The rivalry between the PC and TV for supremacy in the home heated up recently as three prominent technology executives offered different versions of the home of the future at two different trade shows.
The controversy, which surfaced on Jan. 7, may have lasting implications for the home networking market.
According to an article in the New York Times, Steve Perlman, a former Apple Computer hardware designer and co-founder of WebTV, introduced a digital television set-top box on the opening day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The digital TV is a part of an alliance with EchoStar Communications, the satellite broadcaster.
This comes as Apple Computer's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates are focusing more and more on peripheral devices built around home computer hubs.
Gates unveiled Microsoft's Mira, a new handheld tablet device that serves as an MP3 player, handheld computer, and portable video game system. The device is meant to serve the needs of the entire family and allow the functions of a computer to be accessible anywhere in the home, via a wireless network.
Meanwhile, Jobs, the co-founder and chairman of Apple, unveiled his company's new iMac at Apple's Macworld exhibition in San Francisco. The new radically designed iMac replaces the usual tube-tied video screen with a sleek new flat-panel display that swivels and tilts on its dome-shaped base.
“This is the complete digital hub for the digital lifestyle,” said Jobs.
Apple has also recently unveiled its iPod portable MP3 player and pitched a strategy that focuses on peripherals such as cameras, scanners and portable devices.
Despite the focus on peripherals, both Apple and Microsoft are relying on the concept of a central home computer. Perlman's idea is quite disruptive to that concept.
According to the Times article, Perlman said that after Microsoft acquired WebTV for $425 million in April 1997, he had stayed and tried to refine the product. Later, in 2000, he formed his present company, Moxi.
Perlman's new set-top box, known as the Moxi Media Center, connects to standard or high-definition TVs and to satellite, cable and DSL networks. It will play DVDs and CDs and has hardware connectors that will make it possible to store digital video and photo data. The box, which uses the Linux operating system and Macromedia's Flash graphics system, will also have a slot for adding a home wireless network using the new 802.11A standard, which supports data rates above 54 megabits.
Using new silicon design techniques and taking advantage of falling industry costs, Moxi has been able to lower the cost of its system substantially, compared with earlier digital video systems and high-end cable set-top boxes. Perlman said the set's cost to satellite and cable providers would be about $425, making it possible for them to lease systems to subscribers, much the way cable television boxes are used.
Perlman's version of the home entertainment system of the future — in keeping alive the vision of the TV-centric home — is likely to increasingly find itself competing for the consumer's dollars with that of Jobs and Gates alike.