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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 July 2006, 08:12 GMT 09:12 UK
Digital home 'still 10 years off'
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website

NTL Telewest
NTL Telewest's imagined home of 2020
The vision of a digital home in which music and video is streamed between devices is still 10 years away, says a leading music technology businessman.

John MacFarlane, chief executive of Sonos, said neither consumers nor the technology itself were ready.

Sonos makes wireless (wi-fi) music streaming systems, aimed at customers who want to listen to their digital music around the house.

Apple and Microsoft are among many firms betting on the digital home.

Apple manufactures a device, called the Airport Express, which plugs into a hi-fi system and lets users broadcast or "stream" their music from a PC or Mac via a wireless network.

I am a big believer that in six to eight years you will see lots of these devices on store shelves. It's going to be a large market
John McFarlane, Sonos

Similarly PC and Mac users can stream music to an Xbox 360 and to a number of other products from companies such as Philips, Slim Devices, Roku and Belkin.

"The digital home has been talked about for a long time but it's only just starting to happen," said Mr MacFarlane.

"There needs to be enough digital content and the understanding of the technology before the work can get started.

MP3 players

"It's not the mainstream that will know about this yet."

Millions of people now have MP3 players and music tracks downloaded onto computers.

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Many technology firms believe customers will want to listen to their music on a home hi-fi and around the house.

As television download services are growing in popularity in the US, observers predict that people will also want to watch video on any TV in the house.

"It will happen in the next 10 to 20 years not in the next two," said Mr MacFarlane.

"Video takes up too much bandwidth to be delivered over current wireless networks.

"The next wi-fi standard is not ready for the mass market yet."

He added: "TV works. Streaming video does not work successfully right now."

Stream video

Owners of an Xbox 360 and a PC running Windows Media Center edition can stream video from the PC to the games console and Mr MacFarlane predicted that Apple would be launching a video streaming product in the near future.

But there are many obstacles to overcome before it became "mass market", he warned.

Sonos and Front Row

One of the biggest is the need for a home network to take advantage of music or video streaming.

About one in six homes have a home network in North America, according to a recent report from Forrester Research.

The report's author, Charles S. Golvin, said: "Most networks simply enable basic PC activities like broadband, file and printer sharing.

"The shift to the entertainment-centric network remains well into the future."

According to Forrester, only one in five people who have a home network actually use it to listen to music.

And of people who do not have a home network, one in six said it was because they did not understand what one was.

A recent report commissioned by cable firm NTL Telewest predicted that wireless networks would be in the majority of homes by 2010.

Mr Golvin said manufacturers needed to explain the benefits of home networks to customers and retailers needed to give more space on shelves to networking devices.

Mr MacFarlane said: "I am a big believer that in six to eight years you will see lots of these devices on store shelves. It's going to be a large market."

Intel PCs target the digital home
24 Aug 05 |  Technology
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25 Jun 04 |  Entertainment

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