The Future of Media in the Networked Home

by Aaron Feen, director of commercial solutions at AMD

Forty years ago, Dr. Robert Adler changed the world. He invented the first wireless TV remote control practical enough for everyday use and paved the way for audiences to become channel-surfing pros. It’s estimated that Americans now spend two months of every year watching TV. Today’s consumers are asking how they can get even more great stories and services to the new flat-screen TVs in their homes. Let’s take a look at two approaches to meet this growing demand.

Snacks vs. Meals
There’s growing demand to move content back and forth between the Internet, PCs, and TVs. For instance, when I just want a snack—a quick bite of entertainment from YouTube to fill a dull moment—watching it on my PC is great. But sometimes I want a complete meal. When I watch a 60-minute show from Joost, for example, I would rather enjoy that “meal” on my large, flat-panel HDTV from the comfort of my couch.

Sure, there are a few products on the market that attempt to solve this problem, but most limit the user in some way—either to their own “walled garden” of content or to the specific formats that they have opted to support. Like many consumers, I’m looking for the solution that offers the most choice. I also want a solution that doesn’t add yet another box under the TV and the complexity of yet another remote control. In my own house, our TV setup is already so complex that my wife doesn’t bother watching shows in HD. She just leaves everything in SD all the time. It’s easier.

Fewer Boxes, More Fun
One way to deliver on this need is to create a single product capable of delivering consumers’ access, storage, and playback needs by itself. Products such as the Alienware Hanger18 HD Entertainment Center offer tailored solutions designed to address the needs of advanced digital media enthusiasts. This true “home theater in a box” brings all your devices and content together into one easy-to-use solution. The Hangar18 is the size of a typical AV receiver and can replace all the gear around your TV that delivers audio, video, and PC-style media.

How is this new generation of solutions different from the home theater PCs many of us already have? Two words: “HD” and “audio.” Support for HD cable tuners is critical to enabling the full TV experience. These new home cinema solutions can record premium cable channels such as ESPN and HBO in their full HD glory. They also offer integrated audio amplifiers that can pump out up to 1000 watts of high-quality audio across as many as seven speakers.

Staying Connected in 2007
A second approach is to enable the various consumer electronics products in your home to connect with each other to create a complete solution that enhances each device’s capabilities. The year 2006 brought us large, flat-panel HDTVs for less than $1,000. This development was crucial to driving mass adoption, making 2006 “The Year of the Glass.” The year 2007 is likely to bring the first easy-to-use, value-priced ways to get our media and Internet content to that glass, so I like to think of it as “The Year of the Connection.”

Companies such as DirecTV and Dream Multimedia already include Ethernet connections in a few of their set-top boxes. Some TV companies are expected to follow suit. All of this is designed to get your PC and Internet content to the TV, where consumers want to enjoy and share it.

From time to time, the TV or set-top box might not be able to understand the content you want to play. Perhaps it’s encoded in DivX, Flash, or H.264 video format. In these cases, the PC might be called upon to translate the content from one format to another, in real time, before forwarding it to the TV. This capability, which AMD calls “Active TV,” lets the PC assist and enhance the TV experience.

Predictions and Wish List
For the 2007 back-to-school and holiday buying season, I expect to see (and want!) devices that bring more choice to my TV. These new products will increase the amount of stories (music, movies, photos) and services (news, weather, sports, games) at my fingertips. They will also reduce the clutter and complexity of extraneous devices, wires, remotes, and places to look for my media.

Whether the solution is an all-in-one home theater device or a set-top box that interfaces directly with my computer, I expect it will help me get my content “the last twenty feet” to my TV. I want to get my personal photos to the TV screen when my parents visit, my music to the living room when I’m having a party, and videos from the Internet to my big-screen TV when I just want to kick back and relax for a little while. What’s on your wish list?

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