The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is an amazing display of the world’s breadth and depth of technological wonders, but one of the greatest challenges is finding the small percentage of products that will truly have a near-term impact on our lives.
Below you’ll find a collection of recently announced products that, from my network and Internet-connected product perspective, have a great chance of finding their way into our homes in the months and years ahead.
Windows Home Server
Microsoft is increasingly serious about the residential hardware and software market. Bill Gates announced in his keynote that the company will be introducing a home server software package later this year that will run HP’s MediaSmart Server. Windows Home Server will automatically backup multiple home PCs and allow remote access to files and applications via a DDNS (dynamic DNS service) that HP will provide. This means that you will easily and securely be able to access your home’s files through an Internet-connected device anywhere in the world. In addition, the Windows Media Connect feature will allow the home server to stream TV shows, movies, photos, and music to PCs and XBOX 360s on the home network (not remotely, however, at this time).
These software moves by Microsoft are taking us in the direction of the client/sever model found in the enterprise world—a direct result of the ever-increasing amount of data (photos, music, files, etc.) that we need to easily locate and retrieve from multiple computer locations throughout the home. Having multiple PCs, all with their own local data, makes it difficult to know where this data resides when you want to access it from multiple PCs or mobile devices from within or from outside the home. Having all the data reside on a central server makes a lot of sense—and having automatic backups of each hard drive in the home to a central server makes even more sense. Admittedly, network-attached storage file servers, coupled with back-up and remote access software can do much of what this new home server will do—but now we have one software package that does the work of all three of these operations much more seamlessly. Adding multimedia streaming enhances Microsoft’s Home Server offering to an even greater extent.
Microsoft Sideshow is a new feature in Vista that uses gadgets, or add-in programs, to extend information from a computer running the Vista operating system to small screen devices. These small screen devices can show information from your Vista computer whether or not the computer is actually on or off. Imagine picking up your A/V remote control and reading the TV’s electronic program guide without affecting the operation of the Vista Media Center computer that you may be watching. With a Sideshow-enabled remote control, you can find out what programs will be showing next or program a future recording without turning on the Media Center. You can even browse through and play your music collection without having to turn on and interface with the Media Center screen. Six remote control manufactures have announced support for Windows Sideshow this year and I expect to see many more universal remote products incorporating this very useful software tool by the end of the year. (See Sideshow products at our sister site, CE Pro.com.)
Russound Smart Media Console
Russound, a company known for its reliable and robust whole-house audio products, will be shipping a media console product with Vista by the middle of 2007. Russound partnered with Exceptional Innovations—makers of the Lifeware software product—to integrate the Vista Media Center interface with Russound whole-house equipment. You can now use the Russound in-wall Uno keypads to control music in a given room or you can use the Vista on-screen Media Center interface. Couple this with the Sideshow universal remote control interfaces (see above) and you have a full range of options for controlling whole-house music: in-wall keypads, onscreen graphical interface control, and universal remote control. This level of whole-house music control will represent one of the most flexible and comprehensive levels of audio control ever offered in the home.
Other Notable Products from CES 2007
Beyond home networking, another product that caught my eye at CES was Vantage’s Evo line of on-wall mounting products. With a modular system that attaches to the face of a wall, you can now easily and elegantly add a plasma screen and surround sound system to almost any room. These installations typically require a lot of on-site drilling and cutting to install plasma mounts, but the Evo AV wall lets you install each of these items on any empty wall with only the need for an electrical outlet and a cable or satellite video port. Now you can install a complete, pre-assembled custom integrated home theater experience in just a few hours!
A product from Israel-based Walletex also intrigued me. Walletex leveraged its smart credit card technology to develop the world’s first 2GB USB card with the profile of a credit card. I know that USB thumb drives have been available for sometime but it was never something I intuitively took with me. I always have my wallet and now it has just one more “credit card,” only this one contains 2GBs of data, music, and photos! These cards sell for about $80 and can be found at www.walletex.com.
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