It sounds simple enough. Display your digital photos on the TV, or play songs stored on your PC through your stereo. Don’t bother trying, though, because the typical computers, DVD and MP3 players, cameras, and televisions that pervade millions of homes can’t all communicate with one another. After years of industry promises, however, that could be about to change. The first products that will allow for easy networking of a wide range of gadgets could arrive on store shelves as early as this holiday season.
The main roadblock was cleared this spring, when consumer electronics, chip, and computer makers agreed to a new common set of standards. Now, manufacturers are using those standards to build next-generation products that exchange songs, video, and photos with each other, via either wired or wireless local networks. While certain high-end products can already do this, “we’re trying to make it more plug-and-play for mainstream consumers,” says Bob Gregory, director of initiatives planning at Intel and a board member of an industry consortium of more than 100 companies-including Microsoft, Sony, and Hewlett-Packard-that established the new standards. At first, gadgets will exchange data via special adaptors, though manufacturers will next make devices with the networking capability built in.
“It’s a great first step” toward expanding the home network beyond just PCs, says Mike Wolf, an analyst with In-Stat/MDR, a market research firm in Scottsdale, AZ. “Eliminating the lack of interoperability is a great hurdle they’ve overcome,” he says. Within the next year or two, instead of being stuck in front of a computer looking at digital photos, you could find yourself on the living room couch with the photos on a big-screen TV.