There are several elements that are starting to come together to make the Broadband Home a reality. The appeal of the Broadband Home is not only the high speed access to the outside world via the Internet but the way in which audio and video information can be stored and accessed on demand. There is no one standard blueprint here but several variations on a theme. The important elements are:
Certainly, having a broadband Internet connection (see separate Broadband write-up) is an essential component of the Broadband Home. The minimum speed required is 0.5 Mbps ( 500Kbps) as this supports a single MPEG-4 streaming video connection however 1.5 Mbps (download) is probably a better starting point.
You want computers and audio and video components in several areas of the house. So the second element is a data network that has both wired and wireless sections. Wired backbone systems will use CAT 6 cables to allow expansion to Gigabit Ethernet but will also support the standard 100 Mbps (and even 10 Mbps) Ethernet. The 802.11g wireless systems will provide freedom of movement and placement but also backwards compatible support for all of the 802.11b laptop computer systems. The network is an essential component as it connects all the other pieces - computers, storage, and dedicated-function units like televisions and radios.
The computing systems in the Broadband Home are basically the current home computers. There will be more of them and they will be sized for different functions. Computer gaming and in particular, online gaming, will be one of the two principal drivers in the evolution of the Broadband Home (The other one is streaming video).
Much of the current interest in online music was a result of the smaller file sizes and the resulting faster download times provided by the MP3 compression technology. This is also true of the MPEG-2 compression technology used in DVD recording. The next standard video compression technology is MPEG-4. It and other similar approaches will allow higher-quality video to be sent over Internet links and easily stored for later use.
There are several advancements in mass storage technology that will allow the overall system to store and retrieve music and video files as easily as current systems handle documents and pictures. The size of small hard disks is now in the 500+ gigabyte range and the switch to a serial interface (serial ATA) will provide RAID-like features. The result will be online redundant storage without the need for daily backups. Storage appliances will provide for easily shared, network attached storage (NAS). At the other end of the spectrum, small credit-card size devices will provide portable, personal storage in the 5 gigabyte range (2-3 hours of MPEG-4 video).
One of the key elements in the Broadband Home will be the links between the digital network and storage elements and the traditional analog audio and video components. There are starting to be small components available that allow a television or stereo to access stored video or music files over a standard network interface. For some time to come, you will still use your cable TV or satellite system for most programming, especially for HDTV. However, the growing availability of material on the web in streaming video format which can be viewed at a time of your choosing, will greatly impact your viewing habits.
One of the key benefits of the Broadband Home is that you, the user, are in control. You get to choose what you want to watch or listen to and when you want to do it. Video rental stores have provided a partial solution to this problem for some time now. The VHS tape is now being replaced by cable video-on-demand systems and the ability to use Personal Video Recorders to record current programs for later viewing. In the near future, the Broadband Home will allow you the same control over your television viewing you now have over your web browsing. There need to be agreements reached on digital rights management and charging for online viewing but that will happen.
Several of the components talked about on this page are readily available. Now is the time to plan for your own Broadband Home. Most homes will not implement all of the above ideas at once. You need an overall plan for the next five years or so. Give us a call at WHBK and we can start you on the journey.