The Broadband Home – More than just a Network
By Jim Bray
We’ve been talking about “convergence” for years
now, the coming together of video, audio and computer technology
that continues to revolutionize our homes and our lives.
At one time, convergence only referred to audio and video, such
as Hi-Fi VCR’s that could be patched into your stereo system,
but the sky’s the limit now. The Internet and even games and
cell phones are joining the big happy family of devices that link,
inform and entertain us.
The biggest advances have resulted from computerization and networking.
The old fashioned CD player married computer technology with music
playback, and since then computers have appeared in cars, kitchen
appliances, telephones and just about anywhere else the word “technology”
can be applied.
The next step was to get all this stuff to interact, to talk to
each other. That’s where networking came in. Networking was
once exclusively a business thing, but it home networks are now
Soon – and this is already happening to a certain extent
– computers will be talking to televisions and DVD players
and more, on a regular basis. Heck, some refrigerators can already
interact with the Internet via a flat screen monitor on the door
which, if nothing else, gives people something to look at while
they’re trying to decide what to have for that midnight snack.
I’m not sure I’d want to have my refrigerator hollering
to Safeway that I need another quart of milk, but I wouldn’t
mind being able to punch some choices into that screen and have
my order tallied and ready for me at my favorite grocery store when
I get there. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind if they’d deliver
Why would you care about all of this? Right now, most people who
have networked their homes are sharing files and peripherals such
as printers, and surfing the Internet from different locations in
the home. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, and you should
be looking toward the future, thinking about ways to exploit your
network. There are joys to integration – such “far out”
concepts as storing your music and/or videos on a server so you
can not only use them throughout your home’s computers, but
also so you can integrate what were once strictly standalone devices
such as home theater systems.
Imagine plugging your portable music devices (such as an iPod or
MP3 player) into the network – not only to upload/download
music files, but to play their tunes over the network – right
from the portable device. Because as good as PC speakers or ear
bud headphones can be, most of them can’t hold a candle to
a good set of home entertainment speakers. Therefore, it makes sense
to plug your Pods into the home network and stream the music to
the best audio system in the house.
With a music server you can store all your music digitally on the
network, ripping your CD’s for permanent archiving and use.
Not only does this offer easier access to your library, it also
lets you add extra content such as notes, ratings, biographies of
the musicians, etc. It can be a lot of work, but it can be a lot
of fun, too.
Home theater equipment is already starting to network. I reviewed
a nifty Onkyo system a while back that plugged
right into the home network and let you stream audio – including
the feeds from Internet-based radio stations. It worked well, but
the Internet part was limited because of a lack of good Internet
radio stations. I’m confident, however, that coming generations
will include Browser interfaces so you can play any online source
such as the audio stream from your favorite radio stations.
I already do this, though not with a networked Hi-Fi component.
My notebook PC interacts with my wireless network, and when I want
to stream something to my massive audio system I hook in something
called a Stereo Link, which is basically an external sound card
that takes the USB output from my computer and sends it to my preamp
via conventional stereo RCA jacks. And if you want to get rid of
the wires, you can interface a computer directly to a stereo with
And don’t forget about the potential for purchasing music
and movies online, a feature that could change the way we get our
entertainment the same way the Internet is changing how we get our
information. Apple’s iTunes is a good example of this species.
With a few mouse clicks (and a valid credit card!), you can download
your favorite artists and, thanks to the home network, spread them
through the house – and even, via the Internet, to your friends
and family the same way people now send pictures and jokes via e-mail.
Add all this stuff together and you get what some call the “Broadband
Home,” a magical place where people have all their information
and entertainment needs served, no pun intended, wherever and whenever
And it all begins with today’s basic network that distributes
digital information through the house. If that isn’t a good
excuse for you to start your network, I don’t know what is.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think