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'Card' server streams content to devices

Posted: 20 Dec 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile content servers? server systems? storage device? storage devices? Agere?

Agere Systems Inc. plans to introduce what it bills as a new product category: the mobile content server. The company's screenless, credit card-size BluOnyx server system lets consumers access, back up and share digital content among multiple devices in a peer-to-peer mode over the Internet.

BluOnyx devices, which do not need to interface with a PC, will let consumers store up to 40Gbytes of video, audio and other digital content, and then stream that content wirelessly or via a USB connection to a host of devices, including mobile phones, PCs, videogaming consoles and personal media players. This ability to wirelessly stream content to other devices is novel in a product of its class, Agere executives said. The content can be simultaneously streamed to multiple systems, enabling the sharing of files.

"BluOnyx creates a 'digital campfire'--a group of people who have come together and want to share the experience of viewing content," said Fadi Afa Al-Refaee, product-marketing manager in the storage division at Agere.

The company said it is in discussions with consumer electronics device makers and cellphone service providers about making and private-labeling unique products based on the BluOnyx server system and industrial design. Agere will not market BluOnyx servers directly.

The idea for BluOnyx sprang from conversations between Agere and cellular-handset customers, Al-Refaee said. More and more, handsets are becoming personal media players, marketed for their capabilities as video and music players. But, according to Al-Refaee, handset makers are reluctant to shoulder the increased power consumption that would accompany higher processing power or more storage capability. Cellular-service providers, which subsidize the cost of handsets, are not excited about the prospect of paying more so that customers can have more multimedia capability, he added.

Recognizing the problem, Agere developed the mobile content server, which provides the storage, processing and streaming power to work around the problem, Al-Refaee said. Agere expanded the concept to make the BluOnyx compatible with other devices as well. Because BluOnyx will be marketed as an open platform, enabling OEM customers to add their own product differentiation, Agere believes the concept will be extended to new applications, Al-Refaee said.

The preliminary version of BluOnyx that will be demonstrated at CES does not support Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but transfers digital content via a USB connection or Secure Digital memory cards. Plans call for the second generation of the device to support Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. The server supports a host of codecs, Al-Refaee said, and streams content by decoding it and sending it to a peripheral device in either H.263 or H.264 format (the final determination has not yet been made).

The BluOnyx is based on processing, storage and communications ICs from Agere, along with some third-party ICs. The company's chip lineup was part of what attracted LSI Logic Corp.'s $3.5 billion deal to merge with Agere. Agere is also developing software for the BluOnyx and said it is encouraging third parties to build hardware and software for the platform. The server will be available with storage from 1Gbytes to 40Gbytes.

In addition to the ability to stream digital content to peripheral devices, Agere touts BluOnyx's convenience for other applications, such as backing up data on a cell phone for transferring to a new phone or moving content to a PC.

The device measures 90-by-60mm and is 6-15mm thick, depending on memory capacity. The 40Gbyte version weighs about 140g, or about half that of a typical smart phone, said Agere. The retail price of the BluOnyx server is expected to range from $99 to $250 depending on the memory capacity.

- Dylan McGrath
EE Times

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