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Top Execs Discuss ‘Digital Home’ Status

Consumer education, killer applications, interoperability of devices from all manufacturers, wired and wireless networking based on expanded broadband capacity and access, and affordability were some of the areas that key executives agreed would make the digital home a reality soon, during a panel at the CEA Fall Forum, last week.

The panel, moderated by’s editor in chief Patrick Houston and sponsored by his organization, called “The Next Big Thing: Five Factors That Will Affect The Coming Of The Digital Home,” featured Lee Ann Champion, senior executive VP of SBC Communications; Thomas Rhee, new business development VP at Samsung; John Hamlin, senior VP, U.S. consumer business, Dell; and Stan Glasgow, president of AV/IT sales for Sony Electronics.

Glasgow noted that digital home networks should feature “not just home networking, but wireless access when you travel.” Champion agreed, saying that with the “digital lifestyle you need access to your [home] network from work, on the road and at home.”

Hamlin said he didn’t like the word “digital home,” saying that for consumers it is “futuristic and nebulous. If you ask a consumer, they want to use a PC to access the Web, play music, distribute video and other functions via a home network. They want it because they know what we’re talking about.”

Rhee, whose company is providing digital networks to an apartment complex in Korea, said that based on Samsung’s experience, “Consumers want to have the efficiency of a network that provides a richer life at home.”

For digital home networks to take off, all agreed that industry standards must be set for interoperability and that since “content is king,” according to Rhee, digital-rights management is a key issue.

And to reach the mass market, Champion said that wireless broadband access should reach 1MB and that for the home over 20MB must be provided “as a foundation.”

In going through all the possible applications of digital home networks — A/V, IT, controls of major appliances, home security and health monitoring — panelists agreed that networked A/V will be the first, most popular use.

“A/V will initially be popular. We are concerned about interoperability of all products. Standards should be open, and we have to move quickly on digital rights management for [security] of content,” Glasgow said. “We want to make it seamless to the consumer, even for those who have older ‘legacy’ products.”

Rhee noted that consumers want “efficiency” in digital home networking, and the key is “how do you make it simple” to use. Hamlin agreed, stating, “Dell is a champion for open standards. That’s our approach.” But he added, “We all have to do more. Only 14 percent of [U.S.] households have digital home networks now.”

Asked about when digital home networks will become, to use a favorite Panasonic phrase, “ubiquitous,” the panelists gave a collective range of up to five years.

On the age old question of whether or not the TV or PC will control the digital home network, Glasgow of Sony was diplomatic, noting, “It should be a mix of TV and PC … the simplicity of TV and the storage capabilities of a PC.” SBC’s Champion said, “It really depends upon the consumer solution and the applications.”

Samsung’s Rhee said that each side “should embrace each others’ functionality” and added, “When you turn on a TV, you expect content to come on. When you turn on a PC, there are still some issues” as to what happens.

Dell’s Hamlin countered, “ You have to combine the functions of both TV and PC to make it work.” But he noted, “PC will be the center of the digital home, based on storage.”