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Analysis: the future of entertainment PCs

TV, music and movies, coming soon to a PC near you

All the TV, music and movies you want are coming soon to a PC near you – whenever you desire and wherever you are. But the revolution in digital entertainment will not be televised, it will be podcast, streamed, downloaded, shared and available on screens from 2in to 200in.

The clutch of single-function boxes that make up the entertainment centre in your home today will be subsumed into a media centre or set-top box. And that muddle of wires behind the TV will be made obsolete by high-speed wireless technologies. A raft of portable gizmos will allow you to enjoy home entertainment – even if you're not at home!

By the end of 2007, we'll see a variety of multifunction PC-style living-room media centres that play DVDs, rip CDs and let you stream content throughout the home. Apple's iTV is a case in point. Due to launch in the US in mid-2007, it's a small box similar to a Mac mini that allows owners to stream content from any PC to their TV.

Ultimately, such products will connect with every device in the home, including the lighting and heating, your mobile phone, portable media player and even the music player in your car. Motorola has demonstrated a prototype set-top box that can send content to Razr V3x phones. Sling Media is planning a similar device.

Big noise

Surround sound will also get a boost over the next couple of years, but not from speakers. 5.1 or 6.1 systems will remain standard. Smarter audio receivers will use 'psycho-acoustics' to trick your ears into believing sounds are coming from places with no speakers.

The heart of the next-generation living room will be a network that lets you move content easily from one device to another. Today, products such as the Philips Streamium WACS700 (below) and the Sonos Digital Music System (above) stream music over Wi-Fi networks.

Tomorrow's products could be shuttling bandwidth-intensive HD video, surround sound audio and more. How they'll do it remains
to be seen.

Berardino Baratta of Freescale Semiconductor envisions three wireless networks in the home. The first, based on the emerging 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, would bring web content to every room. But your digital video recorder could bypass the Wi-Fi network, transmitting bulky video files to your HDTV using UWB (ultra wideband) connections.

And every device, from your TV to your toaster, would be controlled via a third network based on the ZigBee standard. This is a low-power wireless technology that transmits bits of data over short distances.

Essential to the digital media home of tomorrow will be an easy way of managing the content across disparate devices.

"It's easy enough to move music files from a computer to an iPod or your home stereo, but it's much harder to manage them across mobile phones, memory sticks or other devices," says Accenture's Al Delattre.

Just as Sky+ has brought time-shifting to a grateful nation of couch potatoes, Sling Media introduced 'place shifting' to those tired of being tethered to the sofa. Using a Slingbox, anybody can access their TV feeds from any broadband-connected device, including Pocket PCs. These are the first steps toward a future where we can watch anything, on
any device, at any place or time.

Read more: the future of technology revealed

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