devolo introduces dLAN 200 AVdesk - 200Mbps home networking

Devolo_av devolo is continuing to encourage us to use our home wiring for a home network, boosting its data transfer speeds on the dLAN 200 AVdesk to an impressive 200Mbps.

According to devolo, the dLAN 200 AVdesk has the bandwidth to support full multi-media home networking through the whole house. With transfer rates of 200Mbps and ADSL2+ technology, the HomePlug can support HDTV, video-streaming, Voice Over IP and high speed Internet. And it's plug and play, with the adaptors featuring Ethernet connectivity, allowing PCs, broadband modems and routers, games consoles and set-top boxes to be quickly connected to the network.

The dLAN 200 AVdesk units are available from 11th October, retailing at £99.99. The Starter Kit consists of two adaptors and costs £179.99.

devolo website

Posted by modculture on October 5, 2006 in Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

One Minute Video Review: Philips Living Colours

Philips showed off some concept designs this week at their Sense and Simplicity event, as well as some products which will be released soon. This is their Living Colours product, which promises to transform the ambience of your house through some special lighting. They're set to come to the UK next year.

Posted by Shiny Media on October 5, 2006 in Video, Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

One Minute Video Review: Parrot Photo Viewer

I took a look at the Parrot Photo Viewer, which is designed to display photos from your phone or other Bluetooth equipped photo device. You can pick on up for £150 here

Posted by Shiny Media on September 21, 2006 in Gadgets, Reviews, Video, Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sonos adds musical alarms and improved internet radio to its wireless music systems

Sonos2_1 We've covered Sonos a number of times in the past. It's a music system that hooks up to amplified devices in any room of the house, allowing streaming of your music to each device from your PC or any other device connected to the system, with access via a full colour controller. If you've hesitated over buying, you might like to know that it's been improved with alarm functionality and improved internet radio access.

The improved Sonos goes under the name Sonos System Software 2.0 - and is available as a one-button software update or as part of a newly-purchased system. The upgrade turns every Zone Player into a musical alarm, with clock, snooze, sleep timer, and scheduling to wake you up otr send you to sleep with your favourite music or internet radio station. The internet radio is also improved, with country-specific categories for listing stations and an improved guide that includes instant access to more than 300 stations. 

That's not all - there's also improved language support, automatic indexing of your music library, scheduled updates on a daily basis (if you want to download new podcasts), improved scrol wheel performance for finding tracks, an increased maximum library of 50,000 tracks and gapless MP3 playback.

Prices for systems vary - check out the website for your nearest dealer.

Sonos website

Posted by modculture on September 18, 2006 in Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

Yay or Nay: Apple "iTV"

Applelogo_13Steve Jobs unveiled Apple's plans for superiority over your living room TV by telling us that "iTV" (work in progress on the name) will be available from early next year.

Yay or Nay to the iTV?

Is iTV, coupled wirelessly with a decent desktop computer running iTunes, going to be a hit in the living room? Is this Apple innovation or too little too late? Will Apple be able to get the killer content needed for a system like this to work well, or will it turn out to be a niche system?

Share your thoughts below.

Posted by Andy Merrett on September 13, 2006 in Computers, TVs, Video, Wi-Fi, Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

Apple's grand plans: iTunes, movies, iTV, home entertainment Appleised...

Applelogo_12Steve Jobs delivered a speech yesterday that initially sounded like a basic product and software update but became a glimpse at Apple's plans for moving into the living room. Here's the highlights:

iTunes 7

We expected an upgrade to the iTunes software. Available to download right away, the software better manages music and other digital media (most of which we can't get hold of in the UK yet). There are new views to display your music by track, album or virtual CD rack. Apple have offered anyone with an iTunes store ID free album art downloads, so long as that music is in the store of course.

The virtual CD rack looks pretty good, assuming you get a decent amount of album art - otherwise it looks a bit empty.

An aside, though, is that I've found both iTunes 6 and 7 crash out on an Intel Mac when trying to run the visualiser. Hopefully that'll get fixed in an update, unless it's something to do with my setup. Anyone else noticed this?

Movies

We also expected the iTunes Store to begin selling movies in earnest. What we got was something that seemed to show that deals are still to be done, and there could be licensing problems. Apple have managed to get Disney-owned studios on board (hardly surprising). Oh, and just to make us jealous, this is all US only at present:

Today, there are 75 films online from Walt Disney, Pixar, Touchstone, Miramax. Apple will be adding more each week and month. Downloads will reach near DVD quality (at least for a NTSC DVD) at 640x480 resolution. Steve Jobs cited a 30 minute download on a 5 Mbps broadband connection.

New releases will cost $12.99 for the first week, then $14.99. Many other titles $9.99. Steve says that they hope to go international on this from 2007, and that iTunes movie releases will be on the same day as the DVD.

New iPods

Read about the new Shuffle, nanos and 5G iPods.

iTV

The 'one more thing' this time is the iTV (working title) - Apple's planned entry into the centre of your living room.

Steve built up to it by talking about getting movies and TV programmes on your iPod and your computer (a Mac of course, he said he was biased) - but how about when you want to watch movies on your new big screen flat-panel TV (who doesn't?)

The solution? iTV - a box half the size of the Mac Mini that acts as a set top box in your home cinema setup, and wirelessly or via Ethernet streams digital content from your Mac or PC. It'll have a built in PSU, USB, Ethernet, 802.11 wireless technology (G or draft N is not clear), optical audio and HDMI ports, and RCA stereo audio. It will have an advanced Front Row system and use the Apple Remote.

Now, assuming that content is coming from your computer, and that content is available, there's no reason why this can't be released in the UK at the same time as the US - sometime in Q1 of 2007.

Apple don't usually do these advanced announcements, but it does make sense as a taster because the other announcements weren't that cutting edge and on their own (with or without John Legend playing at the end of the show) might've been a letdown - that's one problem of all the pre-event hype.

What do you think to these announcements? Will Apple make a bigger impression in home entertainment and gain control of your TV?

Posted by Andy Merrett on September 13, 2006 in Computers, Home cinema, Video, Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

Solwise HomePlug Ethernet Adaptor - home networking through your home wiring

Solwise_2   Solwise has introduced the HomePlug Ethernet Adaptor, which streams a home network over your home wiring, with speeds up  to 200Mbps.

The HomePlug Adaptor can support full multimedia home networking throughout the whole house including simultaneous High Definition (HD) and Standard Definition (SD) video distribution, whole-house audio, VoIP and high speed internet in addition to data networking. Enhanced Quality of Service (QOS) also provides the guaranteed bandwidth reservations for multimedia streaming including TV over IP (IPTV), higher data rate broadband sharing, online gaming, VoIP and for extending Wireless LANs coverage.

It's plug and play and can be used wherever there's a plug socket. It also comes with a 128-bit AES encryption ensuring that your network communications is secure. Expect to see the HomePlug Ethernet Adaptor in late October for around £75.

Solwise website

Posted by modculture on September 12, 2006 in Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday interview: HP Labs' Huw Robson on how Memory Spots will revolutionise your digital media habits

Memoryspots_huwrobson_1 Tech Digest first wrote about HP’s Memory Spot technology in July, when it was announced. It’s basically a tiny piece of silicon that holds megabytes of data, and can be wirelessly interacted with using a special read-write device. It’s like a turbocharged RFID chip - although if RFID means nothing to you, just go with the ‘computer the size of a grain of rice’ metaphor.

Anyway, it’s got many applications, including medical (embedding Memory Spots into patient’s wrist-bands with full medical and drug records), business (attaching Memory Spots to paper documents with a full record of all the corrections and additions made to the text) and consumer (stick them on your photo prints to add music, commentary or ambient sound when touched with the right device).

I talked to Huw Robson, director of the Media Technologies Lab at HP Labs in Bristol, to find out more about what the Memory Spots could be used for, how long until they’re actually available, and some of the issues around them.

Memoryspot_photos “What we’re trying to do here is wake up storage federated around objects and media in a way that hasn’t been done before,” says Robson. “It was driven by digital photography, and particularly the idea of adding audio to photographs, whether it’s ambient sound recorded at the time you took it, your commentary, music to give you a bit of background, or even a dead relative speaking.”

Frankly that last one’s a bit scary, but you get the general idea. In a sense, it’s doing what you might do with a photo slideshow on your computer, just with a print. When the idea was still mainly photography-related, HP experimented with other methods, including a magnetic strip along the bottom edge of prints, and something Robson describes as “a big fat digital paperclip”, which didn’t work. Hence moving to the idea of tiny bits of silicon.

“The whole question was could you achieve what we wanted to achieve?” he says. “RFID chips typically have a few hundred bits, maybe creeping up to a thousand. It’s enough to give you a unique ID, go off into a central system and use it as a reference to pull back information on that item. So it’s good for stock control, but not for what we wanted to do, storing richer data on there.”

Memoryspots_chip Speed of data transfer was also an issue, as HP wanted to be able to read data off these chips in seconds, not minutes. The current prototype Memory Spots have a 10-megabits-per-second transfer rate, and a storage capacity of up to half a megabyte. And yes, it really is the size of a grain of rice (see left), although for ease of use (i.e. not losing the things down the back of the HP Labs sofa), Robson says the researchers have made them bigger using a suitably high-tech futuristic method.

“We stuck them on a piece of office lamination sheet, and cut them into half-centimetre shapes,” he says. “It shows how robust they are that we can do that. But it also gives a possible use – you could give a user a whole sheet of these things, or have a roll of them inside a printer, which could then be stamped on as you print documents.”

You read or write to a Memory Spot by holding a read-write device (or a phone or PDA with the read-write device in it) millimetres away from the Spot – almost touching it. The Spot receives power through inductive coupling from the device, which can then extract whatever content is stored on the Spot. Having to practically touch it has several benefits, according to Robson.

“There’s no chance of somebody sidling up and reading these things without you knowing,” he says. “And we also have security on board and encrypted keys and all that stuff. Because it’s not reliant on a Wi-Fi network, there’s no lag in getting the data off the Memory Spot. And it’s also positive in another way: touching is so instinctive and natural as far as consumers are concerned. There’s an immediate and powerful simplicity of use.”

Memoryspots_reader One of the issues around Memory Spots is what devices you use to read and write them. There’s two ways of looking at this, says Robson. For commercial and enterprise type applications, HP or partner companies could make dedicated Memory Spot read-write devices, which could be PDA-like devices, or wands, or whatever suits that application.

However, if Memory Spots are ever going to be used for the more consumer-friendly stuff – the photo soundtracks and so on – the technology to read and write the Spots needs to be in mainstream consumer devices, right? Which means mobile phones and PDAs. Robson agrees.

“For consumers, the ultimate application is if it becomes an ubiquitous standard, like Bluetooth, which is in most of your handheld devices. That requires us moving towards standards to make that work, so it’s a longer time-frame. We’re talking to quite a few companies, but it will take quite a few years to have a robust standard with the buy-in from enough companies to make it take off.”

In other words, while HP could put Memory Spot technology into, say, an iPaq PDA fairly soon, it’s going to be a while before you see a Memory Spot-enabled RAZR phone hit the market. Robson says a commercial or enterprise deployment of Memory Spots could come within a year or so, but it’s likely to be two to three years before the technology finds its way into consumer devices.

Memoryspots_hospital Another factor will be cost. It’s hard to say how much each Memory Spot will ‘cost’, partly because it’ll depend on whether tens of thousands of them are being made for an enterprise application, or billions for widespread consumer use. In the former case, Robson reckons a single Memory Spot might be around 50p, but in the latter, the price could come down to pennies.

“Volume means the price can come right down,” he says. “We’re not using any cunning special silicon technology. We’re making them using the standard silicon process, on a wafer, and we can take full advantage of Moore’s Law.”

In truth, some of the most quoted applications for Memory Spots seem a bit… impractical. How many people really want to have a soundtrack for their printed photos? Especially when so many of us now share our photos using email or sites like Flickr. But in many ways, the best thing about Memory Spots is the technology’s flexibility. Robson says new uses are being suggested all the time, some of which seem to me to have more appeal.

For example, what if the Memory Spot attached to your print didn’t have a soundtrack, but instead held the digital JPG of that photo, enabling you – or whoever you sent it to – to get a perfect copy made of the print at some point in the future? Or if every CD in HMV came with a Memory Spot on the front that you could touch your mobile phone or iPod to in order to hear some samples?

“It’s a fascinating bit of technology that’s taken us a bit by storm,” says Robson. “Loads of people have ideas about how we could use it, so we have to whittle those down and pick the most appropriate. We don’t think there’ll be Memory Spots in everything. Well, not in our visible future, anyway…”

Posted by Stu on September 8, 2006 in Interviews, Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday interview: Amino's Mike Leigh on taking Internet TV back to the living room

Mikeleigh In some ways, YouTube is just a big melting pot of stuff you've already seen on normal TV. I spent 20 minutes in tears of laughter at a succession of 'animal falls off furniture' clips last week (yes, I know I need to get out more), while there's enough ageing soft-rock vids to fill a week's worth of VH1. But plenty of it is original too, from bonkers lip-synchers through to worryingly-honest videobloggers.

Many of us could happily fill a whole evening surfing YouTube rather than settling down onto the sofa to watch proper TV. But why can't we have the best of both worlds, and watch a few hours of hilarious web clips from our sofas, on the telly rather than on a computer monitor? It'd be like Home Entertainment 2.0 (and I'm claiming that term if it ever takes off).

An announcement today from IPTV firm Amino seems to answer this request. The company is launching a device called the AmiNET125i, which is a set-top box "which allows consumers to browse and access video content from the Internet on their television". Great, YouTube on the telly! Well, not quite. But Amino's Mike Leigh explains what it's about, and how the company expects it to change web-heads' viewing habits. 

AminotvThe driving force behind AmiNET125i (if I'm honest, I reckon they could have come up with a catchier title) is the fact that most telecoms companies are using a walled garden model when it comes to TV. Sign up to, say, NTL, and you get a choice of channel packages, but they're still channels that have a commercial relationship with NTL.

Leigh likens it to the AOL approach in the early days of the Web, with its  walled garden of content. Yet at the same time, there is a parallel trend that younger people are drifting away from watching TV at all, in favour of getting their entertainment online.

"There's this almost maverick renegade trend of people saying 'I want to see the content when I want to see it, through my own navigation'," says Leigh. "They want to go and pick it out of YouTube, MySpace, Bebo or wherever. And that trend will grow as that 16-24 year-old segment gets older."

The press release announcing AmiNET125i is a little misleading, in that it quotes an industry analyst talking about YouTube, Google Video and iTunes, while elsewhere it mentions MySpace. The device won't actually let you watch content from these sources on your TV, at least not in the early days.

Instead, it's designed to deliver Windows Media 9 and MPEG-4 video streams to your TV direct from your broadband connection, whether wired or wirelessly. The device also supports Windows Media Digital Rights Management 10, and includes an embedded HTML 4 browser with JavaScript support, to resize content to your TV screen.

So what can you watch? Amino has partnered with Internet TV firm Narrowstep, and will initially be offering the latter's portfolio of channels, which includes everything from GolfBug.tv, ITV Local and The Baby Channel through to Martial Arts TV and Teachernet. Which is all very cool, but it sounds a bit like... a walled garden.
 
Leigh accepts that, but says the aim is to get people used to the concept before launching them into full unfettered access to Web video. Amino has three target audiences in mind for the box. Firstly, there's ex-pats – people living abroad who want to watch TV channels from their native country. He gives the example of Polish people who've come to live in the UK, so I daresay the Daily Mail will be frothing at the mouth over AmiNET125i any day now for encouraging this sort of thing.

Secondly, there's the niche audiences: cyclists, golf nuts, and so on. They're the core audience for many of the channels that Narrowstep provides. "Many of these channels have audiences of 200,000 to 400,000 people," says Leigh. "You can make a decent business model out of running those channels, but they wouldn't interest the likes of NTL/Telewest. Rather than expect people to watch that on their computers, we're putting the content where it deserves to be: on TV."

Finally, Amino is also targeting businesses - accountants, lawyers, surveyors or anyone who needs to do continual professional education. For home use, in the early days Amino plans to offer AmiNET125i to ISPs who can us it to add extra value to their broadband packages (and also try and avoid the trend towards broadband becoming a free 'commodity'). But Amino has ambitions beyond this.

"In 18-24 months time, we want to expand from that model to being something where you might get your broadband access from an ISP, but then you'd buy this set-top box from Amazon, Dixons etc, and then get top-up cards which are read by the set-top-box to give you specific paid-for content, whether it's Hollywood movies or Playboy. Anything where you need a subscription or to check who you are."

Again, this is all cool, but will it mean watching literally whatever you want on your TV, and particularly user-generated content from YouTube, MySpace and so on? Leigh says there are a few issues that will need to be sorted out, including the business model of how sites like YouTube make money. But there's also technical challenges.

"Nearly all the content out there now has been prepared with Windows Media 9 and Microsoft DRM in mind," says Leigh. "But Google and Yahoo are using Flash 8 codecs, so that question needs to be resolved. It doesn't make a difference to us, as we can write the codecs, but what configuration does the box need to run?"

Of course, one pertinent question is whether those 16-24 year-olds Leigh mentions are fussed about bringing Web TV back to the living room? After all, they seem quite happy migrating away from sitting on a sofa watching stuff, towards sitting in front of a PC doing stuff, including watching but also all the interactivity that goes around it. Do they want to be dragged back to the lounge?

"It's true up to a point, but on the other side, those people are now or will very soon be buying HD televisions, and who want the large TVs that both presentationally and socially make an impact," says Leigh. "If there was content that they could put on their TV rather than on a PC, I think they would be very keen to."

But in that case, surely they won't want to watch grainy web videos on their big screen? Leigh points out that as people upgrade their broadband connections, the quality of Internet TV will improve, which will start to solve this problem. But he has other thoughts.

"If you've got HDTV and you're watching HD content, do you want to go back and watch channels on a PC that you could otherwise get on a TV? No. It's a regressive move. It may take a while for that content to be presentationally HD, but it will certainly be a better viewing experience than on a PC. I won't say that very soon we're going to get HD content from YouTube or even Narrowstep, but people will start to look at viewing on a PC as inferior to viewing on a TV, and especially so if that content is fit for a shared experience."

AmiNET125i is an intriguing device, and the idea of Internet TV on your, well, TV is a great one. But when someone invents a box that really does give you access to unlimited amounts of user-generated web videos, that's when things will get really exciting. AmiNET125i is at least a first step to bringing those thousands of lip-synchers into your living room. I think that's a good thing, anyway.

Posted by Stu on September 4, 2006 in Interviews, Video, Websites, Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)

IFA 2006: Philips' second generation wireless hi-fi - the WACS7000

Philips_wireless_1 Being a sad old music lover with a  huge pile of CDs I was naturally the core target market for Philips WACS700 wireless music center which debuted last year. Although I thought it worked well, I had a few reservations, specifically about its rather limited connectivity.

Philips appears to have listened the pleas from me, and a host of other reviewers, and have addressed many of my concerns with the second generation wireless music player the WACS7000.

It still has the core facilities-  decent B&O style design, streaming from the main unit to other slave units which can be dotted round the house and the very clever facility which means you can set the system up so that music follows you round the home. But Philips has also added support for iPods and a USB slot for memory key devices and upped the hard disk to 80Gigabytes.

The iPod functionality comes via an optional dock which connects the player to the unit and also recharges it. You can listen to tracks on the Apple player through the system and control the iPod (in its most basic functions) via the remote control. The dock also supports and has additional functionality with Philips GoGear music players.

The USB slot means that users can listen to tracks stored on flash memory devices as well as load up the device with tracks from the WACS7000.

Other tweaks include more choice in compression rates, improved Gracenote functionality and faster transfers for tracks to the hard drive.

Philips has also introduced an alarm clock for the system in the guise of the WAK3300. Designed to sit by your bed it can be programed to wake you up each day with a different track that is ether streamed from the main unit or stored on the device.

The system will go on sale in the UK later this year, while,the WAK3300 should be in the stores in October.

Posted by Shiny Media on September 1, 2006 in Wireless home | Permalink | Comments (0)