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The Battle for Your Digital Living Room

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For a number of years, we in the technology community have been talking about the battle for the living room and which devices and service providers will rule the roost and provide the best platform for content delivery. How times have changed. We've come a long way since Dad brought home that big bulky tube TV console, plugged it in, raised the rabbit ears and ordered the kids to get up off the couch and switch the channel.

Now, in this so-called battle for the living room, providers of electronic devices, entertainment delivery services and content are competing fiercely for consumer loyalty. At the same time, consumers are trying to come to grips with the range of choices and technologies that have made the digital home much more complicated than a few decades ago, when the TV was often the only appliance in the living room.

Let's review the players in this scrum. There's the dean of living room appliances, the TV - easy to use and always reliable, but going through some radical mid-life transformations of late with Internet connectivity and interactive capabilities. Close by is the set-top box, which increasingly over time became the brains behind the TV. The PC, delivering Internet content, multimedia and e-mail, is now part of the living room landscape, as are the game console, the laptop, and newer digital players like Internet movie and entertainment boxes, netbooks, and tablets.

Add in cell and smart feature phones, which have become appendages practically grafted into the hands of an uber communications-savvy generation, the kids and young adults who are helping to shape and define not just the battle for the living room, but for the entire digital home, and, well, everywhere. As they get older, settle down and nest, their impact on the future of the digital home will become even more significant.

While the device makers battle it out, so do the service and delivery platform providers, from the cable guys to the telephone companies to the satellite firms to the makers of Internet access equipment for web-based content, which increasingly is finding its way directly into the living room via devices such as Internet-enabled high definition TVs and Blu-ray players. Additionally, there are a number of interesting ways to connect all of these devices for seamless wired and wireless delivery of content in any room. Consumers are familiar with Wi-Fi for wireless connectivity throughout the house. In time, they will no doubt become more familiar with names like MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance), an industry group that supports home networks using existing coaxial cable already installed in most homes, and terms like Ethernet, a connectivity standard found in many businesses and increasingly in the home to tie together PCs, Blu-ray Disc players, routers and other devices.

Another standard developed by a group called the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), formed in 2003, helps resolve compatibility issues among electronics gear, an enormously important contribution to the digital home as consumers seek seamless and effortless sharing of content across myriad devices. While the digital backbone and entertainment network in the connected home serve a critical role in enabling the reliable transport of high bandwidth content such as HD and 3D video to and among TVs, set top boxes, DVRs, computers, smartphones and other multimedia devices, they add a whole additional level of technological complexity to the mosaic of home devices, delivery systems, and service and content providers.

And it seems like every day, companies are introducing new products and services. Just last month we saw more evidence of traditional consumer electronics devices evolving into content distribution platforms when it was announced that one of the most popular video game consoles will stream live Major League Baseball games via the Internet directly to the television.

So, who's winning the competition for consumers' hearts, minds, eyeballs and dollars? Well, the battle continues, as myriad providers strive to emerge as winners, and consumers try to keep up, mixing and matching from a sometimes dizzying array of choices and technologies. Consider these items from recent news reports and a recent conference:

* Americans now have about 25 consumer electronic products in every household, compared with just three in 1980.
* The number of Internet-connected consumer electronic devices will number 10 billion globally within the next five to eight years, according to panelists on a session called "The Smartphone Economy" at a March media conference.
* Americans are spending significantly more on their monthly telecommunications bills than they were 10-15 years ago, paying for services like cable TV, advanced telephone services, the Internet and video games -- household costs they no longer consider discretionary but necessary in our increasingly connected society, according to a New York Times article. The story quoted Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, who noted that Americans are transforming their homes into entertainment hubs. As a result of that and the need to be connected with the rest of the world, he notes: "Our homes are bristling with technology."

A couple of central themes emerge that resonate for those of us in the technology world:

First, consumers will decide on the winners in the battle for the digital home, as they sort through and become comfortable with the ever increasing number of choices for connectivity, communications and entertainment. As they make their preferences known through their purchasing power, they will obviously become the beneficiaries of all this wonderful technology and connectivity, and will be able to harness it far beyond entertainment delivery and social interactions. Think health care assistance, education, green living and numerous other life-enhancing benefits. And in a nice example of synchronicity, it is the technology and connectivity that is allowing unprecedented levels of tracking and analysis of consumer trends and preferences, allowing the device, service and content providers unprecedented opportunity to dissect and respond to consumer desires.

Second, as consumers sort through the often-perplexing choices now before them, we in the technology community must remember that true innovation is a combination of technology advancement and user utility. Spectacular technology is of limited value if it can't be harnessed practically, which comes down to ease of use. As the digital living room and home become increasingly complex, we want consumers to enjoy the benefits and avoid the hassles, which means that we ultimately want the enabling technology to recede into the background. Just as earlier innovations turned once-technological marvels into easy-to-use and common everyday experiences, today's battle for the living room must evolve into a win for consumers, allowing them to communicate, connect, share, network, entertain, educate, and live better -- with the ease of flicking on a light switch, picking up the phone and calling a friend, or turning on Dad's old tube TV.

Scott McGregor is President and CEO of Broadcom Corporation, which provides communications and connectivity semiconductor chips that enable the many devices in the battle for the digital living room.