I've secretly been in the employ of Intel and Microsoft for the past three years. My mission is to proselytize the digital home, and I've been working like a bugger to get my friends on board.
I've told them about how great it is to have hundreds of CDs on your hard drive hundreds of photos, too, and all the episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise and Smallville. I've explained that it's possible to zip music files from my PC to my stereo, depending on the environmental conditions in my house that day and the orientation of my wireless adapter. My girlfriend had to go and blab that sometimes I can't get my songs to play through the adapter, because of wrong codecs or because the wireless signal fades in and out. But I told her that's OK, because I'm going to buy some more wireless access points. My fallback is a $3 line out to an RCA patch cord for my MP3 player, so I can connect it directly to my stereo. (My girlfriend quips that I should sell the $250 media adapter on eBay; maybe I could get $25 for it.)
I also demonstrated video streaming over wireless. It stalled out a few times, but my friends didn't complain much, perhaps because it prolonged the fun of the viewing experience.
I told them about those great media center PCs, too. Why do most of them cost $1,500 or more, my friends wondered, when Wal-Mart is dumping off systems for $300? I explained that the media centers run Linux, not Microsoft. Plus the Wal-Mart PCs don't come with a remote, and you can't watch TV on them. But I'm not sure they got it. They said they use a TV to watch TV.
I'm worried Intel and Microsoft might fire me, since I'm not turning out to be much of an evangelist. After spending many hours trying to sell my friends on how cool the digital home is and it is cool; just check out the Intel Web site I realize now that they only heard the bits about my frittering away hours managing content, patiently waiting for downloads on my skimpy broadband connection, cursing the security setup on my wireless network and reorganizing my living room to make it more friendly for my wireless gear.
No matter. I've come to accept that I'm a member of the tech elite.
Last year, Parks Associates found that the number of consumers with broadband access, a home network and operating digital-home applications remained relatively small, at less than 2 percent of households in the United States and western Europe. So I feel duty-bound to keep tinkering with my digital home, because I'm in love with the idea, if a little frustrated by the reality.
I believe things will change for the better during the next few years. In 2004, there were 34 million households worldwide with a home network, according to InStat/MDR. The forecast calls for a threefold increase in the worldwide home-network installed base from 2004 to 2008.
At the same time, broadband connectivity will continue to rise, particularly in developing markets, so that by 2009 the total number of global subscribers will reach 349 million, up from 141 million in 2004, according to iSuppli Corp. Factor in the headway being made by the Digital Living Network Alliance, which will start a certification program for device interoperability in September, and you have fertile ground for the digital home.
For now, though, it seems years before mainstream users will cultivate the seeds of the DLNA effort. Until then, the alliance can count on me to be steadfast.
One day, I'll fondly look back on the technical challenges: the crash and burn of the software controlling my "instant on" FM radio, the audio interference from my optical drive, the occasional Blue Screen of Death. I'll recall how I saw such events as challenges to my tech machismo a reason to jack up the PC on cinder blocks in the yard and spend a Saturday afternoon checking out the chassis.
The digital home is still under construction, so I encourage my friends to imagine what it will one day be. But they aren't a patient lot. They want the digital home to run as smoothly as their prosaic, non-networked homes, where the cable set-top or the TiVo box always works, and always works the same way, unless the power goes out.
Where's the fun in that?
-Mike Clendenin (email@example.com), Taipei, Taiwan, bureau chief