Toward the Digital Lifestyle
With the basic wiring in place and a gateway set up, the possibilities of the digital lifestyle become limitless. Companies have dreamed up countless devices — many available now — to plug into that network. Today, you can connect digital audio players that play music throughout the house, picture frames that download and display photos from the Net, personal video recorders that let you customize your television experience, and Web tablets that give you wireless access to the Internet from any room.
Always-on Internet appliances like the Compaq iPaq Home Internet Appliance make surfing up a weather report as simple as stepping over to the kitchen countertop. And wireless handhelds or larger Web pads will let you explore the Web wherever, whenever.
Entertainment looms large in the Internet-powered home. Digital audio has already taken the world by storm, and soon it will be distributed around the home more easily than files were once swapped on Napster. The Net will also turbocharge and personalize the TV. Personal video recorders such as TiVo and ReplayTV have been on the market for months. These devices connect to your TV and let you record more than 30 hours of programming, saving them to your hard drives rather than to videotapes. Personal video recorders also let you "pause" and "rewind" live TV, along with other advanced recording options. They also dial into the Net each night to download the latest programming information, and ReplayTV can be programmed remotely, from the Web.
Microsoft has fused digital television with WebTV in its satellite-based UltimateTV system, which delivers 210 channels of digital-quality TV, as well as the ability to swap comments with other viewers via e-mail. As you watch the latest round of Survivor, for instance, you can participate in online polls predicting who will be booted from the group next and engage in real-time chats with other viewers.
Expect future devices linked to the Net to download personalized content, giving you the ability to watch what you want, when you want. Better yet, the television of tomorrow will automatically respond to your preferences by "learning" your likes and dislikes in programming. Many of the big players in the technology market have singled out video as among the most promising of networked-home appliances.
You may have to wait a few years for that degree of total entertainment, but digital audio fans have something to cheer about now. Music can be piped anywhere in the house and played on the home stereo, thanks to networked devices.
Audiotron. The iPaq combines a conventional CD player with a hard drive, letting you "rip" digital audio on the device itself. The Audiotron digital music deck can play digital audio streamed from your PC or tune into an Internet radio station. The digital music craze will likely extend the network to the garage. There, the residential gateway could connect to the car's audio player via wireless technology, letting consumers shuffle their favorite tunes from the computer to the car.