In re 802.11 A/V devices: Sony's New AirBoard

Gordon Mohr gojomo@usa.net
Thu, 23 Aug 2001 06:46:54 -0700


 http://interactive.wsj.com/articles/SB998517130401391459.htm
 http://interactive.wsj.com/archive/retrieve.cgi?id=SB998517130401391459.djm

 "By using Wi-Fi in a TV, Sony has taken a potentially critical 
  step in starting a dialogue between the silent neighbors: PC, 
  stereo and TV set."

 "In October, Motorola plans to unveil a $379 stereo component 
  that plays MP3 music files beamed from the PC."

# August 23, 2001
# Personal Technology
# 
# Sony's New AirBoard Device Combines TV Set, Internet
# By Jared Sandberg
# 
# MOST PEOPLE JUST can't help themselves. Once they install a
# wireless network, they find themselves wandering around their homes
# with their liberated laptops, pausing to check e-mail or surf the
# Web. Pretty soon, they may be able to catch a show, too, thanks to
# a new portable touchscreen display that uses the same basic
# technology.
# 
# The Sony AirBoard, looking like a big Etch-A-Sketch, is a
# combination television and Web appliance. The only cables you see
# are the ones snaking out of the back of the AirBoard's docking
# station. The station then throws signals to a handsome, reasonably
# lightweight, portable tablet.
# 
# The AirBoard is impressive looking, dressed in an almost iridescent
# light-gray case. Its four front-panel buttons -- used to call up a
# menu, change a channel or access the Net -- are placed where your
# fingers are likely to land. And the tablet is easy to use, or will
# be once the instructions are translated from Japanese.
# 
# For now, though, you can only buy the AirBoard in Japan, for about
# $1,200. Sony plans to release the device in the U.S. by year's end
# at the earliest, but the company wasn't willing to give up any for
# an early look-see. We tried out one bought by an acquaintance.
# 
# What's so exciting about this product isn't that it will let you
# wirelessly capture television pictures. (That isn't particularly
# interesting unless small, portable TVs, around for decades, impress
# you.) It's that the type of wireless technology the AirBoard uses
# signals something big: the move by electronics companies toward
# putting fast, wireless Internet links in TV sets and stereos.
# 
# SONY ENGINEERS embedded a technology called Wi-Fi, also known as
# 802.11b. Wi-Fi is a wireless networking setup that has landed in
# airports, Starbucks, a San Francisco ballpark and in the hands of
# average consumers who use it to invite friends and neighbors to
# share connections to the Web. By using Wi-Fi in a TV, Sony has
# taken a potentially critical step in starting a dialogue between
# the silent neighbors: PC, stereo and TV set.
# 
# 
# This is excellent news for the entertainment industry. Conventional
# entertainment has largely flopped on the Internet because there are
# so few high-speed connections to homes and even fewer connections
# within them. Making matters worse, the PC sounds punier than the
# average stereo and looks less brilliant than a television screen.
# Wouldn't it be more fun if you could play on your stereo the music
# track you just downloaded online?
# 
# The shortcoming was especially evident last week when Hollywood
# studios announced they would soon offer movies on demand over the
# Internet -- but only to PCs. PCs are "an inferior medium" for
# watching movies, admitted one executive, "but the most connected
# medium out there today."
# 
# But again, wouldn't you rather view the movies on your TV set? The
# big vision: to have all the media on demand relayed to the device
# for which they are best suited.
# 
# Other networking innovations have involved the home's existing
# wires: phone jacks and power outlets. But wireless technology has
# more momentum. By 2005, nearly two-thirds of the 20 million
# households that have home networking will be using wireless,
# predicts International Data Corp.
# 
# THAT POTENTIAL hasn't escaped consumer-electronics makers. In
# October, Motorola plans to unveil a $379 stereo component that
# plays MP3 music files beamed from the PC. SimpleDevices, the
# software company behind the Motorola device, and Delphi Automotive
# Services have both developed prototypes of car stereos that
# wirelessly download music, or maps and directions. And Scientific
# Atlanta plans to put wireless antennas in some set-top boxes to
# emit a TV signal to laptops.
# 
# Of course, wireless technology has problems to work out. First,
# there's interference. Wi-Fi and other similar technologies use a
# swath of airwaves unregulated by the Federal Communications
# Commission. It's getting overcrowded. The AirBoard shows its
# vulnerability in the form of occasional smudged TV pictures when
# other Wi-Fi devices are operating nearby.
# 
# Security is another big problem. Researchers have found several
# ways to breach Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, Wi-Fi's effort to
# prevent eavesdropping. The bigger problem is that manufacturers of
# wireless networking gear often ship their products without
# activating WEP, leaving users to figure it all out. Most don't, and
# as users of Microsoft's new Windows XP software will learn, linking
# to someone else's wireless network is just a mouse click away when
# WEP isn't turned on.
# 
# Security expert Peter Shipley says that even with WEP, "I could
# still gain access whether you're across the street or 25 miles
# away."
# 
# Sony was smart enough to activate WEP in its AirBoard and will
# adopt planned industry security improvements.
# 
# The new device has other flaws. The speakers are inadequate,
# although the company says it's considering upgrading them. Also,
# the base station can't accommodate a high-speed Internet
# connection, and uses a dial-up modem instead. What's more, its on-
# screen keyboard is too small to type comfortably (although a stylus
# is included) and the screen is difficult to see outdoors.
# 
# The wireless-technology industry is working on the security and
# interference problems. Until those are solved, home entertainment
# will remain less entertaining than it could be.
# 
# -- Walt Mossberg is on vacation.
# 
# Write to Jared Sandberg at jared.sandberg@wsj.com2
# 
# 
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- Gordon
____________________________ 
Gordon Mohr - gojomo@usa.net 
 Personal - http://xavvy.com