Standards, standards and more standards
Could one of the smaller stands at the IFA show in Berlin turn out to be one of the most important to the digital home? Bob Crabtree thinks that's quite possible after spending time with the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) and talking to a couple of its top people - one a director at Microsoft, the other a vice president of Philips Electronics.
Standards are great. They're what make possible all the many digital gadgets we use at home and away, among them CD, DVD, satellite TV, DAB radio, multi-channel terrestrial TV, DECT phones, mobile phones, portable media players and the latest dedicated still and video cameras.
Importantly, they're also the enablers for multimedia PCs (Windows, Mac OS, Linux), with their ability to handle music (MP3, WMA, AAC and a whole bunch more), images (too many to mention) and video (not quite so long a list but growing longer as high-definition comes to the fore and video on the move becomes more common).
Each PC is fitted with a pixel-crunching GPU or a slot-in graphics card (AGP or PCIe) that conforms to extensions of the VGA standard; offers networking options (wired Ethernet and 802.11 wireless); and carries one or more fast, high-capacity hard disk drives (PATA, SATA or SCSI), together with a CD burner (R/RW) or, more likely, a DVD writer (+/- and RAM, and single-layer or dual).
Standards, of course, are also why we're able to connect to our PCs such a huge variety of external gadgets via networks and by USB, FireWire (IEEE 1394) and Bluetooth.
Well-implemented standards let you run compliant products with the minimum of fuss. Perhaps that's why there are so many them!
But not all standards are created equal, so there is competition between some of them and no absolute guarantee of perfect compatibility between brands even if you stick with a single standard - wireless networking comes to mind, first and foremost.
Worse, having a large number of standards creates compatibility problems or, at best, confusion to all but die-hard techies and gadget freaks. But they're not the people that mass-market digital-home products are ever aimed at, even if they are the willing guinea-pigs for the rest of the buying public and, perversely, the litmus paper by which many new-product launches are judged.
For most folk looking to have easy access to their various digital media files, some simplification has long been needed, with a way of knowing for sure when you buy that the promise of interoperability will genuinely be fulfilled.
Enter, stage left (well, stage left in June 2003), the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)...