December 29, 2004 4:00 AM PST

Playing Net movies on your TV

Technology researcher Michael Cai saw the promise of media convergence firsthand more than two years ago, when a friend treated him to a home viewing of the hit movie "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."

"The film was pirated off the Internet and broadcast from a PC to a big-screen TV using wireless technology from X10," the Parks Associates senior analyst laughed, referring to the maker of tiny wireless video cameras whose pop-up ads once blanketed the Web. "It worked pretty well."

As 2004 comes to a close, the world is at once very different and much the same for video enthusiasts wanting to take movies from the Internet, store them on their PCs and shoot them over to giant TV screens. What's new is the growing list of devices coming out that can connect the two worlds, either wirelessly or with cables. But one thing that hasn't changed, Cai said, is the dearth of high-quality legally available content that would justify the investment for most people.

News.context

What's new:
It's easier than ever--and getting easier still--to wirelessly transmit digital video to your television. But if someone doesn't put out a decent quality of legal digital video to use on these devices soon, no one's actually going to buy the expensive gadgets.

Bottom line:
Hollywood? You left a wakeup call for the 21st century?

"The idea of the digital-media adapter has been around for years through devices like Sony's RoomLink, but they never really took off," Cai explained. "One problem has been a lack of consumer awareness. But the bigger problem is the lack of content--not self-created content like home movies, but premium content, meaning first-run Hollywood movies."

Efforts to make more legal content available are underway, but it will be awhile before they catch up with the hardware.

Prices for home networking gear such as wireless routers dropped in 2004, and consumers reacted by opening their wallets. But consumers are still mainly using the networking products to share broadband connections.

Making it easy and worthwhile to play and stream multimedia content will add a whole new dimension to the consumer electronics world and boost the industry's transition to digital content. While the overall list of devices promising to allow consumers to stream multimedia is growing, sales have been lackluster to date, according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) trade group.

"I don't think we even track it," CEA spokesman Sean Wargo said. "The category is too new."

Disappointing sales aren't for a lack of trying. The consumer electronics industry first began taking a serious run at the market in early 2002, when chipmaker Intel developed a reference design for a media adapter and offered it to manufacturers. There was only limited interest at the time, but more recently, some big PC manufacturers, including Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, and wireless router makers, such as Linksys, NetGear and D-Link, have released media adapters that wirelessly connect PCs to TVs using various versions of the Wi-Fi standard.

In addition, several high-end DVD players have come out under little-known brands--GoVideo, Amoi, KISS--with Ethernet and Wi-Fi-enabled media adapters that allow TVs to access computer files such as photos, MP3s and most major video formats.

Look for the DivX label
KISS, a high-end Danish audio-video components maker, began producing an Ethernet-enabled DVD player two years ago and now offers several models ranging from about $250 to $400. These devices, which support the underground DivX file format, could hold special appeal to Net video aficionados who have turned to peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent and eDonkey to stockpile large DivX video libraries.

DivX Networks is working hard to transform itself into a legitimate digital-media technology provider and has struck deals with most major DVD chipmakers to support its video technology, which compresses bulky files, making them more efficient to download over the Net. The company claims consumers have created billions of DivX-encoded files, many of which are available online, with or without the permission of copyright holders. Major brands such as JVC, Panasonic and RCN now sell DivX-compatible DVD players, though some support only DivX DVD playback capabilities and do not offer Ethernet or Wi-Fi options.

Others are moving ahead with multimedia adapters that support video formats that are standard in the industry, but less widely used on peer-to-peer networks, such as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and Windows Media Video-9.

Just this month, Netgear released a $220 Wireless Digital Media Player (MP115) that streams digital media content wirelessly from the PC or the Internet to both TVs and stereos. The device comes about a

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