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CES: Incompatibility threatens digital lifestyle

"The good news is there is no shortage of standards; the bad news is there is no shortage of standards"

For the digital lifestyle to become a reality, consumer electronics makers need to overcome one major consumer frustration: incompatible technologies, a panel of experts agreed on Friday.

Many hardware makers at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week are showcasing devices such as entertainment hubs, digital media players, gaming devices, cell phones and digital cameras, as well as a plethora of multipurpose gadgets, but many of those products don't work together.

"The industry has not done a very good job to provide interoperability... I think that will stand in the way of mass adoption," said Frans van Houten, president and CEO of Philips Semiconductors. Van Houten called on the consumer electronics industry to adopt common standards.

Incompatibility often occurs not because of inadequate technology but because vendors can't agree on a common standard. As a result, there is a wide variety of digital camera memory cards, and music bought in a certain online store can only be played on a specific device, for example.

The industry has to deal with the issue of incompatibility, agreed Pat Griffis, vice chairman of the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and director of worldwide media standards at Microsoft Corp. Members of the DLNA include Microsoft, Sony, HP, Philips, Nokia and Samsung Electronics.

"The good news is there is no shortage of standards; the bad news is there is no shortage of standards," Griffis said. The DLNA, established in 2003, is an industry group created to find interoperability between standards. A first set of guidelines has now been issued and the first products are coming soon, Griffis said.

Van Houten and Griffis participated in a panel discussion at CES with five other industry insiders. The discussion was moderated by Tim Bajarin, president of technology consultancy Creative Strategies. "We as an industry have an incredible amount of work to do so consumers will adopt the products," Bajarin said.

Carl Vogel, president and CEO of cable operator Charter Communications, also on the panel, spoke out against cable set-top boxes with proprietary technology.

"All of us in the cable industry have grown up with some legacy issues. I think you will see more and more cable operators look for alliances that make sense for the consumer. As a cable operator, I am not excited about having to buy proprietary boxes and distribute them to consumers," he said.

Microsoft's Griffis pitched the PC and Windows as an open platform for companies to use to build a hub for digital entertainment in the home. However, Philips' Van Houten said Windows may not be good enough to play that role. "Not everybody wants to put Windows in all boxes. Certainly, when we are sitting on the couch and watching TV, we don't want to see that blue screen in front of us."


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