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The Next Big Thing in Home AV Technology

Jul 17, 2006 8:00 AM


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AV industry veteran Mike Graves has seen it all in his 24 years in the business―he just hasn’t seen it happen this fast. The president of Audio Video Lifestyles, a custom-electronics firm based in Jacksonville, Fla., says the changes occurring in home electronics today are occurring at a rate that keeps good installers constantly on their toes.

Hence, AVL runs miles of conduit in a typical year. Installers can’t predict what’s coming out in two years, but they’d better be ready to offer consumers the next big thing—or someone else will.

The next big thing just may be the media server, which is reshaping how consumers look at multi-room audio systems. Being able to unleash volumes of music from a hard drive is creating new demand for music throughout the house.

According to ABI Research, the PC media server market alone will grow from $3.7 billion this year to $44.8 billion by 2011 as family PCs become fully functional media servers. Growth in digital entertainment content and the maturing of industry initiatives for media networking will fuel the growth, according to ABI.

The arrival of faster in-home digital networking technologies and the increase in pay-TV and Internet content moving over in-home networks will spur the need for larger capacity and more accessible server products.

ABI sees the server market dividing into four categories: PCs, set-top boxes, networked-attached storage (NAS) hardware, and consumer electronics devices including game consoles and digital video recorders. Advances on the PC side, including the approval of CableCard support in the upcoming Windows Vista operating system, will mean adoption of pay TV going over consumer-installed networks, according to ABI.

“We believe the pay TV media server category will be dominated in the near- to medium-term by the set-top box, while the PC media server and consumer electronics categories will flourish as personal and Internet content media servers,” says analyst Michael Wolf.

The home media server market is already showing signs of segmenting. The Sonos system, which uses wireless meshed networking technology to transmit music room to room, has proved to be a reliable and simple-to-install multi-room system for consumers. The company added a less-expensive, trimmed-down version this year, which enables users to plug a non-amplified Sonos zone player into an existing amplified device with inputs such as a receiver, Bose or Tivoli Audio radio, or powered loudspeakers. A Sonos two-zone starter pack runs $1,000 and is expandable zone by zone.

Philips Electronics has expanded its Streamium line of products for 2006 at the top and entry levels. Philip's SLA5520/05 $99 wireless music adapter comes with a receiver that connects to a PC and shoots music from a hard drive to any adapter on the network. The Windows PlaysForSure adapters plug into powered speakers, music systems or headphone systems. Philips also has a $500 integrated server product with an 80-GB hard drive that connects to music systems as an auxiliary source and can stream music to four additional music stations elsewhere in the home.

With mainstream products now coming out with hard disk capacities that rival or exceed early custom hard disk sizes, high-end multimedia companies have to turn it up a notch to maintain a sizeable distance between their upscale offerings and more broadly based gear. Request has thrown down the gauntlet with the S4.2500, a four-source/four-zone music server packing a 1.5TB hard disk. The vault stores 2,500 CDs in the uncompressed WAV format, making it a viable audiophile solution for the custom market. The company’s NetSync software automatically offers back up and multi-location synchronization, and users have remote access via the Web to their libraries from any location with an Internet connection.



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