That’s (Digital) Entertainment

I went to last week’s Connections Digital Home show expecting that the “connection” would be the Internet-connection. However, there wasn’t much connection on view except for the surveillance connection, which, quite frankly, turns me off.

I don’t want to know every time a squirrel runs through the yard or, worse, my son brings home six friends to skateboard down the front steps. Knowing compels acting. I prefer to be in denial. Squirrels leave and kids grow up. But hypertension is forever.

But necessity being the mother of invention, I needed to find some excuse for hanging around eating free food and drinking free liquor. And although it was not Tomorrowland, there were some interesting developments to note for the future and, for early adopters, some new gizmos they can start playing with today.

NETGEAR is getting out in front on digital entertainment. Last week, in addition to its line of home networking products, the company was showcasing the two-month-old NETGEAR EVA700 Digital Entertainer, which brings digital media content to your TV set. In addition, the $350 device also brings RSS news feeds, weather, and YouTube directly to the TV set and NETGEAR plans to offer other online content as well.

“People have a ton of content on PCs,” explains David Henry, NETGEAR Director of Product Marketing for Consumer Products. “All this content is best where people enjoy everything else — in the living room. People don’t want to listen to music or look at pictures in front of a computer. It’s very much a shared experience.”

NETGEAR is banking on its established track record as the inventor of home networking, Henry explains. “For distributing media around the home, we have the experience.” And he’s not at all unhappy about Apple’s recent entry into this space with Apple TV.

“I love it,” Henry says. “This is a category that’s been stumbling over itself four years. There’s a cemetery of tombstones of these products. Every time there’s an Apple TV commercial, one more person understands streaming media around the home.

“And every [communication] that brings a customer to Apple brings one or two to me,” he continues. “They’re going to get their share of customers, but I’m going to get mine.”

Digital Entertainer is designed above all for the non-technical user. “It has to feel like a console experience,” Henry explains. “As soon as it feels like dealing with a computer, you’re out of business.”

The box plugs into your TV set like a DVD player or cable box. It connects to your home network through a wired or wireless connection to a router. The Digital Entertainer discovers media content on PCs and media storage units connected to the network, creates a library, and presents them through a menu on the TV screen. Once the library is created, you just “point and click” to see what you want.

Two other trends to note are a new remote controls for the smarter screen navigation and powerline networking.

Silicon Valley startups Thompson Gyration and ThinkOptics aim to take the lead here with motion sensing “point and click” screen navigation — similar to the Nintendo Wii.

ThinkOptics’ WaveIt remote not only operates intuitively — where you aim it, that’s where it points — it also can learn the code for most existing remote controls so you can replace your arsenal of remotes.

Also expect to see better menus and navigation on video discs thanks to tools like Metabeam’s user interface toolkit.

“When you buy a new movie or device you shouldn’t need to learn to use it,” explains Metabeam CEO Chris Brown. “It should learn how to serve you.” In addition to a more intuitive interaction, Metabeam’s applications also offer features like persistent preferences for videos and user-defined search capabilities.

Connecting all the whizbang devices you’re going to have in your home network is the focus of HomePlug PowerLine Alliance.

Running Ethernet cable is one alternative, but most of us don’t want to wire the entire house. Wireless is a more attractive and easier-to-install alternative. But it presents other challenges: assuring acceptable performance for video and keeping the network secure.

HomePlug PowerLine Alliance is pushing a third alternative: using the electrical wiring that already exists in your home, powerline networking. By definition it’s secure and it’s where you’re going to need the connection. And it instantly gives you whole-house distribution for entertainment and Internet access. Components are hitting the market for this technology and expect to see entire “plug and play” systems in the future.

What’s the downside? For starters, no power strips and a 1,000 foot functional limit for wires. See more on this from c|net.