Consumer purchases of digital electronic appliances continue to soar. While HDTV is gaining much attention today, it’s safe to assume that HDTV buyers already have digital cable or satellite entertainment, desktop and laptop PC’s, a digital video recorder, digital still camera, camera phone, PDA, MP3 player, some level of home automation, and of course, a game console. It’s a given that this same home has broadband and possibly wireless networking.
Consumers are recognizing the limitations of taking a room-by-room, device-by-device approach to interacting with their audio, video, and data. They want to unleash the potential of the “whole house” networking experience. What’s been missing up to this point is a way for all of these devices to easily communicate and share data with one another on the same network.
It’s not hard to see what’s driving this interest in whole house networking. Consider this scenario: Dad’s in the living room on his wireless laptop when he gets an email video file. He wants to show it to the whole family on his brand new HDTV. In a perfect world, he’d simply transfer the file to the DTV over his wireless connection. But the digital world isn’t that perfect yet. Instead he will generally have to burn it to a VCD and put it in the DVD player. It’s the same story with digital still pictures. Even though he may have a camera with WLAN, he may have to either burn a JPG DVD, or use a memory card set-top box (STB) with the DTV. We’re not just talking about transport incompatibilities here. We also have content and file format incompatibility issues, as well as an inability to mesh different operating systems from multiple devices. Unfortunately, this dad isn’t interested in sorting out those complexities. He just knows that’s he’s spent a ton of money on his digital toys and the toys are not playing well together.
His wish list includes more than interoperability and ease of use, however. His network has to be secure enough so he can log on with any device, at any time, without complicated configuration and password schemes. Yet it has to be secure enough to keep hackers out. Because he has children in the house, he wants an easy and flexible way to limit their access to unsuitable digital content. Yet the content control scheme must also be complicated enough to defeat his computer-savvy teenager.
In addition, this consumer is looking for a quality of service to match his existing digital A/V experience. That means robust streaming and sustainable bandwidth throughout the entire house, even though some applications are throughput sensitive, while others are latency sensitive.
Meanwhile, content providers and equipment manufacturers have their own wish lists. Content providers, for example, continue to refine copy protection protocols and digital rights management formats. OEM’s and ODM’s need cost-effective ways to implement the formats and protocols.
At first glance, coming to a consensus on methods for ensuring easy interoperability of multiple formats seems to be the only way to make the converged home network a reality. Content providers, software writers, OEM’s and ODM’s need to work towards enabling such a vision. That’s where organizations like the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), the Universal Plug and Play Group (UPnP), the WiFi Alliance, and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) are working hard. Texas Instruments (TI) is actively involved with all of these organizations.
But standards also must adapt as new formats and protocols seem to launch every hour, on the hour. That’s why, in addition to working with the aforementioned industry alliances, TI continues to enhance its line of fully programmable media processors. We believe that both standards conformity and processor programmability are required to drive cost effective interoperability in the home network.
Advances in semiconductor process technology and design are making today’s programmable engines cost competitive with hard-wired approaches in the multi-format world. Programmable processors allow manufacturers to design in the latest compression formats, rights management and content protection algorithms, ease of use interfaces, network security features, and interoperability protocols soon after they are developed and much faster than a custom hardware platform can be created. When using programmable processors, manufacturers can also extend product life cycles through broadband upgrades. The prospect of upgradeability can maintain consumer brand preference and demand, and reduce the markdowns, charge backs, and rebate promotions retailers typically demand to clear out obsolete inventory.
The networked home concept is still in its infancy. If it’s going to catch on, it has to be feature rich, secure, and simple to operate. The combination of industry standards and cost effective, programmable platforms can help fulfill the vision of any content, any format, any where, any time.
Henry Wiechman serves as the worldwide manager of Texas Instruments’ Streaming Media group, where he is responsible for strategic product positioning, new customer design engagements, and product and business development for DSP-based solutions for streaming media end equipments.
Previously, Wiechman was the manager of TI’s C6000 digital signal processor (DSP) product line and the marketing manager for TI’s flagship TMS320C6000™ platform of fixed and floating point digital signal processors, the world’s most powerful DSP platform based on the advanced VelociTI™ VLIW architecture.
Wiechman began his career at Texas Instruments in MOS memory customer engineering. In addition to his C6000 duties, Wiechman has also been responsible for marketing efforts surrounding TI’s TMS320C4x™ floating point DSPs.
Wiechman received his bachelor’s in electrical engineering from Kansas State University and his master’s of business administration from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a member of the Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).