Now it seems the consumer electronics industry has suddenly realized that someone is in their kitchen, and if this year's CES is any indication, they are racing to come up with some quick recipes to ensure that, as Pioneer puts it, "the home entertainment network will not be driven by the PC."
Serving up entertainment
Of the major consumer electronics players, Pioneer seems to be one of the closest to shipping a truly networked product with its DigitalLibrary, a system that consists of a central server, the DL-1000-S, connected via either wired or wireless Ethernet to a player, the DL-500AV, that can be used in any room. The server has an 80GB drive--enough to store 1,500 CDs, thousands of digital photos, or home movies and video downloaded from the Internet. The device can also deliver DVD-quality video streams and as many as 21 audio streams simultaneously to multiple players. The DL-1000-S will sell for $1,200 and the DL-500AV for $900, and both should be available in May.
Buyer's alertConsumer electronics makers are getting in on the home networking act, bringing entertainment servers into the living room.
Product alerts: sign up to be notified when these products are availablePioneer DigitalLibrary DL-1000-S server
Pioneer DigitalLibrary DL-500AV player
HP Digital Media Receiver en5000
HP Digital Media Receiver ew5000
Samsung Home Media Center
Check latest pricesPrismiq MediaPlayer
Panasonic's home networking line dubbed ONE (Omni-Functional Network Environment, whatever that means) looked impressive on the floor of the convention center, but the products were nowhere to be found in the company's press announcements and are described on its site as "tech ideas." Still, they are some pretty cool ideas: a server with a DVD recorder, 802.11a access points for transmitting HD video wirelessly, a PC card that replaces digital cable set-top boxes, and remote access to the network from AT&T m-mode cell phones.
At prices well over $1,000, all of these early home entertainment networks will appeal only to enthusiasts with fat wallets. But others are taking the more practical approach of piggybacking on your existing computer, networking, and TV and stereo equipment. A start-up called Prismiq showed a box called MediaPlayer that connects your broadband-enabled PC to your TV and home stereo wirelessly. (You add the Wi-Fi card using the player's built-in PC Card slot.) It is currently available for $250. Similarly, HP announced a Digital Media Receiver 5000 series available in two versions: the wired Ethernet-only en5000 ($199) and the wired and wireless 802.11b ew5000 ($299).
Though they are a little late to the party, consumer electronics companies believe they have an edge with products that are traditionally easier to use. But whether they can get these innovative products to market fast enough to pick up lost ground remains to be seen, and computer companies are hardly waiting around for them. Apple's announcement of the AirPort Extreme and 802.11g products from Actiontec and D-Link are evidence of that. It should be fun to watch the battle.
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John Morris is an executive editor for hardware coverage at CNET. Got a question for him? Let us know.