that you could use just everywhere. Intel unveiled their new dual and multicore processors that made yesteryear's Big Blue iron pale by comparison. It was pure coincidence that AMD also announced their technology the same week.<br /><br />But the new notebooks have big screens to die for. They have wireless connectivity to your home, office, neighbor and beyond. You can put it into your car - think MTV's Pimp My Ride - or your rented spaceship. You have the power to multitask to your heart content at the office and then still go home and make movies, watch TV or go visually online to talk to friends around the globe.<!><br /><br />The new processors are great but something is missing. Oh yes, an operating system and applications. Longhorn is "coming." Applications are "coming."vBarrett and his team probably spend more time pushing and encouraging partners to step up to the plate than they do to keeping pace with Gordon Moore's 40-year-old transistor law (doubling the number of transistors on the chip every 12-18 months). Today we've got web commerce, messaging, video, audio, wireless computing and implementation in every phase of life and commerce. While IDF sessions spent a lot of time talking about the enterprise, everyone's heart is set on mobile computing and the digital home.<br /><br />Wireless and mobile are huge in the Pacific Basin. It's getting big in Europe. In the Americas we're still living in a "what if" world. Intel spends a lot to drive technology by funding standards groups - WiMAX, WiFi, storage, digital home, storage/storage management and probably dozens more you never hear about.<br /><br />It is coming. It has to. We're doubling our digital data and content every<br />12-18 months. We need a seamless way to grab, share and store all of this stuff. But the implementation of these seamless PnP standards and applications is still painful years away. Problem is MS wants the standards their way. Apple wants them their way. Linux folks want them their way. SCO wants to sue them all.<br /><br /><b><span>Digital Home, Digital Entertainment</span></b><br />Intel and the DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) talk at a fever pitch to show that the digital home and digital living room is here - almost. All of the PC makers are working to convince us that their solutions will be the focal point of entertainment in the home (Figure A) - music, video, photos, TV, web surfing, etc. <br /><br />The new notebooks make a strong case for this solution, especially in Asia and Europe where homes are small and space is at a premium. But in the Americas where homes sprawl there is less interest. In addition, even though we have surpassed more than one billion computers in the world, the number is way less than half of the global population. Truth be told, normal people and the computer challenged don't even want a computer…especially in their living room! They want an entertainment center.<br /><br />If they have a computer in the house, they want it back in the home office. <br />They want them back in the kids rooms where they can download music and burn CDs. Where the kids can IM with friends and share study notes. They want to set theirs up on the kitchen or dining room table so they finish answering emails or finishing projects. The home network is still that...a network connecting computers to shared peripherals and connecting to the outside world.<br /><br />The momentum/interest in the entertainment/media center has jumped dramatically in the last year. By the holidays we'll see some very attractive (and attractively priced) products. Part of the solution everyone overlooks is the need for huge centralized HD/CD/DVD storage/access. Then layered on top of that will be portable flash and small HD storage people take with them like Store 'n' Go. <br /><br />Connecting your refrigerator, stove, lights, heating/air to the network? It's already done! Just ask Steve (Jobs), Bill (Gates), Michael (Dell), Larry (Ellison) who replace these appliances in a heartbeat. The rest of us may get there in five - ten years. If the appliance has to be replaced! But entertainment at home - and everywhere - is the sweetspot. Intel and AMD know it. MS, Apple, Sony and the others know it. Home theaters are on the leading edge of being a huge business. Home/mobile entertainment solutions still have to get easier to set up and easier to program/use than a VCR. Security? That's a whole other issue that the Ciscos, Jupiters, Broadcoms and RSA focused firms have to solve before governments step in and "solve" for us.<br /><br /><span><b>Games Leading the Way</b></span><br />It used to be that porn pushed our technology. It put the volume behind VHS, DVD, web streaming, webcams and digital camcorders. In some areas of the world, mobile phone services make a lot of profit from their adult mini-movies. <br /><br />But the new generation of home and mobile games and game systems could be the key building blocks for tomorrow's entertainment center. Take a look at the PS2 and XBox. They really are computers and they are sitting on top of the TV! They have wired/wireless ports. They have USB connectivity. That's why Sony and MS wine and dine the slave labor game developers so they can sell more home and away units. <br /><br />We've been associated with video game industry since its gentle times. Back then Atari was aggressively attacking Sega and Nintendo. There were super systems Lynx (still outstanding in our opinion) and an elegant system called Jaguar. The name of the game was still the game. But today's Game Developers Conference now is powered by Intel, Nvidia and ATI. We're talking serious money. It's so big Hollywood, cable companies and PC industry has suddenly become "interested." <br /><br />There's a whole genre of serious games that are more real than real for simulation, training and education. One is being used to distract cancer patients as they are being treated. The military around the globe is pouring billions into serious games to stimulate a new branch of game development. The game engines are creating animated movies. Leading this pack is Epic Games and their Unreal engine that is setting the stage for a new way of thinking about, interacting with and sharing gaming activities. And no it doesn't all have to be violent. <br /><br />The gaming industry is so advanced that you can even experience in-game dynamic ads. The game company licenses a "spot" for a period of time in a specific location of the world. Since games are active participation, this is the type of advertising TV shows and Hollywood movies can only dream of selling. If Sony's new boss can get the game system people talking with the Hollywood people and talking with their Vaio people he just might bring the company out of its doldrums. Sir Howard has a reputation of being a superb diplomat and if he can pull it off the Welshman may not get a Nobel Peace Prize but he should get a huge bonus.<br /><br />MS wants to help the developers get their work "on the air" so much they gave away a thousand TV sets to them this year. They throw out SDKs to develop product faster so they can make more money. Guess what platform the new stuff will run on? Gaming is already a multi billion-dollar industry. The suits, not the body piercers, call the shots. These are the folks that push the huge multi-player (multiple units) games that can be played at home, in class, on the road or in the airport. Now the MPAA and RIAA are involved and BAM!! we're concerned about content protection.<br /><br /><span><b>The Digital World</b></span><br />Other than your government, about the only group that hasn't converted to true digital is your television (true most countries have converted we're waiting for the U.S. to catch up). We have a deadline - July 2005 - which is almost here! By switching from analog to digital TV broadcasting, every country will be able to reclaim a lot of spectrum they can sell off for "other" purposes.<br /><br />Problem is the deadline is a "soft" deadline. Hollywood says they won't let their content be shown until TV sets and other boxes ensure you can't copy and share the content. Networks and other content producers like that idea as well because they know consumers are really thieves in disguise. Their solution is simple - add a broadcast flag in the programming so digital rights management (DRM) protection is "standard" on all TVs, DVRs, TiVos, Computers and similar devices that want to capture and use the DTV content. <br /><br />Not surprisingly the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) wants a fixed cut-off date (translation - sells more hardware). Of course if you only have an HDTV-ready set or - forbid - only an analog set that means the signal will have to be down converted so you can continue "enjoying" the content. <br /><br />Theoretically you have until July to buy a DTV tuner card that ignores the broadcast flag which means you can digitally record and copy your TV shows. There are a number of products available for your entertainment center that will do this as well as stream the content to multiple sets or PCs in the house so you can watch them despite the DRM flag. <br /><br />Of course that won't stop the MPAA and RIAA from marching up with a team of lawyers to claim you are stealing food out of their children's mouths. It's a challenge that will ultimately have to be heard by the highest court in the lands. If you want flag free shows though you should probably buy earlier instead of later!