IFA 2003 Internationale Funkausstellung (29.8. to 3.9.2003)

Home networks as a media highway

Consumer electronics forms part of a wider network at the Internationale Funkausstellung 2003. The latest innovations on show at the IFA include MP3 music, holiday snaps, recordings taken from television and even DVD videos, which can be seen and heard all over the house via wired or wire -less links.

The technology required for carrying media data has already demonstrated its capabilities in the computer world: cable networks (under the technical term ethernet) link millions of office computers, while wire -less LANs form easy -to -use connections through the air between notebooks, fixed workplaces and the internet. Starting at this year¡¦s IFA the interfaces for such networks will also be found in home movie systems, DVD players, hard disc video recorders, multimedia televisions and special media receivers which can decode virtually everything that other items of equipment on the network can offer, and relay it to conventional televisions or hifi systems. This eliminates the final barriers between consumer electronics and information technology. In future a PC in the home office whose hard drive includes Powerpoint and Excel files as well as an extensive music archive can act as a server, feeding its repertoire of music to network -compatible playback units in the living room or bedroom.

A whole range of different network solutions is now available to apply these concepts. Wire -less LAN radio links which, in view of their various media -handling capabilities, are now also referred to as wireless fidelity, or wifi for short, are simple to operate. The more prosaic terminology of the industrial standard IEEE 802 11b refers to the cheapest and most widely used wire -less version. At a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz the items to which this standard applies can transmit at up to 11 megabits per second over a distance of some 40 metres. However, these are only theoretical figures. The transmission rates are reduced to a fraction of the above figure if the signal has to go through concrete walls or is being received at several locations. This means that this popular radio version is quite adequate for MP3 music or extremely compressed internet videos but is too slow for pictures and sound of DVD quality. Consequently some manufacturers are already changing over to newer, higher performance, wire -less LAN versions. One version, IEEE 802.11g, can transmit up to 54 medabits per second, also at 2.4 gigahertz. The same bandwidth is offered by equipment conforming to IEEE 802 11a, which operates at the extreme transmission frequency of 5 gigahertz. Although the maximum transmission rates of these two 54 megabit radio standards are also only theoretical figures, even under the most unfavourable conditions they still have sufficient reserves to handle moving images and multi -channel sound of outstanding quality. After all, a video DVD does not operate at more than 9.6megabits per second.

Ethernet cable networks do offer reliable alternatives for rapid transmission rates and simultaneous multimedia transfer between several items of equipment. Today¡¦s standard ethernet connections can carry up to 100 megabts per second, while the latest network hardware can force up to 1000 megabits per second down copper cables. Many of the new network -compatible consumer electronics components are therefore provided with ethernet cable connections, often in addition to transmitters and receivers that conform to one of the wire -less LAN radio standards.

Of course, the exchange of data between various items of consumer electronics equipment and their ability to communicate with computers did not originate with the introduction of wire -less LAN and ethernet media services.

- For example amateur film -makers have already been able to use the iLink digital cable interface for some time as a fast, loss -free method of copying their own work onto a ¡VC, where they can carry out editing and post -production, and then copy it onto a DVD.

- The latest portable hifi hard disc units make contact with the computer via the USB 2 data bus, enabling music to be copied at breathtaking speed. The entire contents of a CD speeds along this digital connection in just a few seconds.

- The latest generation of cellphones takes digital photos and uses the Bluetooth radio standard to transfer them to a computer or a set -top box with a suitable receiver where they can be displayed like slides. From there the snaps can be sent for screening on the television set.

- On home movie installations images are increasingly being transferred digitally to the large flat screen or projector, thereby ensuring that there is no reduction in picture quality. DVI (Digital Video Interface) is found increasingly on computers and a compatible follow -up standard is already in the pipeline too. The IFA is also being used to introduce the first DVD players, projectors and flat screen displays with digital ports that conform to the HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) standard, with a transmission rate capable of handling video signals and multi -channel sound of the very highest quality.

- And even the massive streams of data which are read from the new sound media by SACD and DVD audio players can now be transferred in digital form to a suitable multi -channel amplifier. This has been made possible with the introduction of new players and amplifiers with a built -in iLink interface. This completes the final link in interconnected digital media systems.

The IFA 2003 is presenting every aspect of this fascinating development, leading to simplified controls and improvements in picture and sound quality, and even takes a look into the future of consumer electronics. The latest high tech televisions on show at the IFA 2003 make use of the home network not only to extract sound and pictures from a computer. They can also use ethernet or wire -less LAN to control lighting, security installations and every conceivable item of electrical equipment throughout the house. This is made even easier with a system of remote control which utilises simple graphics in an internet browser displayed on the television screen. Still viewed as futuristic, such possibilities can be seen as a commercially viable reality at the IFA 2003.

This is one of the main messages being promoted by e/home update, the IFA specialist forum. On 2 September experts from all the sectors concerned will be organising their own one -day congress in the ICC Berlin, Hall 4/5. Trade visitors and all others attending the fair who have a particular interest in digital networking in the modern home are cordially invited to attend this all day programme of papers and discussions (Please register just with a quick email to dd@complan -medien.de and mention e/home update).

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