Cisco goes after home audio networking
LAS VEGAS – With a vow that Cisco will be focusing more and more on the consumer market, Cisco CEO John Chambers introduced a set of media storage and distribution products for the home, along with a new Web 2.0 platform that media companies can use to present their content to the public.
Linksys has seemed almost an afterthought since Cisco bought it, but at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) here yesterday, the company put “Linksys by Cisco” front and center with the introduction of a suite of products under the Wireless Home Audio banner.
The home audio products are all aimed at helping consumers aggregate and distribute their digital audio content. The Linksys products access music files resident on PCs, iPods and other devices, as well as draw music off of the Internet (the company has a deal with Rhapsody) and distribute audio throughout the home via a 802.11g/n Wi-Fi router, or through Ethernet.
Consumers can either leave music files on their various devices or consolidate their files in a Cisco Media Hub unit – what Cisco execs called “the first NAS that’s consumer oriented,” a reference to network-attached storage (NAS).
The Media Hub can hold two 2.5-inch hard drives that consumers can easily swap in and out, with storage limited only by the capacity of commercially available drives. It can connect to desktops and Wii consoles, even Scientific Atlanta set-top boxes.
Among the several products the company introduced yesterday to play and distribute music around the home is a $299 Player that plugs directly into a stereo system amplifier with standard RCA jacks. Cisco’s $449 Director has its own amp with 50W per channel; consumers would plug speakers directly into it. There was also a $345 Controller unit. The three together are being bundled for $999.
The products are far from unique. Multiple companies, including HP, Microsoft and Netgear, have something similar. Cisco contends that its products are easier to use, but the key issue for Cisco, however, isn’t to be first, it’s merely to drive deeper into the home market.
Ned Hooper, senior vice president of corporate business development for Cisco, said that while the products Cisco introduced yesterday focus on audio, the company is working on versions that can similarly handle video. Hooper said video-based products can be expected later this year.
While Cisco is not working with any service providers at the moment, Hooper said any provider would be able to tap the Media Hub for in-home storage, as a replacement for a DVR or for other purposes. “Set-top boxes we’re making now can talk to this,” Hooper said.
The Eos-hosted, white-label software platform allows media companies to not only create sites that combine associated Internet-based resources (blogs, social networking sites, video, podcasts, online forums, etc.), but to also manage content and administer the site.
Building Web sites is, of course, easy. It’s another, rarer, thing to build Web sites that can draw media from all of some sprawling media behemoth’s disparate divisions and combine them with content from independent sources. What Cisco brings to the party is the unified set of tools to not only aggregate, but also manage those resources.
Cisco readily acknowledges that Eos isn’t a consumer product, but the company is an advocate for the concept that the network itself is becoming a smarter, more versatile tool for creating and managing services, and that consumers will be among the ultimate beneficiaries.
The network has to be smart enough, Chambers explained, to make possible what’s become something of a mantra for Cisco recently: “Any device, any content.”
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