Reporters Notebook: Digital Home in the Spotlight

A veritable potpourri of topics about the emerging digital home are covered at the Connections Digital Home Conference & Showcase.

SAN FRANCISCO—The Connections Digital Home Conference & Showcase here has covered a potpourri of topics—IP television capabilities, telephone companies struggle to offer the same bundled TV-Internet-phone services as cable companies, and how the general public will respond to the ongoing battle for the living room.

"Im here to see what the hot new applications are in the IPTV space," said Nortel Networks Director of Marketing and Business Development Matthew Marnik.

In the opening keynote at the show, which is run by the Dallas-based Parks Associates analyst group, Kevin Corbett, Intel vice president and chief technology officer for the Home Technology group, gave an overview of the companys research on the future of content for the digitally enhanced home, touching briefly on Intels partnership with Morgan Freemans production company, Revelation Entertainment; digital rights management; and new opportunities for advertisers.

/zimages/4/28571.gifIntel brings dual-core technology to the digital home. Click here to read more.

"The vision is in place, the tech is ready, and the content experiments are happening," Corbett said. "We may never have an opportunity to do this again—its happening, and its happening now."

Corbett showed a mockup of a fully realized, multifunctional telco platform that consumers might be using in a matter of years. Looking somewhat reminiscent of the current Windows Media Server platform, the graphically driven screen showed two columns—the left with options such as "my DVR," "my gallery" and "home control"; the right with a list of on-demand channels. At the bottom is a row of shortcuts, showing what the user has watched last and favorite shows. In addition, each portal can be customized, just like computer profiles, for a completely customizable experience. Corbett also showed a similar on-demand model that is in the works for cell phones.

The speech covered only a fraction of the upcoming trends discussed at the show. AOL Vice President Tina Sharkey talked about the online companys role in making the consumer a center of the experience. "[This is] not my mothers Internet," she said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more on Sharkeys glimpse of AOLs future online.

In another keynote, Motorola Corporate Vice President and General Manager for Consumer Solutions Business John Burke said that its vital to make new technology as easy as possible for customers to use. "I cant underestimate the value of educating the customer," Burke said. "You need to turn it into simple, easy-to-use environments—all centered on the consumer."

During the 8-hour pre-show workshop Wednesday, Parks Associates analysts gave a comprehensive overview of consumer usage statistics and what companies can expect in the future digital home. Most of the information wouldnt make anyones jaw drop, other than a few unexpected statistics on how consumers use electronics.

One of the more interesting studies focused on consumers and their portable media devices. "The wealthy and young are leading this market," said John Barrett, Parks director of research. "You see very strong adoption among this demographic as they become conscious of the benefits of an MP3 player—when they learned how easy it was to get music on the player, they quickly adopted."

Its no surprise that people ranging in the 18- to 24-year-old demographic are driving the option, so much so that theyre leaving the other demographics in the dust. In a surprising twist, though, Barrett said that just because people own a portable player does not mean theyre the ones using digital music and vice versa.

Parks findings show that 83 percent of people who dont own portable players spend $11 or more per month on music, and in general, non-PMP owners expressed an intention to buy music online.

/zimages/4/28571.gifCheck out PC Magazines extensive look at the digital home.

For consumers who own portable MP3 players, Barrett said hes seen another unusual trend. "Some people who own the device used it a couple of times and thrown it in the drawer," he said. "And there are other people who put all of their music on the device and then never change it again."

Consumers are also taking a similar approach to their broadband connections. Parks analyst Kurt Scherf said that the companys surveys found most consumers with home networks use them most for Internet access and, to a lesser degree, to transfer documents and share files. The idea of using a network to play music, video and games hardly registers on the consumer radar. "A lot of consumers havent been able to figure out how to use a network drive," Scherf said. That means theres a large hurdle for companies to cross to try to bring home networking into the mainstream.

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