CE, PC Vendors Poised To Push Media Servers

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Established PC and consumer electronics vendors are being joined by newcomers in a stampede to roll out devices that transfer music, pictures, and soon, video from a PC to an A/V system.

The primary device that non-PC firms have concentrated on introducing for the past several years is the media server. These are small single-purpose products that simply move files from a PC to a home's audio system or TV. Due to several factors, sales of these devices have been somewhat limited, but vendors are expressing more optimism on consumer acceptance in 2004. They utilize both wired and wireless technology to transfer data and generally are intended to fit into a home's existing network.

"This category has not really met its full potential, " said John Burke, Motorola's broadband consumer solutions general manager, "but the number of products on the market indicates it will grow."

Motorola has been selling the Simplfi, which handles MP3 files, for the past year and is giving a hard look at introducing a suite of products that would add video capability.

Netgear is taking a slightly different approach and will introduce a digital music player that does not need a PC. Instead it will directly access the Internet so the user can download music through services like Rhapsody or listen to Internet radio stations. Vivek Pathela, Netgear's senior director of product marketing, said the target audience is the audio enthusiast and it will have an LCD for displaying text, and a remote control.

Belkin has yet to take the plunge into this category, but the company realizes that this is the direction the industry is heading so it is studying whether it makes sense to jump into the fray, said its product manager John Bettino.

D-Link has not entered the category, but Bradley Morse, senior VP of marketing, believes media servers will be the hot product of 2004 and expects to see some type of digital media server from the company with video capability in the near future.

One of the newcomers to the category is Digital Deck. This Redwood City, Calif. start-up is officially introduced the system at International CES during January, although the product was first shown to the public in November.

Digital Deck takes a different and more complex approach to transferring data. Instead of acting as just a conduit it also manages the content. Its software can go out onto a home network and access audio or video from any device on the network along with external sources such as cable, satellite and any Internet services the consumer uses. Pricing should be released during the show.

"Other media servers are PC to A/V. We are everywhere to the A/V system," said Erik Scheelke, Digital Deck's president and chief technology officer.

Scheelke expects media server-type product sales to take off during the 2004 holiday time frame.

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