Time Warner Eyes 'Content Hub’

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Time Warner Cable is looking to build an in-home media hub to help consumers pull together all the digital content they keep at home, including music, photos and video file.

Project “Santa Monica” is still in the early stages of design and no prototypes have been built, although Time Warner Cable is talking to several manufactures about making the box.

The news that Time Warner Cable was looking at such a device first surfaced during an industry conference last month.

MANAGING DIGITAL MEDIA ISLANDS

“Consumers have these islands of digital media, and the problem is managing those,” said vice president of program management and software development John Callahan during an interactive-television conference in Atlanta, sponsored by software developer Itaas Inc. “It allows cable to extend its management presence into the home. There is no easy way to network those devices.”

The “box” would likely have storage capacity in the 1 Terabyte range — far beyond today’s digital video recorders. It could also potentially include wideband connectivity, perhaps Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 3.0, as well as wireless-fidelity (Wi-Fi) ports, Callahan said.

The box could include an embedded multimedia-terminal adapter for voice-over-Internet protocol service.

NO USER INTERFACE

The device itself would not have a user interface — Time Warner Cable is working on a new Mystro Digital Navigator, now being tested in its labs — but would serve as a home content hub.

The box would be able to stream media around the home network utilizing advanced codecs, like MPEG-4 (Moving Picture Experts Group).

“Personal content is becoming digital,” said Time Warner Cable senior vice president of advanced technology Mike Hayashi, whose group is spearheading the project.

“I don’t know if you’ve played much with these UPnP [Universal Plug & Play] or IP boxes, but they all have one thing in common: They’re very hard to use,” Hayashi said. His theory: People would probably like to move pictures or video from one display to another, or automatically back them up, without having to worry about complex firewall set-ups, or other unique hassles. “Most people wind up getting frustrated and either tossing it, or not using it.”

COSTS CURVING

The continued drop in storage costs also gave rise to Santa Monica: Consumers can buy 40 Gigabytes of storage for less than $40 today at retail, he said. Current cost curves could make Terabyte-level storage economical for the home in a few years. “It’s all about timing,” he said. “You are going to be able to afford such technology.”

A giant storage device could obviate the need for separate storage devices in other set-tops in other rooms, he said. Load up storage and costs in one place, to reduce costs in another — especially as digital-cable ready TV sets proliferate as second and third sets in the home.

As to the question of when Santa Monica comes off the drawing board, it all links to the costs of storage and processing power. “My rule of thumb, for video stuff, is this: If I could break $500 and know that it’d get to $100 over five years, I think I have a product.”

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