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Cisco spruces media hub, declares consumer love

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Cisco on Tuesday quietly updated its Linksys by Cisco line of networked home entertainment products and loudly trumpeted its expansion into consumer electronics products.

The Linksys by Cisco Media Hub - which we reviewed shortly after its introduction that this year's Consumer electronics show - will now ship with Mac installation and set-up software along with the Windows software available for earlier models.

A new Media Hub model, the NMH300 ($199.99), is now available without pre-installed hard drives. Two empty SATA drive bays in the NMH300 can now be filled by any compatible drive you happen to have lying around your digital home or by drives that VARs may choose, as Cisco puts it, to "build custom solutions for their customers."

In addition, Media Hub owners will receive a firmware update later this week that Cisco claims will improve playback, navigation, remote access, system performance, and file management.

The company's Wireless Home Audio line will also receive a firmware update that Cisco says will improve performance, interoperability with non-Linksys by Cisco routers, and media navigation. Also added will be support for the FLAC audio format.

The company also reported that the touch-screen-controlled Conductor Wireless-N Digital Music Center that it had announced back in January is now on sale for $699.99.

Cisco also hosted a webcast for analysts and reporters to discuss its ongoing consumer strategy - or, as Ned Hooper, SVP of corporate development and consumer put it, how the company is "moving from pure infrastructure...to experiences."

And by "experiences," Hooper means audio and video.

The buzzterms du jour were Connected Home, Media Enabled Home, and Visual Networking. According to Hooper, we're currently moving from the Connected Home phase - where he said Cisco's Linsys line has a market share of over 50 per cent in the US - into the Media Enabled Home phase.

The audio portion of the Media Enabled Home is the low-hanging fruit. Video is the real challenge, explained Guido Jouret, VP and CTO of Cisco's Emerging Technologies Group. According to Jouret, video is soon to become the "dominent data type" on the internet. "In three years time," he said, "our carriers estimate that about 90 per cent of the traffic flowing through their infrastructure will be video."

The challenges of integrating all that video into a home "experience", says Jouret, are "compounded by the fact that we're rapidly moving not just to a three-display world of the mobile, the PC, and the television set, but truly an 'n-display' world [with] a variety of aspect ratios, resolutions, and formats. There's MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264 D-1 - the wide variety of codecs used for video makes it very difficult to deliver video experiences and makes it especially difficult to find and to share video, because video is a very large and very opaque data type."

And there's soon going to be a lot of that large and opaque data coursing through the intertubes. Hooper pointed to a Cisco study estimating that two-thirds of a zettabyte of data will cross the global network in 2013. A zettabyte, for those not used to such ginormous quantities, is over one sextillion bytes (think mega-, giga-, tera-, peta-, exa-, then zettabyte).

And Cisco is bound and determined to ensure that its equipment will be on the front lines of handling that zettabyte not only in carrier infrastructure, but also as chunks of it enter your Media Enabled Home to give birth to the final buzzterm, Visual Networking.

In the Visual Networking phase, ubiquitous video will enable home-based telepresence, enhanced social networking, online community-building among affinity groups, and content-centric fan sites enabled by Cisco's media and entertainment Eos Platform.

Finally, when asked how Cisco plans to make the shift from a networking company to a consumer company, Hooper was quick to point out that "It's not a shift - it's an 'and'." Translation: "If there's a byte of data moving over a wire, we want it moving through Cisco products."

There's a zettabyte of cash to be made in the video-enabled future, and Cisco is busily positioning itself to soak up its share. ®

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