Sidebar: Microsoft's Connected Home

Microsoft's all-encompassing vision of the Connected Home includes entertainment devices, computing devices and communications devices, all connected together via an IP-capable home network that's also bridged to a control network supporting home automation devices. The basic objectives of the Connected Home include the following:
  • Make all audio-visual content available anywhere inside and outside the home
  • Display relevant information on all content in a consistent manner on all devices
  • Make all devices in the home function together as a uniform, automated system
  • Make all device user experiences available anywhere inside or outside the home
  • Allow trusted suppliers to provide reliable services through the devices in the home
In addition to all of the varieties of Miras described in the main article, the Connected Home includes many other kinds of devices all networked together, as follows (with translations of the Microsoft jargon):
  • Standard PCs
  • A "network edge device" (a PC or set-top box directly connected to the Internet)
  • A "residential gateway" (services on a PC providing DHCP, NAT and a firewall)
  • A "media center PC" (a stereo component-like PC that's a focal point for digital media creation, storage, management, consumption and streaming)
  • A "Freestyle distance user interface" (a PC remote control with an appropriate on-screen interface for use ten feet away)
  • An "audio-visual node" (a device that renders streamed audio and video content)
  • A "digital audio receiver" (a device that renders streamed audio content)
  • Self-amplified, digital speakers containing their own audio codecs
  • All existing audio-visual equipment (TV, VCR, DVD, PVR, DSS, etc.)
  • Home automation controls and devices connected to a dedicated control network (X10, EIB, Lonworks, Cebus, Jini, etc.)
Some Questions
During one of the WinHEC sessions on the Connected Home, Microsoft showed a short video in which a woman puts a DVD movie into a player. Because everything is networked together, that simple action caused (a) the room lights to be dimmed, (b) the electric blinds to be lowered, (c) the HDTV to turn on, and (d) the DVD to start playing. The audience reaction seemed to be mostly skepticism.

The first question many people have about the Connected Home is "Why would I want computers to do all that?" In one of the WinHEC sessions, Scott Manchester, a Technical Evangelist for the Connected Home, spent a full hour presenting a detailed overview of the Connected Home without even once offering a single reason why the consumer would want it. The underlying assumption seemed to be "Because it can be controlled by a PC, it should be." It's simply not obvious that it makes sense to use a PC to control room lights, room temperature, electric blinds, etc. Using a complex network to pipe music around the house (albeit, different music in different rooms) seems to be technical overkill. Having all the media content resident on the PC could be interesting, but people want to consume media, not spend time managing it. A PVR works perfectly well alone, what real advantage is there in having the PC control it? These kinds of questions were not addressed in any convincing way.

The second question many people have about the Connected Home is "Is there any chance of it all working correctly?" While everything Microsoft described is technically possible, today's PC is simply not stable and reliable enough to control the entire house. Recognizing this, Microsoft has started working on making the PC "more reliable and trustworthy." In fact, Microsoft has set a goal of making the PC "as reliable as a CD player" (instant on, never reboots, no reset button, quiet, simple to use, etc.) - but it's likely to be a long, slow trip.

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