Home networking is a simple moniker that can mean far too many things. Today, consumers need an entertainment network that links the digital-media devices in the home and that works with legacy IP-centric home networks.
Home networking is a simple moniker that can mean far too many things. Consumers have long been comfortable with sharing an Internet connection in the home and resources such as files and printers. But consumer these days also expect to connect media devices to what was once a computer-centric network. Today, consumers need an entertainment network that links the digital-media devices in the home and that works with legacy IP-centric home networks.
The convergence of computing and digital-consumer technologies is a decade or more in the making. As devices such as still cameras, music players, and video camcorders went digital, consumers needed to link those devices to a PC to enable basic functionality. For example, digital camcorders integrated the IEEE 1394 interface or FireWire that allowed consumers to offload video to a PC for editing and storage on media such as a CD or DVD.
Fast forward a decade, however, and the move to digital is complete with even the TV set relying primarily on a compressed digital video stream. Devices such as DVRs, set-top boxes, and DVD players all are digital in nature. Today, consumers need a way to connect all of the digital entertainment devices in the home as opposed to selectively connecting a single product to a PC or IP-based home network. Moreover, the trend to high-definition video has greatly increased the amount of bandwidth required to move the rich media streams. Consumers want a cohesive network with the performance characteristics to connect all of the devices in the home and allow programming from any source in the house to play on any device in the house -- the entertainment network.
Let's start by defining the baseline requirements for an entertainment network. First, moving entertainment content around the home requires a robust networking technology with end-to-end Quality of Service (QoS), ensuring that a movie or program will play without interruption. It must also be easy to use " plug in your new networked DVR and it works every time, all the time, without requiring a degree in IT to download new drivers, 'configure' the network or enter a long string of security codes.
Next, the entertainment network must be secure. Content owners such as movie studios will not allow the movie to be placed onto a home network unless the network has inherent security that protects the content form illegal duplication or presentation. As we have seen time and again, software-based security is typically hacked within days or weeks of its release. To be truly secure, the security function needs to be integrated in hardware.
Of course, an entertainment network has to be affordable. It can't cost more than the devices consumers want to connect. Ethernet and Wi-Fi, the primary networks in homes today, are inexpensive. But Wi-Fi doesn't provide the throughput necessary to carry multiple HD movies to the far reaches of the home or support the QoS needed to do it reliably. Were homes totally wired for Gigabit Ethernet, perhaps that network could serve in the entertainment role. But realistically most consumers need a network that can use existing wiring in the home or work wirelessly. With no wireless alternative in evidence that can serve multiple video streams throughout the home, design engineers need to find a no-new-wires wired alternative to Wi-Fi or Gigabit Ethernet.
Various trade groups in the industry have proposed using existing phone lines, power lines, and coax cabling (TV cable) for the primary entertainment network. In each case, the proponents believe that the multimedia traffic can be routed over the existing wiring or cabling without disturbing the legacy use of the wiring plant.
The coax cabling found in most all homes offers the greatest potential bandwidth of the various no-new-wires candidates. That fact led the 1394TA (Trade Association) to investigate the possibilities of using that same coax cable as a whole-house entertainment network. The 1394TA has just completed a new standard, "Networking IEEE 1394 Clusters via UWB over Coaxial Cable", that meets all of the above requirements. The specification defines a bridge from FireWire (IEEE 1394) to the coax cable wiring that exists in many homes in North America and elsewhere. FireWire has long been recognized as the best network for entertainment and in particular video entertainment. It was designed from the beginning to stream video with guaranteed QoS. FireWire is plenty fast for the task and includes a security layer that's already been endorsed by content owners.