Our apologies at the outset for drawing from the speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presented in Washington in 1963 before thousands and heard round the world. His words of people of all races being free and equal continue to inspire individuals to greatness.

CE manufacturers, PC producers, software developers, networking firms, networks and Hollywood, cable/satellite firms, telcos and anyone who can repeat his words are telling us the same thing with slight variations: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Television sets, digital video recorders, DVD and music players, computers and other information/entertainment devices are effortlessly connected and information freely moves around the house. Portable devices that do it all give you access to your content anytime, anywhere.

Hallelujah – you are free at last!!!!!

Trouble is, too many organizations have their vision of your freedom. They include the wired and wireless networking folks, Baby Bells and cable companies, networks and Hollywood, Homeplug Powerline Alliance, CE-Powerline Communications Alliance, Digital Home Working Group, Intel and AMD, all of the CE companies and we mustn’t forget the Linux crowd and Bill Gates.

Who did we forget?

Oh yes, the creative people who develop that content and the consumer. Sorry folks you don’t get a vote in something this important.

That’s because despite the fact that the Internet is all about enhanced 1:1 relationships, the pipeline between the content developer and the target customer is extremely complex. You have no idea how many organizations live very well by taking a buck or two from each transaction just passing along the content.

In fact, In-Stat/MDR – a leading market research firm – has examined the complete content world and synthesized the alpha-omega so anyone can understand it (Fig. 1). As you can see there are a large number of delivery conduits between the content creators and viewers/listeners. And as Dr. King knew, freedom has its price.

Figure 1 – Content Delivery

The price is being paid because people want it, they want it all and they want it now. Business and industry has moved quickly to meet this demand. Through the decades, content management as well as hardware/software firms have developed and delivered more and better solutions in rapid succession. For the most part humans have been able to understand and use the products pretty well. Trouble is the creative development and introduction is coming faster and faster (Fig 2). To continually fuel their organizations’ growth the industry players each try to keep one step ahead of the forces that are driving content delivery and sales (Fig 3).

Figure 2 – Consumer Adoption

Figure 3 – Multimedia Drivers

The challenge is that everyone isn’t at the same stage in having a place where they can store, share, use and enjoy their photos, television shows, movies and music. In some parts of the world people have connected homes and connected devices. In others they are still in the midst of the analog world and are just entering the digital world. Some are still struggling to enter the analog world. The key for content management and hardware/software producers is to maximize their opportunities in every segment of the globe rather than treat the world as one similar market (Fig 4).

Figure 4 Multimedia Trends

It’s no wonder that product and sales management in various countries find it difficult to explain why product is moving well in Japan and the Americas (as an example) but is gathering dust on shelves in Eastern Europe. Or why folks in the Pacific Basin can download and enjoy their content on mobile devices but people in the U.S. encounter pockets of silence where they can’t even make a cellular call so don’t even think about watching last evening’s Alias during a dull staff meeting.

Still we have a vision, a vision of content anytime, anywhere (Fig 5). But despite what all of the parties say in won’t come fast and it won’t come easily because first all of the groups have to determine the standards (divide up the royalty pie) and consumers have to understand their needs and how all the things work together. That’s a lot of information to absorb without giving you a headache.

Figure 5 – Digital Home Vision

The (New) Media Servers

Content delivery is keeping some of the finest engineers in the world up at night because they know if they can develop and deliver the solution with the broadest possible appeal their organizations can prosper. Those that don’t will be left by the wayside.

The truth is most will probably enjoy some degree of success. Some people will only want a smart TV. Others will want content delivered by their service provider’s equipment. There will be those who purchase a CE media center for their content enjoyment. Many will want some type of a media center PC. In recent weeks industry pundits have begun to recognize a whole new class of innocent but powerful content homes – game systems.

People have begun to realize that game systems are about to take their place as a serious media management/delivery solution and do more than play games. The PS2 and Xbox will do more than let kids slay enemies. They have storage devices, wireless/wired connectivity and really serious processors. Sure the original Play Station had these capabilities years ago but few people – let alone the PC and CE manufacturers – took serious notice. One company did though?the small software firm in Redmond, WA.

Granted the first Xbox had a lot of shortcomings and became a product category where Microsoft could seemingly waste a couple of billion dollars. But with the introduction of the new system it is obvious that the men and women on the sprawling campus have been doing more than writing Longhorn code.

Sony’s PS2 and MS new Xbox are not just toys that don’t just bring tears to the eyes of young and old gamers, they are making the CE and PC manufacturers alike strong reason to examine their product mixes more closely.

With a few peripherals and product line extensions they can be pivotal products that a lot of people will use to help them tie together two or three computers to share the internet connection and swap the occasional music, photo or video file. With very little imagination people will be able to use them to connect to TV sets around the house, DVD and audio players, amplifiers and speakers at home and other content enjoyment devices, including portable communications/entertainment units.

Working with “competitive” solution firms, we saw Sony’s PS had its eye on the top of our TV years ago but couldn’t justify the approach or the purpose – heck we had a hard enough time playing Pong!

Ours, like most are or will be, is a mixed-media solution (Fig 6). Wire to the house – Internet and cable, wireless in the house. Of course Hollywood is trying to stop the wanton sharing in the house because two people “might” watch the same movie in different rooms at the same time! Or they “might” edit out content portions. Or they might – forbid – archive the content for later viewing (and we all know what that means – you’re going to make 10 copies and sell them to friends and neighbors and cut them out of more revenue). That’s something they will fight in every legislature and every court?around the world.

Figure 6 – Mixed Media

While the CE folks envision dozens of CE devices hooked up around the house and used on the go, the PC planners envision a world where the computer is the center of your content universe.

We – and millions of people around the globe – like the PC scenario. It’s a remarkably inexpensive, remarkably powerful and remarkably versatile box that will hold and do anything you want it to do (with the right software).

In many parts of the world where people live in small homes rather than sprawling ranch houses that system is a mobile or notebook computer. Look more closely at Fig 4 and imagine the living spaces in many of those countries. In most areas homes are small – extremely small – and a notebook with PVR connection, a projector/screen, speakers, and other shrunken entertainment devices is a lot easier to design around than a huge TV set, TiVo, tower PC(s) and other huge, sleek entertainment boxes. Or if you live in a dorm room or Manhattan studio apartment, it’s easier to live with a notebook that can do it all.

The CE folks realize this and increasingly they are offering wireless connectivity in their home and on-the-go entertainment devices. There are wireless projection systems, wireless LCD and plasma screens and a growing number of personal units that deliver music, news, entertainment and more.

Most of the notebooks still use the aging and overweight Windows OS but there are a growing number of systems that include InstantON Linux-based solutions. Sony recently introduced several of these sweethearts (only available in Japan). While their solutions are all based on embedded software from those folks who gave you WinDVD, there are similar InstantON solutions from Toshiba, Fujitsu, HP, Sharp and probably a lot more firms. These companies understand that people don’t expect their entertainment system to require 10 minutes to wake up, stretch and begin moving.

It’s just one of the many problems MS will have to overcome to win their place in the living room. Of course their solution is delightfully simple. Don’t turn the computer off, EVER!!!!

Storing Your Content

It’s really great. All of that audio/video content streaming in from the Internet, your cable, your satellite system, outerspace. Then you have the photos, videos you produce as well as that school and office work you do along with the huge volumes of information you download from the web?because you may need it.

Only thing left is a place to store it!

Bigger and bigger hard drives are cheaper and cheaper so that’s a good solution. Of course they die at the most inopportune times and BAM!!!! there goes your content.

Of course you can archive all of that content with some off-site, over-the-internet storage service.

You could wait for two-three years for the great blue hope. But it is going to take time – lots of time to punch out a compromise standard now that everyone in the industry is involved and is looking for his/her piece of the royalty pie.

We’ll say it again (yes we’ll probably say it again and again), the CD and DVD has years of life left in their respective formats because players are in almost universal usage. CD players are so cheap they are considered disposable. DVD players, drives and recorders are downright economical – players at under $20, burners under $50 and recorders inching to the sub-$100 level. This year it is estimated that 0.68 billion recorders will be sold and 2.54 billion players. And the number of blue technology units will be?

But you say you want to record all that great new HighDef content streaming to your house? Or you have that fantastic new HD camcorder that just sucks up storage capacity and needs blue-based media.

Let’s see now the new blue promises are going to hold up to 12 hours of HighDef movies. Do you need/want 12 hours of movies on one disc? Do you capture 12 hours of breathtaking family vacation, holiday, sporting events, ballet recitals, birthdays and more that you want on a single disc?

And that’s before you even ask what the disc costs or where you’re going to be able to play it, the answers are expensive and almost nowhere!!!

Optionally a very good, brand name CD costs almost nothing and holds about 15 minutes of HighDef. Well edited, that’s a lot of the ballet recital or the kids’ soccer/football games (at least all the “good stuff” you’re interested in). Or if you use an ADS PVR to capture your favorite TV show and “by-pass” all the fantastic commercials, you end up with about 15 minutes.

Want all the commercials? A high quality DVD disc (+/-R) will hold 1-hour and 20-minutes of HighDef. Ironically that’s about how long most movies are as well. Want more HighDef stored? Well a Verbatim DL disc (+/-R dual/double layer) will store two hours of movie.

The storage cost compared to blue promises? CHEAP!!!!

Play it anywhere? RIGHT!!!!

Remember Figures 1 and 2? There are going to be discs around for a LLLOOONNNGG time. The industry is throwing a lot of technology at us at an ever-increasing rate. There’s only a finite amount of new technology our brains can absorb before they suffer from data overload.

We’ve barely mastered our wireless connectivity and how to protect our systems from all the SPAM and viruses that are thrown at us, let alone the hackers who can sit across the airport waiting room to tap into our system to do gawd knows what (sheess we’re getting paranoid)!

We’ve figured out how to use our PVR so we can grab the HighDef TV shows we’ve just “gotta” watch?sometime.

At a higher level we want to see the world achieve Dr. King’s vision of freedom.

When it comes to our home system and home entertainment, we have to stoop to Homer Simpson’s view: “Alright Brain…Its all up to you.”

Content is being developed at an unbelievable rate. Delivery mechanism hardware, software and services are rushing to get you on their version of Dr. King’s Freedom Train.

They are all promising the same thing. And in theory, it will all work together simply, easily, reliably and economically. Or as Bart said, “sure, IN theeoory, in theory communism works…”