Networking
When Will Standards Mean Something?
There's a disconnect between networking standards and actual consumer benefits, and it's making Toni Kistner cranky.
home networking
April 12, 2007 by Toni Kistner

My investigation into DLNA made me remember why I never actually buy anything.

I’m still not sure what the specific benefit to buying DLNA-certified products is—beyond the notion that they’ll “work better together”—but vendor support remains a good signpost. 

Buffalo Technology, headquartered in Japan, is certifying a range of products and is joining a bunch of similar technology organizations. But its peers are less enthusiastic. Most say they “support” the consortium, and two offer up one certified product each as proof (Linksys: KiSS 1600, sold in Europe; Netgear: EVA 8000). Many also indicate that plans are in the works to increase their DLNA involvement in the coming year. 

But off the record, several product managers I talked to expressed frustration and downright crankiness as they questioned DLNA’s relevance. They want to know:

  • How will DLNA certification impact the consumer?
  • Where are guidelines for producing a DLNA remote control to manage your DLNA devices? Or, for writing a common DLNA user interface?

Another good signpost is the willingness of the consortium to address such questions, like, in a real-time phone interview. The folks at DLNA are always traveling, apparently, and therefore unable to schedule phone calls (and chew gum?)

Still, they sent me this handy marketing FAQ. Sure, go ahead, click on it. Life’s eternal.

Feeling cranky myself, I then turned to Kurt Scherf, an analyst at Parks Associates, a research firm that focuses on home networking and digital entertainment.

Not surprisingly, Scherf hasn’t given DLNA much thought the last couple of years. But since he sees technologies and initiatives in terms of losing and gaining momentum (or sometimes “steam”), he questions whether DLNA has “run into a roadblock” trying to get members to agree on a digital rights management standard to add to the DLNA guidelines. 

More telling, though, is Scherf’s simple observation that home networking vendors are too distracted building products and supporting other initiatives. 

This jibes with what Netgear product manager Mike Spilo says: “TV makers are using DLNA certification as a way to differentiate their products. We have lots of other ways to do that.”

Some of these other distracting initiatives are worth digging into, namely OCAP, the Open Cable Application Platform, which is establishing “a common software platform that enables cable companies, network programmers, consumer electronics companies and others to extend interactivity to television and many other devices.”

“With OCAP coming,” Scherf says, “the set-top box vendors have new opportunity to use some new and innovative software solutions to greatly enhance the functionality of the boxes; tie into Web video and user-generated content services. I wonder whether potential DLNA users might be saying ‘it’s not worth it.’”

So, for now, a last word on DLNA, inspired in part by a cranky product manager: All things being equal, sure, buy a DLNA product. Just don’t pay extra.

Unless you’re loving these standards explorations, I’ll spend the next few weeks talking about cool products.

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Toni Kistner - Contributing Writer
Toni Kistner is a technology writer living in Cambridge, Mass. Her main focus is networking and wireless technology.

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