iTV – Apple’s play on Home Multimedia Convergence

When Apple first presented it’s iTV device in September everybody concluded that it ‘s Apple ‘s take on digital set-top boxes or PVR’s or it’s some sort of wireless TV extender. It’s obvious – with a name of iTV it has to have something to do with television.

But there’s one Apple patent filing called “Networked media station” which shows that iTV is much more then that. It’s a wireless router, media hub, a network bridge and more. It may be THE device that will finally make the elusive media convergence in your home the real thing.

Apple iTV station

While Steve Jobs characteristically played up the iTV side of “Networked media station” to wet media’s appetite he neglected to mention other cool features that this device will have or what they wanted to achieve with this device:

“…many consumers use their personal computer as primary vehicle for obtaining, storing and accessing multimedia information. One drawback of such system is that although the quality of multimedia playback systems for computers, e.g. displays, speakers, etc. have improved dramatically , these systems still lag behind typical entertainment devices, e.g., stereos, televisions, projection systems, etc. in terms of performance, fidelity, and usability for the typical consumer…
…thus it would be beneficial to provide mechanism …to obtain, store, and access multimedia content using personal computer, while also being able to listen, view or otherwise access this content using conventional entertainment devices, such as stereo equipment, televisions,, home theater systems, etc… it will also be advantageous to integrate such mechanism with home networking to provide an integrated electronic environment for the consumer…
…in addition there’s need … in allowing disparate devices in home or workplace to recognize each other and exchange data, perhaps under control of some central hub… by which various home networking components from differing vendors can interact in a home networking environment. ..”

In order to achieve these functions iTV will integrate several interfaces and feature sets into an integrated platform, including wireless network interface, a peripheral interface, and a multimedia interface.

Apple iTV station wireless

The wireless network interface, e.g., 802.11b/g, allows the multimedia station to communicate wirelessly with other devices and to serve as a wireless base station or as a repeater for existing network. Wireless interface in conjunction with wired network interface, e.g. Ethernet, will allow it to serve as a bridge between wired and wireless network. It will also be equipped with switching and routing logic.

Apple iTV station peripherals

The peripheral interface, e;g., a USB interface, may be used to allow the networked media station to communicate with a variety of peripherals. In conjunction with network interface, this allows sharing of a single peripheral among multiple networked computers. These peripherals can include any device connectible via USB port – printers, cameras, iPods, storage devices, scanners, handhelds, etc. Peripherals requiring bi-directional communication can also be shared.

And, of course there’s a main function – Multimedia sharing. Networked media station will be able to receive multimedia information from a computer over a network connection and output this media information to an entertainment device – your home stereo or cinema system, projection TV or any other device. With Apple software it will be possible to access this device from the computer running e.g. iTunes and designate the output device from it. So the latest “Lost” episode will be played on your plasma, all your mp3 tracks and podcasts get sent to a home stereo system while system sounds (e.g. beeps, alerts, etc.) continue to be played back on your iMAC speakers.

Additional services may be designed to specify a variety of parameters relating to one or more multimedia input and output devices attached to media station. Devices that might have particular applicability in a home network environment include speakers, video display terminals, cameras, microphones, etc. For example a variety of of input devices interfaced into one or more media stations could provide basis for home security system (using cameras, motion detectors, microphones, etc.).

Easy automatic discovery features built-in the media station lets easily create and configure home networks to serve all user multimedia needs. For example, a user with large library of iTunes audio and video files in one room can create wireless multimedia home network by dropping a few stations around the house. A station by the stereo in the living room now can play music, while a station by the TV in the bedroom allows watching video’s stored on a PC. And since media station is capable of two way communication, it can easily be operated with a remote from anywhere.

So as you can see an iTV is about much more then a TV . It can be your wireless router, repeater, network bridge; it will allow you to share share printers, scanners, storage, iPod video and music collections and other peripherals; it can act as your home security system and it will also let you play any music, video or other media files anywhere in your home. While right now, at $299 iTVs may be rather expensive gadgets to have a lot of them scattered throughout your house, in a few years, thank’s to Moore’s law, you may actually have one sitting next to any media playback device.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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