TOKYO — As I ponder, weak and weary, the jargon of the consumer electronics industry, the term “interoperability” leaps out as perhaps the most overblown and over-promised term, not to mention under-delivered.
Jordan Selburn, senior principal analyst at IHS consumer electronics, recently asked me a question that reinforces my point. When’s the last time, he asked, anyone actually witnessed “a completely non-tech savvy person walking into a room and sending a video to a friend’s TV without configuring a device or the network?”
I wouldn’t say “never.” But it’s a phenomenon that’s hard to come by.
On the other hand, this is a sweeping indictment that isn’t exactly fair to the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA).
DLNA is a technology standards organization, founded in 2003, to build industry consensus to advance the interoperability of products in consumers’ connected homes. DLNA members include more than 250 companies – Samsung, Sony, Intel, Microsoft and a number of Chinese vendors – but not Apple.
If you’ve never heard of DLNA, there are three likely reasons.
One, you’re too young to remember anything that happened more than a decade ago. Two, DLNA has done a lot of heavy lifting within the industry, but so quietly that vendors, the press and consumers haven’t noticed the remarkable efforts of the 10- year-old organization.
Three, in my opinion, Apple has stolen DLNA’s thunder.
In contrast to DLNA, whose mission is to make every product of every brand discoverable and interoperable, all Apple has to do is show consumers how its (proprietary) AirPlay wirelessly streams the content on a (proprietary) iOS device (iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc.) to HDTV and speakers via (proprietary) Apple TV.
In essence, Apple has delivered “such an [interoperable] experience, or at least the belief in such, in their user base,” said Selburn. Of course, what Apple delivers is a closed system. “But it seems closer to the ‘it just happens, and it just works’ paradigm despite DLNA’s clear and impressive progress,” said Selburn.
DLNA: untold story
For those who’ve followed DLNA since its inception at Sony, DLNA is a big industry success story, but largely untold and uncelebrated.
Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering Group, described DLNA as “one of the industry’s finest success stories as far as seamless device discovery and resource sharing goes.”
The concept of DLNA is pretty straightforward. There are two types of DLNA devices – a DLNA client where the content is viewed or listened to, and a DLNA server that sends the content.
DLNA’s goal is for all devices of different brands to communicate wired or wirelessly, and share content seamlessly.
Without DLNA’s decade of spadework, it wouldn’t have been possible for Marvell, for example, to show at the International CES last month, “seamless ‘flicking’ of HD video content from mobile phone and tablet to TVs,” said Doherty.
It’s premature, however, to assume that the C.E. industry has already reached its interoperability nirvana. That’s still pretty far away -- for several reasons.
Key challenges DLNA has been wrestling with include: constantly improving formats, codecs and containers for media; Digital Rights Management imposed by content owners; and big CE brands trying to create their own “guarantee” of interoperability among their own branded devices built on DLNA variations.
Further, in coming years, if the industry is to extend DLNA's reach -- and brand awareness -- to the Internet of Things, an even bigger challenge will rear up. Doherty said DLNA would have to extend “what started as a wired and wireless DLNA discovery to non-real time cloud services, security and authentication.”
In a recent phone interview with EE Times, Nidhish Parikh, chairman and president of DLNA, acknowledged that keeping up with the new formats is “a never-ending task,” for his organization.
While DLNA continues to address new codecs and new formats, the group is also looking at a new “transcoding” scheme. Transcoding would ease and “shorten” the time for a DLNA client to recognize and play back a particular format. Calling the transcoding project “a work in progress,” Parikh declined to elaborate.
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