December 5, 2005 2:16 PM PST

Insiders: Digital living room still just a dream

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SAN FRANCISCO--Too few consumers are buying into the notion that a "digital home" can improve their lives and the electronics industry has only itself to blame, say executives from electronics firms who spoke at the Digital Living Room conference here on Monday.

Americans have been slow to adopt technologies designed to create a home network that would allow them to download movies off the Internet, access the Web from their video game console or program their digital video recorders remotely from their cell phones.

At a morning panel, industry insiders told a gathering of about 150 people that consumers have yet to see a need for home networks and that the complexity involved in setting one up scares away potential buyers. According to Don Norman, a co-founder of the design-consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group, building a network practically requires the average person to be an IT expert.

"I have a degree from MIT. I'm an engineer and was an executive at Apple," Norman said while discussing his own home network. "And I hired someone to hook it up."

The industry's goal is to give consumers access to their digital photos, games, e-mail, music and video from any device, any time and anywhere. To accomplish this, products must operate with each other easily. But so far, such interoperability is rare.

Apple Computer's iTunes plays on Apple's iPods. Dell's computers work with Dell printers. Sony's products work with other Sony products. But interoperability among products from all three companies can be harder to come by, if it can be accomplished at all.

To illustrate this point, Norman stood behind a PC and displayed the many cables, wires and cords snaking in and around the machine. "We can't even handle the plugs right," said Norman, scoffing at the industry's inability to agree on standards for power cords.

The reason for the lack of cooperation is money, says Gartner analyst Van Baker, who was also a panel member. Electronics companies are trying to lock consumers into using their proprietary technology so they can charge a premium for their products, he said.

"They want to charge $49.95 for a cable that it costs $2 to make," Baker told the audience.

A standard for power cords is just one of many compatibility issues that electronics makers have sparred over. One of the more high-profile battles is over the technology that will power the next generation of DVD players and discs. Two groups of studios, electronics makers and DVD makers are warring over whether the industry will adopt the HD DVD format or the Blu-ray format.

Baker was skeptical that companies would agree to co-develop standards unless they became convinced that it was the only way to save the market.

"If home networking stays the way it is," Baker said, "we're not going to get above 30 percent penetration."

12 comments

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Hard Setup
I recently bought a Netgear MP101 and had the hardest time setting it up compared to other netgear products. First I had to disable the firewall then I had to open many ports on the firewall. After all of that using it wirelessly caused the player to skip and stop after about 30 - 40 seconds. After I hooked it up to the router directly it stopped skiping but sitll stopped after 30 - 40 seconds. After all of this it still won't work and I can't figure it out.
Posted by RGJones (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
re: Hard Setup
It seems that before buying any tech product nowdays you have to first visit the vendor's product support page to see what problems are being reported before plunking down your money.

Do you have the latest firmware and software for this product?

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://kbserver.netgear.com/support_details.asp?dnldID=876" target="_newWindow">http://kbserver.netgear.com/support_details.asp?dnldID=876</a>
Modifications and Bug Fixes, Server version 3.3.36/Client version 1.3.7
* Fixed a Media Server problem causing it to use all available memory, causing Windows to behave sluggishly and increase the disk space allocated to virtual memory.
* Fixed a problem with the MP101 that sometimes caused HTTP streaming failures.

Known Issues, Server version 3.3.36/Client version 1.3.7

* There are still occasional streaming problems using wireless, which will be addressed in a future release.
* Streaming eventually fails during high IP fragmentation (not common on normal home networks).
* The Media Server has trouble with a large number of tracks, though it should perform better than previous versions in this regard.
* If using the Cisco VPN Client on the Media Server PC, be sure to use the Set MTU utility (provided with the VPN Client) to set the MTU of the Local Area Connection to 1500. The MTU of the Cisco VPN Connection can be left at its default. When the MP101 searches for servers, it will find two instances of the same server. One of them will fail to connect, but the other one should work properly.

And this chap seems to have the same dropped connection problem. Looks like the MP101 is not very tolerant of other network traffic.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://forum1.netgear.com/support/viewtopic.php?t=3371" target="_newWindow">http://forum1.netgear.com/support/viewtopic.php?t=3371</a>
"Conclusion = some traffic on my network hoses the MP101. When it's isolated, it's very happy. When it's not, it dies frequently."
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Link Flag
Same with LinkSys
Dude, I spent 5 hours just trying to set up a wireless bridge recently on a LinkSys device.

It did not help that I HAD to use my Windows machine with the software since the supposedly open-standards Web interface didn't work well out of the box with either my Mac, Linux or Windows machines, so was stuck using the Windows-only "installer."

Yeah, I know, should've just bought an Airport...
Posted by npxzbebq (78 comments )
Link Flag
misleading
This is a misleading article. "Dell PCs work with Dell printers." But Dell PCs work with all printers and Dell printers work with all PCs!

Remember that very few people ever mastered the setting up the VCR clock but I believe that more than a handful were purchased.

If the contents are truly compelling, then customers will come.
Posted by Sonicsands (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Days of Build It and They Will Buy ...
are long over. Dell _is_ a good example of the closed-mind/closed-architecture OldThink. Have you ever tried to upgrade or repair a Dell computer? Don't bother even trying. They intentionally have the drivers and firmware in their machines crippled so that they won't work well with any other machine, and peripherals not made for them effectively won't work in a Dell (they may be barely accessible, but certainly won't work at anywhere near full capability). They don't even keep the software configuration installed on each specific model after that model is no longer made, and don't provide customers CD-ROM or DVD-ROMs with this software so that a system can be rebuilt when (not if) something ultimately goes wrong with their crippled systems or Microsloth's buggy pile of poop.

Sony is just the latest in a long line of old-line consumer electronics-***-media megaliths that is toppling from its own weight, both internally and externally. Witness their latest debacle over the CD "copy-protection" software that loads onto personal computers before you even get to accept the End User License Agreement (EULA), and the coming debacle over Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD (doesn't _anyone_ at Sony remember the consumer Betamax VCR debacle?). The days of Sony being synonomous with "quality", and not just "overpriced" ended when the last Trinitron TVs were built.

These companies just don't "get it". The days are long over of the famous Microsloth executive's quote to the effect that "I don't know any other business where, when the product doesn't work, the customer thinks it's their fault!" (it's assumed he laughed all the way to the bank after saying that). Consumers are being very picky about upgrading to HD, if ever, because there are now over 50 brands to choose from (although the actual number of manufacturers is really more like half a dozen). They're waiting for prices of sets to come down, and the manufacturers are waiting for the volume to increase before lowering prices. There are going to be a lot of very mad consumers who buy into plasma screens, only to see them start losing pixels (or entire rows or columns) in 5 - 7 years. Consumers are already mad when they find out that DVD resolution is much less than HD resolution, and it will be interesting to see whether anyone beyond the early-adopter set buys into HD DVD or Blu-Ray at all, especially considering the onerous software that comes with each (one of them from Microsloth, the other from Sony - gee, this sounds familiar). Do these people (and I'm certainly using that term loosely)drive their cars on whichever side of the road they feel like (that _would_ explain some of the driving I've been seeing, though)? Do they prefer to eat food that's _not_ USDA tested? Are they really so naive to think that mass marketing and advertising are enough in today's digitally fractured world to sway a critical mass into their camp? I don't think so. The Internet alone has made people much more informed (at least about product features and failures), especially that coveted 18 - 24 year old demographic that is more plugged in and turned on than any other - and not to the mass-market crapola that the Madison Avenue drones have traditionally pushed. Isn't that just what we're doing here?

It's time for the open software movement to expand into an Open Product movement, where the end-users start defining the way they want things to work, instead of some inept marketing types making stupid decisions about product features they have no business even being associated with, much less deciding. Mass customization is the Way Ahead, not more me-too creeping feature-itis, as evidenced in the difference between Apple's six-button Front Row remote control and Microsloth's 40-button Media PC remote control. No one wants 40 choices all at one time, especially in a darkened room - most people would be hard-pressed to pick among 40 menu items in a computer application at a well-lighted desk.

Face it, once again, when allowed to choose the product they like the best, consumers will pick the most innovative products that best meet their needs and desires. Thank goodness the corporate IT idiots don't get to pick which multimedia devices individuals get to have, as opposed to corporate computers, which is the only reason Microsloth ever survived past 1981, when it was making virtually all of its money from the CP/M Softcard for the ... APPLE ][!!!!!

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Link Flag
Cable Ripoff Is Right
I am lucky that I can go to Fry's Electronics and buy generic OEM type cables. If I had to buy them at CompUSA or Circuit City I would be paying 3 times as much. The rats nest of cables and power cords is yet another problem. Every peripheral that requires AC power uses a large, bulky stupid brick adapter because companies save a few cents over good engineering. The adapters draw power even if the peripheral itself is turned off.
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Rubbish article
I think this guy had been sleeping
in his own world.
Posted by rslc (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Will Apple's Front Row change this?
The new iMac G5 with Front Row features may be a venture into
this area- this may be a first step by Apple with more to come.
Posted by ch (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give me a break
"I have a degree from MIT. I'm an engineer and was an executive at Apple," Norman said while discussing his own home network. "And I hired someone to hook it up."

The only reason he hired someone was because his requirements were probably very sophisitcated and he was too lazy to do it himself. Buy a router, go to linksys.com/check and your up and running with about 8 mouse clicks and NO typing... come on, give me a break. I've got 2 laptops, network storage device, HP wireless printer and xbox live all hooked up wirelessly and I'm no IT expert. Things have gotten a lot eaiser over the years. Yes, interoperablity should improve with more common standards but its not all doom and gloom like this article states.
Posted by 00rb (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
2006 - Year of the digital home
actually, some of the industry born standards are finally coming
around as manufactureres are now properly implementing
existing technologies like 1394. look for whole-sale switch over
by 2007 as mandated by the FCC for all DTV set top boxes. then
watch the ease with which digital technologies get shared in the
home. look at LG, Samsung and Pioneer TV's, or RCA's new line
of DVR's, and immerging home networking technologies like
tecStream.
Posted by alenio (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Executives
This only reinforces my belief that executives - regardless of what company they work for, what degree(s) they have, what position they hold in the company - are overpaid primadonnas who can't do anything for themselves and just pay lackeys to do everything for them while they rake in the big bucks.

Furthermore, basic home networking is pretty easy. As with anything, the more complex you try to make your environment, the more difficult it is to configure and use. I'm glad to see that someone was hired to configure a home network for an executive. Unfortunately, the person who did the work was probably just someone else's underpaid lackey. This continues to dilute the value of real networking professionals. (Yes, like me.)
Posted by MrNougat (78 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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