Fans of MTV's The Osbournes, will be very familiar by now with images of a swearing, stymied Ozzie struggling to get his head round the all-in-one remote device that controls his entire Beverly Hills mansion.
Although Ozzie is perhaps not the biggest fan of this latest technology, which connects various content platforms with multiple, portable display devices, an increasing number of IT vendors believe that connected homes and offices will be the way forward.
The trend is propelled by the proliferation of broadband and wireless connectivity, they claim.
In the past, such systems would not have been mainstream products because of the large price ticket they carried, which meant they would be accessible only to wealthy early consumer adopters and perhaps large corporates.
But as the price continues to fall and vendors strive to make the technology commonplace in SMEs and people's homes, users and companies soon won't have to bite off the head of a bat or earn a rock star's salary to be able to access its benefits.
European electronics and IT giant Philips is one company that is hoping its new range of connected technology products will wow both punters and resellers when it showcases a raft of products at CeBIT, the European technology trade fair extravaganza running in Hanover this week.
The company believes that as more content, including audiovisual material, becomes digital, connecting technologies such as 802.11x will be able to move and share digital content in offices and homes on a range of portable and fixed platforms.
For example, Philips envisages a scenario where data held on a PC or servers in the managing director's office can be accessed by portable wireless devices such as its DesXcape 150DM detachable monitor, taken to a meeting room and displayed on a large LCD Plasma display or by a projector.
Naturally, Philips also has a strong presence in all these display technologies.
Philips uses terms such as 'connected' and 'converged content', while other companies, such as BenQ, are referring to 'digital hubs' (see below).
The creation of these hubs, or connected offices, will in turn require resellers to install and connect them, according to Andy Shepperd, general manager of PC systems and peripherals at Philips distributor Computer 2000 (C2000).
In the consumer space environment, Philips hopes that its Linux-based i-Pronto wireless device and its wireless digital multimedia receiver will enable users to share and control content and devices in the home with far less difficulty than a certain Brummie rocker seems to encounter.
Rudy Provoost, executive vice president of Philips consumer electronics Europe, said: "CeBIT is a launching platform [and will show] the evolution of a vision not only for the connected home.
"It is also a platform for business productivity to show how, in a digital world, broadband and wireless connectivity will come together."
And broadband, according to Provoost, will be the catalyst in providing the gateway to content and wireless connectivity.
"What the Global System for Mobile communication has done, and what the internet has done, broadband is going to do," he said.
In a report published last year, Analyst IMS estimated that broadband adoption in the UK is less than 10 per cent, but it believes that in the near future one in three internet connections will be broadband.
Provoost said that in the IT sector, people will tell you that the PC is the centre of gravity.
In the electronics/consumer space, companies will tell you that everything revolves around TV, and in the telecoms space, companies will tell you that the lynchpin is the mobile phone.
But as the convergence of IT, consumer electronics and mobile telephony continues apace, Provoost thinks there will be a new battlefield. "Companies that were not competing before increasingly will be," he said.
Shepperd also believes that there is a "crossover revolution" happening between corporate and consumer adoption of new technology.
If users have wireless connectivity at work, they will expect it at home, and vice versa. And wireless connectivity will be a "real revolution" this year, according to Shepperd.
At CeBIT, Philips also will be showing off its new range of LCD flat panels. Thanks to plummeting prices, this will give resellers a great opportunity to shift large volumes of CRT replacement units, according to Mick Duffy, sales and marketing director at Philips Consumer Electronics UK.
Duffy told CRN that in today's market, "it's not the PC that matters, it's the peripherals". He said that the days of double-digit growth in this market have gone, thanks largely to cutbacks and continuing consolidation.
But Duffy is confident that there are still some promising growth areas. One such is the public sector, especially education, where LCD and wireless adoption is outstripping business uptake and can provide resellers with many good opportunities.
Shepperd confirmed this view. "Audiovisual technology is a huge opportunity for resellers, especially in the screen replacement market. LCD is the way to go," he said.
Price is not the only consideration. Shepperd indicated that space savings, power savings and the reduction of eye strain for end-users are also compelling reasons to replace CRT screens with LCDs.
Shepperd said SMEs can reclaim a third of their desk space if they replace CRTs with LCDs. He also thinks that companies such as Philips, which place a huge emphasis on the ergonomics, style and design of their products, will be leading lights, thanks to a combination of compelling technology and the fact that the products are desirable and 'sexy'.
Distributors believe that this space will be a real growth area for resellers. C2000 estimated the market for audiovisual kit at £2.5bn last year and expects sales this year of £2.7bn.
To meet this demand, C2000 will soon be launching a new web resource to link resellers with AVIT, C2000's new dedicated audiovisual division, and give them information and tips on how crack the market.
C2000 will also launch an audiovisual guide to educate its resellers on the opportunities that exist in this important space.
JOINT VENTURE REVOLVES ROUND THE DIGITAL HUB
Hoping to mirror the success of its other partnerships with companies such as LG, Philips announced that it has formed a joint venture with PC and networking peripherals manufacturer BenQ.
Called Philips BenQ Digital Storage, and headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, the company will become operational this month. It has been set up to develop, design and market optical disk drives for PC applications.
John Chen, managing director of BenQ UK, told CRN: "Nowadays, there is an increasing convergence of audiovisual data with the PC which increasingly will be all digital."
Chen said that BenQ is anticipating this trend by manufacturing products to facilitate a 'digital hub' and help customers create, share and display data on multiple platforms.
According to Chen, the joint venture will be a "win, win" because Philips will bring its R&D and licence to develop the DVD+RW storage technology to the table, while BenQ will provide state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, as well as R&D and marketing resources.
Henk Veldhuis, product marketing manager of optical storage at Philips, said that the first fruits of the venture will be on show at CeBIT and will go into mass production in June.
With 4X writing speed on DVD+RW and DVD +R media, the DVDRW424 unit will be bundled with software for both consumer and business users, offering users the ability to write a DVD in less than 50 minutes.
- Wireless and broadband technology will push connected platform systems into the mainstream.
- Philips will showcase a raft of connected technology products at the CeBIT fair in Hanover.
- The products are aimed at both homes and offices.
- Distributors believe wireless and LCD displays are among areas that offer good opportunities for resellers.
Philips (020) 8689 4444
LG Philips Displays
BenQ (01442) 301 000
Computer 2000 (0870) 060 3344
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