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Consumer Electronics Show 2009 Comments

Kitchen / laundry appliances, building control and security

Unlike the Internationaler Funkaustellung 2008 in Berlin, this show hasn’t headed towards exhibiting kitchen / laundry appliances and building control / security devices. But a show like this could head down that direction under various mandates like the “green” energy-efficiency mandate and the “smart home” mandate.

The main reason that this has been put off is because of the financial downturn in the US where many of these companies who rely primarily on the “new building” market are simply not selling many of these devices, therefore cannot afford to spend on this kind of activity.

Windows 7 Goes Beta

This has meant a major milestone for Microsoft in having Windows 7 legitimately enter the public beta stage. It has allowed the blogosphere to talk about improvements to the way Windows will be working under this operating system.

One major improvement will be the Device Stage where there will be an integrated user interface for all of the peripherals that the computer benefits from. It doesn’t matter whether the device is connected by a USB or other peripheral-connect cable or is accessed over a wireless peripheral link or the IP network the computer is a member of. This interface will provide access to the standard tasks for managing the device as well as any manufacturer-specified tasks for that device.

Another highlighted connectivity improvement is the Windows 7 “Home Group” which simplifies how a home network is set up and represented. This also includes any “non-computer devices” like network media players, network-attached storage units, games consoles and IP cameras.

Large colour bit-map display as a preferred user-interface display for “fixed” consumer electronics

Previously, we have seen “fixed” consumer-electronics devices like stereo / home-theatre equipment, computer network equipment and similar hardware having either a vacuum fluorescent display, monochrome liquid-crystal display, monochrome LED display or lately an OEL display as their user-interface display. Such a display would take up a small area of the device’s front panel and typically show textual information. If they show graphical information, it would be a low-resolution display which represents a “current-function” icon or a bar-graph representing a quantity like sound level.

Now manufacturers are supplying some of their devices with high-resolution colour LCD or OEL displays. Examples of this include the D-Link DIR-685 Wireless-N router / electronic photo frame / UPnP Media Server; Linksys’s Network Home Audio products and Linksys’s new media-focused DLNA NAS boxes. This has been because of high-resolution colour LCD modules of sizes up to 17 inches becoming more cost-effective.

This has allowed the “fixed ”consumer-electronics devices to have a user interface that is very similar to that provided by the coolest portable devices. It has also allowed manufacturers to look towards equipping their devices with touchscreens and iPod-style “spinwheels”. The user-interface menus on these devices are starting to have the same kind of experience that is accepted on the latest set-top boxes or portable media players.

It will certainly make those monochrome user-interface displays look so tired and “yesterday” as far as product user-interface design is concerned.

SDXC – the next-generation high-capacity SD card

The standard SDXC card can hold up to 2Tb, and being part of the SD Card lineup, be available in the three physical card sizes available for these cards. This iteration of the SD card would primarily appeal to portable devices like laptops, DSLRs, HD camcorders, etc. Could the SD card be the replacement for the hard disk especially in small portable computers like netbooks or as a large firmware storage for electronic devices?

The only limitation about this technology would be that SDXC cards wouldn’t be able to be read in the existing SD or SDHC devices.

LCD TVs – 7mm thick, Plasma TVs – 8.8mm thick

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/scienceandtechnology/technology/4159682/Worlds-thinnest-television-unveiled.html

Thinner flat-panel displays based on the common large-screen technologies are appearing. This will allow for improved consolidation for the display unit, thus allowing also for lighter sets and reduced “bill-of-materials” costs for this class of electronics. Manufacturers can allocate more room for extra functionality and there will be less of the overheating that occurs in these sets because of improved airflow over the chassis. This also leads to improvements in operational efficiency thus reducing the accusation about the large-screen flat-panel TVs being as inefficient as a 4-wheel-drive “Toorak tractor”.

MoCA being launched to the consumer

Mostly this will manifest in the form of “Ethernet-Coax” bridges in a similar form to the common “homeplugs” which are simply “powerline-Ethernet” bridges. Read more about MoCA in this article in this blog.

US-market TVs equipped with Netflix and similar service

In the US, Netflix and similar video-on-demand companies are “buttering up” to the “brown-goods” companies to integrate support for their service in their TV sets and similar devices. Similarly, some TV manufacturers are moving towards providing mid-range and premium equipment with built-in large-screen Internet viewing functionality. This will typically require the TVs, PVRs or set-tops to have Ethernet ports or WiFi connectivity.

If a customer wants to use this kind of feature, they should use the wired means (Ethernet, MoCA, HomePlug) rather than WiFi because this will provide increased reliability with these services.

An ideal feature for these sets would be to have DLNA / UPnP AV functionality with “Play-to” support. This can allow one to view or listen to their own media library whether it is held on their own PC or network-attached storage unit. It is more so because a lot of the NAS units pitched at the home market are being equipped with DLNA server functionality.

Linksys DLNA-compliant music systems and NAS boxes

1 music system with CD player, 1 network music system and 1 network audio receiver, all able to be controlled by a Linksys WiFi remote controller. Linksys is also selling “media-optimised” DLNA-compliant NAS boxes, one of which has a memory card slot for “dump to NAS” ability and a colour LCD display.

The “dump to NAS” memory card slot featured on the mid-range and deluxe units could come in handy with digital-camera memory cards and SlotMusic cards by making the content that exists on these cards available to the home network at all times.

Premiere of USB 3.0

The first few devices will be out, mainly in the form of external hard disks. Could this be an alternative to eSATA as an external hard-disk connection? Could it work as a “fat pipe” for a WiFi-N network adaptor.

The situation will be the same as what has happened with the launch of USB 2.0 where it will be available in a “retrofit” form for existing computers. This option will then end up being available as part of computer hardware introduce from next year onwards.

Premiere of eCoupled

Fulton Innovation had officially promoted the eCoupled inductive power-coupling system, providing it as an alternative to corded power for portable devices. They had set up a proving ground at the CES for wirelessly charging mobile phones, cordless power tools and remote controllers.

This technology will benefit portable entertainment and IT devices by achieving a standard wire-free power source for these devices. They also had proven the idea of “parking” a remote control on a set-top box or TV set so it can be charged quickly. It could allow for the TV or set-top box to perform required tasks like shut-down whenever the remote is parked on or removed from the unit.

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12 January 2009 Posted by | Consumer Electronics Show (January - Las Vegas USA), Trade Shows, UPnP AV / DLNA media-playback hardware), UPnP AV / DLNA media-server hardware | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Understanding MoCA – the new no-new-wires network that uses the TV-aerial wiring.

Over this coming year, there will be product launches for MoCA-based home-network devices that are to be sold through mass-market retail. But this article explains what the new MoCA coaxial home networking technology is about.

What is this MoCA thing all about

MoCA has one thing common to the old coaxial-based local area networks – 10Base2 ThinNet and 10Base5 ThickNet, in that they all use RF-style coaxial cable. But the similarity stops there.

Unlike the old coaxial-cable networks, this network uses the 75-ohm TV-antenna cable commonly used in our homes and offices and can work with an ad-hoc cable layout. This means that you can use splitters and have sockets not having anything plugged in to them which is common with TV-antenna and cable-TV setups.

The reason it is designed to work like this is because the MoCA system is meant to use an existing cable-TV or TV-antenna wiring installation for transporting data. It is also meant to share the cable’s bandwidth with regular analogue and digital TV signals from the cable-TV service or the property’s TV aerial (antenna).

This system will come in to its own with such setups where there are multiple antenna or cable-TV sockets installed around a house to suit the installation of many TVs or an easily-relocatable TV set in different rooms.

Difficult installations

RF amplifier setups, including “active amplifiers” driven by digital-TV set-top boxes will need to have a bypass filter working between 875-1500 MHz. This may be more important with inline booster or hub (distribution) amplifiers rather than headend amplifier setups like TV-aerial masthead amplifiers. A cable-TV provider or a competent TV-antenna technician can sort out the issue of these RF amplifiers and install bypasses where necessary.

A MoCA installation won’t work properly on a satellite-TV setup because of the sophisticated nature of these setups. These installations are typically on their own coaxial path which is separate from the broadcast TV-aerial path that is common with satellite as a pay-TV medium. This issue may be more of concern where all of the TV service is being received via satellite such as in rural or remote areas.

If you are installing MoCA hardware, especially Ethernet-to-coax bridges, on TV-antenna systems in countries which are based on the PAL system like Europe, Australia or New Zealand, you will run in to a problem with the coaxial connectors typically used in these areas for such installations. These countries typically use a “push-in” connector, commonly known as a “PAL connector” or “Belling-Lee connector” for the TV-antenna installation, rather than the screw-on “F-connector” used in North America and other countries based on the NTSC system. This problem can be rectified with the use of connector adaptors that either may be supplied with the hardware if it is sold in any of those countries or can be obtained from a local electronics store. It can also be rectified through the use of cables that have an F-connector on one end and a PAL connector on the other end.

Link Speed Comparison

  Theoretical Actual
MoCA 230Mbps 175Mbps
HomePlug 1.0 Turbo 85Mbps 10Mbps
HomePlug AV 200Mbps  

Where is MoCA suitable for and relevant to

The prime application for MoCA would be multi-room “personal TV” service where there is a set-top box for each TV set in the house. In this setup, the MoCA network is used as a data network and a digital streaming network between the main high-capacity “personal TV” device and other “view-only” set-top boxes or low-capacity “personal TV” devices. This can permit functions like setting up recordings from any TV in the house, viewing recorded content anywhere and moving between TV sets without losing the spot in the content.

It is also relevant to households who have cable Internet and one or more cable-TV points (with or without cable-TV service) in other parts of the house. They can then use the cable-TV infrastructure as a network link to that area of the house.

As a network medium, it works well if there is a significant amount of coaxial-cable infrastructure in place, typically at least 1 socket in at least 2-3 rooms. This reduces the “reach” ability of this “no-new-wires” wired-network medium compared to the power-line-based HomePlug medium.

1 January 2009 Posted by | Network Management | | Leave a comment