I Want my Wireless TV!

By Adam Stone

October 16, 2003

One analyst says that while the PC will remain the digital media storage receptacle of choice, the methods of playback will grow ever more diverse as consumer electronics manufacturers embrace the home Wi-Fi network approach.

The vacation pictures are stored on the digital camera. Want to e-mail them to Aunt Sally? You'll need to put them on the computer. Now you want to show those same pics to the neighbors on a big screen? You'll need to transfer them to the TV.

You can spend an hour tangled in cables doing all this, or you can do it the easy way: With Wi-Fi.

Is Wi-Fi connectivity coming soon to a consumer electronics device near you? That is the prediction of Ben Bajarin, an analyst at technical market research firm Creative Strategies in Campbell, Calif.

Q: What are you hearing about Wi-Fi enabled devices?

A: Not only hearing, but seeing. There is a lot of movement toward that kind of integration, this idea of the networked digital home. Both PC manufacturers and consumer electronics companies are starting to notice that digital data is mounting. What we are moving toward next is the idea of that data not being trapped on PC.

Q: For example?

A: You might want to play your MP3s on the stereo in your living, or view your digital pictures or videos on the TV, instead of on the PC. You want to view that content in the way that it should be viewed, and device manufacturers see that as an opportunity to get new revenues, by charging a little bit more for making these different kinds of services possible.

Q: Where does Wi-Fi come into it?

A: Wi-Fi comes in on the network side. Most consumers don't have a networked home, let alone an Ethernet cable running into their living room, so they are looking for an easy solution to take care of that, and Wi-Fi seems to fit the bill. If Wi-Fi is integrated into the devices, all you need is a router somewhere, and then you can immediately connect these devices to each other as well as to your PC, which we think will be the main storage site for this digital data.

Q: So you are envisioning MP3 players and digital cameras with Wi-Fi inside?

A: Maybe not MP3 players right away, but definitely we see Wi-Fi adding value to digital cameras. Major manufacturers including Nikon and Canon already have set shipping dates within roughly the next 12 months for cameras with Wi-Fi capabilities.

Q: How advanced will these cameras be?

A: Right now we see a solution as just getting rid of the wire to send pictures to your computer. What the technology is moving toward, though, is a smart network where any new pictures you have on your camera that are not already downloaded would be automatically available to send to your desktop or your TV.

Q: What other devices are going Wi-Fi?

A: We are already seeing the groundwork being laid for DVD players. That's probably the first commercial consumer entertainment devices you will see. Right now there is a device from Gateway and one from Go Video with an 802.11 adapter to connect to your PC. The critical piece to a lot of this is that if you are going to enable consumer electronics to do this, you have to also have the management software, and this product has that software. It has not only the 802.11 connection, but also the management software that will let you sort through your lists of media on your PC.

Q: Where will that software come from in the future?

A: Right now we are seeing a lot of that fall to the manufacturers. There are four or five companies whose software is being used in these devices, but the manufacturers are the ones deciding which software will be used, and they are packaging it up inside the hardware. They also are providing you with the software for your PC, so that it can recognize and connect with your device.

Q: Are we sure people want Wi-Fi enabled electronics?

A: We are definitely seeing a movement toward that. Initial testing among early adopters has had a huge response. The idea that without 15 minutes you can download your vacation pictures and then have them viewed on your television -- that has a huge value for people.

Q: What's it going to cost us?

A: We are not looking at a tremendous amount. Look at the success of DVD players and their rapid adoption. If we look at that as an example, manufacturers learned that that was because it was only marginally more expensive than a VCR. So this is a premium service that you will pay for, but we are not talking about hundreds of dollars more.

Q: Anything that could hold back this trend?

A: There is an chance of slowing down the adoption by letting the connectivity piece get out of control.

We don't see the PC makers talking very closely with the consumer electronics people, and the consumer electronics manufacturers are not necessarily looking to talk to the PC people. Yet consumers have got to have a user interface that is consistent and easy to control. If the PC guys and the consumer electronics guys are not talking, I think the message to consumers could get confusing.



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