Wi-Fi in the Media Center

By Eric Griffith

June 19, 2002

Toshiba's wireless network file server could be the hub of all data and entertainment communications in the home... the question is, who's going to buy it?

Toshiba's Computer Systems Group this week unveiled positioning for its Magnia SG20 Wireless Media Center, an Ethernet and 802.11b (via a PC Card) compatible network server that was previously marketed to the enterprise, but will now also be targeted at consumers.

The SG20 is essentially a combination broadband Internet sharing router (via 802.11b and 7-port 10/100 Ethernet switch) and VPN server, with built-in file storage of either 15 or 30GB, depending on the model and configuration you buy. It will support two hard disk drives, increasing storage to a maximum of 60GB. The file server runs a version of RedHat Linux.

It sells for a base price of around $1500 including a Wi-Fi card, $1400 without, and is currently available via retail at CompUSA.

Why the sudden shift to the home market? Toshiba's senior product manager Brian Foster says the product was originally slated for home use but the tools developed for it dovetailed so well with businesses that Toshiba began there. Foster says that now "we're starting to see a lot of high end home PC network customers are interested in a server centric solution."

Among the tools in the SG20 that he mentions are simple management of "digital photos or videos in a media library. There's a digital music management system to make playlists for whatever mood you're in, to be played from a pocket PC or notebook, or even a diskless MP3 player like the TurtleBeach AudioTron." The SG20 works with both Windows and Mac clients.

The networking operating systems is not a full copy of RedHat Linux, though Foster says a sophisticated users could, for example, "use Telnet to install and run apps" from the server.

The question is, will home users jump on the media center file server bandwagon? Toshiba's release says the SG20 can "enable access to entertainment, communication, and information" but the broad implications of that statement boil down to Internet access to everyone connected.

"Without the software to support TiVo like apps or streaming video, one has to wonder about the applicability to digital video," says Michael Greeson, Senior Analyst, Director of Broadband Research, Parks Associates . The SG20 will share video and audio multimedia no different than any other file server -- it is not a personal video recorder like the TiVo or ReplayTV. However it does support video camera recording and monitoring of up to four cameras.

A bigger stumbling block is probably the price.

"If they can't get the price to $500 initially, they stand little chance of getting into the standard retail market," says Greeson. "These types of media servers need to bring costs down or end up with the server provider channels."

Toshiba says the SG20 is the first product in a series of planned products for the digital home.

Eric Griffith is the managing editor of 802.11 Planet.

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