Hi-Fi meets Wi-Fi with Linksys
How many wireless networks do you have in your home?
The last time I counted - writes Rob Bamforth of Bloor Research - I had six: Wi-Fi/802.11b for the wireless LAN, DECT for the fixed line phone; Bluetooth for the 'little things'; GSM/GPRS for the cell phones; an active Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for a tagging system, and an unknown proprietary system at 433MHz for the car alarm / immobiliser. There's also a microwave oven overlapping with some of the spectrum used by the digital networks - hopefully not radiating outside the box.
That's a lot of wireless chatter, but all for fairly small data rates. Even when using the wireless LAN it's rare to really make use of all the bandwidth. I did once use wireless LAN, broadband and a laptop to listen to internet radio broadcasts, until I realised how expensive that was compared to using a transistor radio.
Wireless fixes the problem of having to place one device within tethered range of another. Your PC and broadband Internet is in the study, but you want laptop access from your sofa. When you use the phone you don't want to be tied to a socket in one room, you want to roam.
But when you use your PC as a media store for your digital camera images and downloaded MP3 audio files, how do you reach your traditional analogue entertainment systems, the TV and the home hi-fi? The PC is in the study and the home entertainment is needed in every other room in the house except the study.
So what about making a wireless connection between TV, home hi-fi system and PC?
This what the Linksys division of Cisco Systems want you to be able to do with its new line of Wireless Home products. The first is a wireless multimedia device called the Wireless-B Media Adapter (WMA11B). Clearly the 'B' is there to either confuse the general public, or to appease the 'mobiliterii' and allow them to show their knowledge of variatious 802.11 wireless standards.
Either way, it's a box that allows your PC to send pictures and sound to your TV without wires.
Now we're talking lots of data and the WMA11B has some serious processing to do. The underlying power is provided by an Intel XScale PXA250 processor. This enables support for the main picture formats, gif, jpeg, tiff, png and windows bitmap, and the power to decode digital music files. The WMA11B connects on one side to standard red white and yellow audio and video jacks or s-video connector, and the other via a wireless connection or standard wired Ethernet cable. A remote control and simple menus displayed on the TV are all it takes to control it - after all this is a consumer device.
What it means is you can simply view your digital camera images on your TV. You can zoom and pan the images while viewing and set up a slideshow. With the audio in place you could also listen to digital music while you view. Easy.
Many have talked of the convergence of the PC with the TV. The truth is they're poles apart. Most often, they're also rooms apart. From a user experience viewpoint it's probably best to keep it that way. Let the PC become the hub or server for digitaly stored media in the home. Keep the home entertainment playback systems simple, and employ technology to allow them to communicate simply with the hub.
This device seems to fit the bill. Now excuse me, I'm just going to adjust the picture showing on my microwave oven.