Tech Heavyweights Hope To Navigate Obstacles To Digital Living

Tech heavyweights look to formulate a roadmap for interoperability of digital devices in the home.

June 23, 2004

3 Min Read
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Some of the biggest names in consumer electronics and high technology released on Tuesday a set of technical guidelines that they hope will establish a roadmap for interoperability of digital devices in the home.

The companies also announced that their organization, originally called the Digital Home Working Group, has been renamed the Digital Living Network Alliance. Members of the alliance's board of directors include Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp., Nokia Inc., Philips, Samsung and Sony Corp. Other members include IBM, Sharp, Kenwood, NEC Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc.

Many consumer electronics and high-tech companies would like to see consumers build home networks that would enable them to share music, video and pictures stored in a computer with multiple devices, such as televisions, stereos and music players. Among the biggest hurdles in achieving a digital home, however, is the lack of interoperability standards and copyright protection for digital content.

During a news conference in San Francisco, the alliance unveiled the first version of its interoperability guidelines, which lists the standards comprising the group's framework for sharing content. The DLNA framework includes Ethernet and Wi-Fi standards for network connectivity, Internet protocol (IP) for the network stack, HTTP for media transport and universal plug and play (UpnP) for device discovery, control and media management. The media formats supported in version 1.0 of the framework include JPEG, LPCM and MPEG2.

Upcoming versions of the framework will include more media formats and standards for interoperability with mobile devices, such as cellular phones and personal digital assistants.Now that the group has chosen standards for device communications, its next step will be developing tests for validating interoperability and designing certification logos that can be attached to compliant devices for the benefit of consumers.

The first consumer electronics supporting the DNLA's framework are expected to start hitting the market in the fourth quarter or early next year, with Panasonic and Samsung expected to be among the first, alliance officials said. Nokia is expected to ship compliant cellular phones in the first quarter of next year.

Missing from group's membership of 145 companies are major entertainment companies, which stand to lose the most if digital content is not protected against illegal copying. Pat Griffis, vice chairman of the DLNA, acknowledged that adopting security technology that would satisfy content providers would take time.

"That is an order of magnitude more complex than what we've done to date," said Griffis, who is also director of world media standards for the Windows client division of Microsoft.

The alliance has recently started considering digital rights management technology that would fit into the interoperability framework, but there's no timetable for adoption, Griffis said.Erik Michielsen, analyst for ABI Research, was impressed with how fierce competitors such as IBM and HP and Microsoft and Nokia were willing to work together within the alliance. The cooperation was indicative of the importance of the group's work to these companies.

Nevertheless, signing up all the major entertainment companies is key to the organization's success.

"Once these devices are interoperable, there won't be a value proposition until content is available," Michielsen said.

Also missing from the group's membership is Apple Computer, a leader in the digital music player market with its iPod. The company also has launched a leading online music store, iTunes, and has been a big promoter of the Mac as the digital hub for the home.

Asked about Apple's absence, alliance officials declined comment, saying that membership is open to any company.The alliance is not alone in addressing interoperability among home devices. Similar groups have formed in Asian countries, such as Korea. Alliance officials, however, said those groups are focused on technology standards to address issues unique to their countries.

The original U.S. group, the Digital Home Working Group, was formed a year ago by Intel, Sony and others.

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