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Blueprint for the digital media revolution

Posted: 01 Jan 2004 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:consumer electronics? digital? media? analog? dvd?

Leon Husson dreams of a world where consumers can seamlessly share content.

As the consumer equipment industry has made the transition from analog to digital, consumers for the most part have willingly gone along for the ride, snapping up digital CDs, DVDs, cameras, as well as satellite and cable set-tops. But what do they have to show for it?

In the main, digital consumer devices have done little more than replace the stuff consumers already had. The killer feature of digital signals - the potential for consumers to achieve any content, anytime, anywhere, on any device in any form - remains a promise unfulfilled. Going digital hasn't helped users easily connect one device to another within the home, nor has it expanded the availability of easy-to-access digitally distributed media content.

Leon Husson, executive vice president for consumer businesses at Philips Semiconductors, sat down with EE Times consumer electronics editor Junko Yoshida to discuss how the industry might get there from here.

EE Times: Let's start with your dream for digital media: What do you think the digital media revolution should ultimately accomplish?

Leon Husson: Consumers will be able to seamlessly share content - either pre-packaged or self-generated - among various platforms, whether a PC, cellphone, TV, DVD or game consoles. To me, that's the digital media revolution.

This will come about in an evolutionary way, unfortunately, because I think, from where we are today, that it's simply too big a step to happen in the industry in one go. Many small steps in the same direction will need to be made.

EET: So you would agree that, despite all the seemingly digital consumer products, consumers are not really benefiting from the actual digital media revolution?

L.H.: I think you phrased it very well as the "analog-to-digital transition," but if I could rephrase that, we call it the digital implementation of analog features.

As soon as the signal gets into the TV, the first thing we do is to make it digital, and from there onward, all of the processing is pure digital signal processing until you get to the display.

But the perceived value to the consumer of this is nothing more or less than the old analog thing it replaces. Therefore, consumers are not willing to pay a penny more than the well-known retail price points for the analog product.

If you have a digital implementation, the only thing you can benefit from is large-scale integration. Over the years, semiconductor companies have integrated more and more functions into chips to create systems, thereby improving the technology and lowering the total cost. But that is all immaterial and invisible to end-users.

EET: So what steps do we take to make the digital media revolution happen?

L.H.: If I may take you quickly through a three-step plan, a few things need to happen.

First, all appliances need to become digital-digital. The camcorder has already made a transition from analog to digital. Still cameras, PCs and game consoles are all digital; cellphones are digital. So, one of the last analog fortresses is the combination of TV and VCR. As an industry, we need to find digital solutions that meet the retail price point requirement.

Second is what I would call the availability of content. If, for example, all the service providers do is recreate analog content and distribute it in digital form to the consumer, the perceived value is going to be very low because it's the same content. The content industry needs to come up with exciting, interactive applications that are perceived by the consumer as worth spending money on.

The third step is digital rights management (DRM), which has something to do with content distribution. A lot has happened in DRM, but there's still a long way to go.

If I just take an example of music, we've seen in the post-Napster era some interesting initiatives by Apple, like iTunes, followed by EMI's launch of a similar service that makes available all of the EMI catalogs with the exception of the Beatles. But those services are still not a very good deal to me as a consumer. If I have to pay between one and two dollars per song downloaded, and I take an average of maybe 12 or so songs, then I have to drop $20 to create one CD - that still is not a reasonable deal.

The content industry is somewhat hesitant to explore digital ways of distributing the content. And this is going to be a big thing, because if we can't fix music, we don't stand a chance with video.

There is a delicate balance where we need to recognize the rights of content owners and to balance that against the rights of the individual consumer. From a technological standpoint, we have enabled an awful lot of sharing of files between appliances at the set level that is not being enabled for the end-user, because of content distribution issues.

We say, "Look, no matter how we're going to split the cake, it's in all of our best interests to make the cake as quickly and as big as possible."

- Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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