Cisco Aims For Entertainment-Centric Home Networking

The latest products out of CES reflect the transitioning of the vendor's Linksys division into a full-fledged consumer business group.

Antone Gonsalves

January 8, 2009

4 Min Read
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Linksys by Cisco Wireless Audio system(click for larger image)

Cisco has introduced a home media hub and a wireless home audio system, making a major push into people's homes through entertainment-centric networking equipment.

Cisco's new technology, unveiled Wednesday at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, reflects the transitioning of the vendor's Linksys division into a full-fledged consumer business group. Rather than simply offering consumers basic networking equipment, such as routers, Cisco is expanding its reach with technology that can capture, organize, and distribute music, video, and photos stored in multiple devices throughout the home.

The latest products include the Linksys by Cisco Wireless Home Audio system and Media Hub. The latter would compete with products that run Microsoft's Windows Home Server, which include Hewlett-Packard's recently introduced MediaSmart Server. In general, the systems gather media content from multiple home computers, making it available to all connected devices. The systems also are used for backing up files.

The Cisco Media Hub provides a browser-based graphical user interface to access content from any computer. The system also comes with one-year access to Cisco's online service for uploading and downloading files from computers outside of the home. The service is priced at $10 a month after the first year.

The price of the Media Hub starts at $300, which includes a 500-GB hard drive. A 1-TB model is available for $430. The device supports wireless and wired connections.

The Wireless Home Audio system targets people who want to listen to their digitized music in multiple rooms over an 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless network. The Cisco system is comprised of several products:

  • The Conductor DMC350 Wireless-N Digital Music Center is a self-contained wireless music system with integrated speakers that can be placed in any room. The hardware has an LCD touch screen for navigating through a music library, which could be stored in a home computer or in a media server. The device also comes with an integrated CD player and remote control.

  • The Director DMC250 Wireless-N Music Player with Integrated Amplifier is for people who want to use separate speakers when listening to their music library. The system delivers 50 watts per channel and also comes with an LCD touch screen and remote control.

  • The Player DMP100 Wireless-N Music Extender enables users to access their music libraries and play the tunes on an existing home stereo system.

Linksys by Cisco Wireless Audio system(click for larger image)

Cisco is also offering a stereo speaker kit for the Director, a docking station for the Apple iPod, and a universal remote control to operate any of the devices in the system. These products, as well as the others, are sold separately, or in bundles, which range from $550 to $999.

With the exception of Conductor, the products are available separately in the United States through Linksys by Cisco retailers. Director is priced at $450; Player, $299; the Stereo Speaker Kit, $150; the universal Controller DMWR1000 Wireless-N Touchscreen Remote, $349; and the iPod Dock, $80. The Conductor is scheduled to be available this quarter. Pricing was not disclosed.

Cisco's latest products mark an aggressive push into home networking, a market that's expected to grow steadily, if people continue to store more of their entertainment files in PCs and other consumer electronics, such as portable media players and digital cameras. However, to be successful, vendors will have to offer systems that are easy to use and set up and priced low enough for mainstream consumers. Today, media hubs and home networks are mostly used by enthusiasts.

Cisco's new offerings likely make use of technology from Pure Networks, a maker of home-networking software and tools that Cisco bought last year for $120 million in cash. In announcing the acquisition, Cisco said it was preparing for "Home Networking 2.0," which it defined as when homes would have many different networked devices sharing applications and services.

Along with the latest consumer products, Cisco introduced a software platform for media and entertainment companies to create and manage online social networks around particular content, such as artists, movies, or TV shows. Called Eos, the platform integrates social networking, such as blogs, chat, and instant messaging, with content management and site administration into a single operating environment. Warner Music Group is Cisco's first customer, and it's using the platform to promote artists Laura Izibor and Sean Paul.

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