Cisco Adapts to iTV
LAS VEGAS -– Consumer Electronics Show (CES) -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is getting ready to give the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iTV a run for its money.
At CES this week the company was selectively, somewhat secretly, demonstrating a "home media adapter" that serves up all photos, videos, and music from all the PCs, phones, MP3 players, and other storage devices connected to the home network.
Cisco's upcoming media adapter is in trials with some consumers. But the hardware design is being perfected by industrial designers, and we weren't allowed to take pictures of the device, which was demo'ed from behind a black curtain in a suite at the Bellagio on Wednesday.
This device, sure to be the workhorse in Cisco's connected home strategy, will aggregate and serve any media from any device in the home. It will also allow for purchasing video, audio, and other entertainment without requiring a set-top box.
Yes, the media adapter Cisco was showing also boasted the ability to serve up movies, music, and information services on demand. Karen Sohl, director of worldwide communications for Cisco's Linksys division, says Cisco will provide the media adapter's content in walled-garden fashion at first, and may allow general Internet access in the future.
This device isn't using your normal remote control. It's driven by "the ring," a circular thingamabob that functions much like a wireless mouse. That slick remote control, coupled with a simple software user interface on the TV, allows Cisco's media adapter to combine the content available for viewing in the home network with the content available from the Internet.
In the Bellagio demo, Cisco's content included movies from CinemaNow , a firm in which Cisco has invested.
The bottom line on this behind-the-curtain wizardry, Sohl says, is to show that the vision espoused by John Chambers earlier this week is a real initiative at Cisco and the company is building real products to make it happen. (See CES: Cisco Preps Home Invasion.)
Cisco's vision of a "connected home" requires a home network, but this new media adapter could serve as the digital hub that most home networks are missing. It offers network storage and the ability to, for example, recognize devices and pull down content, such as photos, on the fly from a familiar WiFi cellphone or other device that enters the network. "The PC is complementary in our model," says Sohl.
Using software technology and expertise from Cisco's KiSS acquisition, Sohl says Cisco's media adapter will make it possible for every device connected to the home to have the exact same user-interface, so there's never any ambiguity about what device you need to view or share different kinds of content." (See Cisco KiSSes Up to Telco TV.)
"The hardest part of all of this is to make it easy," Sohl notes.
Sohl says the Cisco media adapter will be available before the end of 2007. As with other Linksys gear, Cisco will sell it through service providers that want to offer it, in addition to having it available from major consumer electronics retailers.
In the meantime, however, the company is about to debut a new generation of its networked DVD player, called the KiSS DP-1600, in Europe.
"This provides consumers with much more than just the ability to pull files off a PC," Sohl says.
The device will allow users access to walled-garden content in addition to allowing them to view content on their TVs from any networked device in the home. Oh, and the thing plays DVDs, too.
On the back are connections for composite video, S-Video, component video, HDMI, optical audio, and Ethernet. The box also sports two 802.11 b/g wireless antennas. While it's not clear when the device will come to the U.S., Sohl says the DP-1600 will be available in Europe this Spring.
— Phil Harvey, Managing Editor, Light Reading