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CES: Consortiums address home streaming challenges

Growing number of devices are certified to work together

Assembling a home theater system with streaming from mobile devices can take the tech expertise of an IT pro, and operating all the remote controls for it can demand the dexterity of a juggler.

Two consortiums have been doggedly working to change that: DLNA (Digital Life Network Alliance), which lets devices share content, and HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface), which sets standards for connecting and controlling hardware.

Neither has entirely fulfilled its promise, as every consumer electronics maker has its own flavor of HDMI’s Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) and some put their own branding on DLNA. Samsung, for example, calls its DLNA “AllShare” and its HDMI CEC “Anynet+.” So devices from different makers sometimes work well together, sometimes not.

“I can tell you exactly what the issue is,” says Steve Venuti, president of HDMI licensing. “The balance, or the conflict, between the consumer’s desire to just have things work, they’ve made that loud and clear, and the manufacturer’s side, where they see that as lack of product differentiation.”

The issue is less of a problem, Venuti says, in Japan, where consumers tend to buy entire systems from one maker: all Panasonic, all Sony, etc. In Europe and especially the U.S., he said, consumers tend to mix and match.

“We’re constantly working on (interoperability),” Venuti says. “But ultimately we have no stick when it comes to that.”

HDMI was founded by seven major consumer electronics makers but has moved to an open HDMI Forum of 83 companies. The board of the HDMI Forum has announced HDMI 2.0, which is expected to come out in the first half of 2013, with double the existing bandwidth — enough for 4K at 60hz — and support for the 21×9 aspect ratio, for example.

DLNA, which has 240 member companies, meanwhile, has evolved from a way to stream music and user-generated content from mobile devices to a technology for streaming paid content like cable TV across devices.

“People like Comcast and Cox, Orange in Europe, are starting to implement DLNA, so you’ll be able to stream (premium content) to tablets and cellphones,” says Shane Buchanan, certification administrator for DCA. “I think this is the future of DLNA.”

But basic interoperability isn’t a sure thing among devices that claim to be DLNA devices. “We’re trying to put more mandated things in our guidelines to make interoperability work correctly,” says Buchanan.

Part of the problem with DLNA in the marketplace, he says, is that many devices and software apps aren’t actually DLNA-certified. For example, numerous Mac and iOS apps claim to provide DLNA capability but the only DLNA certified software for Apple devices is a controller app for Apple’s iOS.

DLNA doesn’t use version numbers anymore but releases new guidelines regularly. A response to an urgent request from member companies to add a feature can take from months to a year, and certification requires careful testing. New features that are now optional, but will be mandatory starting in 2014, are fast-forward and rewind on streaming content.

Consumers who want to be sure of full interoperability, Buchanan says, need to look for DLNA certification. “There are a lot of people out there saying (their product) ‘Works with DLNA’ or ‘DLNA enabled’ but it’s not certified,” he adds.

The org offers a product lookup feature on its website.

But again, that requires consumers to know that AllShare, for example, includes DLNA. “We have over 17,000 certified products in the market now, and people are starting to recognize the name,” Buchanan says.

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