At CES and Macworld, new techniques for content sharing take the stage.

Aaron Ricadela, Contributor

January 5, 2007

5 Min Read

For years, computer companies have tried to sell consumers ways to manage their microprocessor-powered devices and the multimedia content on them, largely by trying to make PCs operate more like TVs, stereos, and other living room appliances. This week, Apple Computer, Intel, Microsoft, and others will try to chart a new course toward convergence, one in which networks and servers play the leading role.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will unveil the company's design for a new Windows Home Server that's capable of letting families with multiple PCs share documents, photos, and other files. Hewlett-Packard plans to deliver the first home server based on the software later this year, and Microsoft will host Web sites where users can view photo collections and other files, served up by their home networks, over the Internet.

Look for Jobs to promote his latest toy at Macworld

Look for Jobs to promote his latest toy at Macworld

In San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take the stage at the company's annual Macworld conference. He's expected to divulge details about a $300 device code-named iTV that can wirelessly transmit movies and other video files from a PC to a TV. Jobs disclosed the under-development product in September. Tech-savvy consumers have loaded their PCs and iPods with concert clips, movies, and TV shows, but there's been no popular way to watch that content on a standard television.

Intel last week entered a partnership with movie site CinemaNow, which the companies say will let users download and burn Hollywood movies to DVD faster using PCs equipped with Intel's Viiv chips. Those PCs are capable of high-definition video playback and surround sound, and the disks they burn are playable on standard DVD players, too.

At CES, Intel will introduce its first Core 2 processor with four cores for consumer PCs, according to sources with knowledge of the company's plans. The improved performance could speed downloading and burning of multimedia content.

Motorola and Cisco Systems' Scientific Atlanta division are working on tuning their set-top boxes to get video from the Web. Cisco chief development officer Charles Giancarlo says the company at CES will lay out its strategy for "networked homes." Motorola plans to unveil products and services that support the distribution and access of multimedia content across different networks--cellular and noncellular, for instance--though details were sketchy last week.


As consumers amass multiple PCs, cell phones, iPods, and digital cameras, the need for technologies to manage all the information residing on them is growing. "As computers and digital media become more and more central to family life, we need better ways to organize, share, and protect digital content," Gates said in a statement. At the same time, the explosion of online video is creating demand for faster networks and more storage.

IT managers are paying close attention: As workers increasingly use PCs and handhelds for both work and personal tasks, the approaches previewed at CES and Macworld could suggest new strategies for coping.

Wireless connectivity across different service areas is an issue as mobile users roam from one network service to another. Craig Mathias, an analyst at wireless tech consultancy Farpoint Group, says telecom and Internet carriers need to build networks that hand off communications as mobile users traverse their service areas. The goal: A person is able to start watching a news broadcast on a cell phone from home, continue watching it on the bus, and finish as he or she walks into an office building, without losing the connection.

"In order for mobile broadband to catch on, the capabilities of multiple radio devices have to converge," he says. Farpoint forecasts half of all cell phones sold in the United States will come with Wi-Fi capability by 2011.

Vendors also are pushing the faster and longer-range WiMax networking standard. Intel and wireless carrier Sprint plan to preview a mobile-phone TV service using WiMax, and the chipmaker will show small "ultramobile" PCs that can exploit the faster networks. "WiMax plus an ultramobile is the perfect match," says Dadi Perlmutter, a senior VP and general manager of Intel's mobility group. Next year will be "prime time" for the technology, he says.

Advanced Micro Devices plans to show chip and system designs called Home Cinema, for consumer electronics, and Home Media Server, for use in new Windows-powered home servers.

But the battle for defining how video, music, and photos get viewed and shared across devices appears to center on two old rivals, Microsoft and Apple. Jobs could have a powerful ally in Google, whose CEO, Eric Schmidt, sits on Apple's board. Apple rumor sites buzzed with speculation that the company could enter into a video search tie-up with Google. Google in October bought online video site YouTube for $1.65 billion, but the site's videos are considered too low-quality to watch on high-def TVs. Jobs also could discuss plans for a rumored cell phone-iPod combo device.

Microsoft's focus is on the market for PC users who want easier ways to share photo and music collections, as well as back up their files on a home network. In the second half of the year, HP plans to ship a product called the MediaSmart Server, which will automatically back up files from any PC on a home network that runs Windows XP or Windows Vista and make them available on any machine in the house.

The HP server will cost about the same as a low-priced desktop and run a special version of Windows Vista called Windows Home Server, Microsoft director Steven VanRoekel says. In addition to the ability to automatically back up and restore PCs, users would be able to copy files to the server by dragging them onto a folder on their PC. Microsoft plans to equip customers with a login to its Windows Live service and offer the ability to designate a URL from which they can view their PCs' contents from any computer over the Internet. Windows Home Server products from other PC makers are expected this year as well. Microsoft also plans to add the ability to view and record IPTV on its Xbox 360 video game console.

with Elena Malykhina

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