Gadget Freak: Lost in Transmission
Someday, we'll all be like fish swimming in a vast sea of data--able to soak up any content, stored anywhere in the world, from any device. And with the help of companies such as AllMiMedia, we may soon be equipped with devices that let us access content anywhere, anytime. The Silicon Valley startup has extended the concept of the home media center to the entire planet, letting you get to your digital goodies wherever you are.
Here's the way it works. Say you're Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. Instead of sitting in a Tokyo hotel, bored out of your skull, you could log on to AllMiMedia with your cell phone and watch a Saturday Night Live rerun stored on your home PC. The service scales the data for each device, so it sends a smaller file to a cell phone than to a notebook.
That's the ultimate goal, anyway. Today, AllMiMedia is a little more humble. It enables you to use a Pocket PC or cell phone to program your digital video recorder, fetch photos off your home machine, grab MP3s you've already downloaded, and get stock quotes or weather reports. All you need is the AllMiMedia software, a Windows Media Center PC with a broadband connection, a browser-enabled portable, and a little luck. It sounded so nifty that I had to try it.
Data Be the Day
Setting up AllMiMedia is a fairly easy process. Sign up for the service ($12 a year to program your DVR; $20 to get music, photos, and such, too), download a 10MB file, install it on your Media Center PC, and connect to AllMiMedia's servers from your home PC. Then log on to the company's Web site from a portable device and do your stuff.
Using a Wi-Fi-connected notebook, I directed my Gateway FMC-901 X Family Media Center PC to record an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies--the one where the Clampetts visit the White House (insert your own joke here). I also downloaded and played my favorite Al Green tunes, fetched a photo of my dog, picked up some stock quotes, and got a weather report (partly cloudy).
I could do these things on a Dell Axim Handheld as well. But getting the service to perform on either device was a chore. I had to reinstall the AllMiMedia software on my PC and spend quality time with tech support. Even then, it didn't always work.
At this point, AllMiMedia is more proof of concept than actual product. According to CEO Jim Behrens, the company is currently negotiating with consumer electronics vendors to build its services into their next generation of home media devices, DVRs, and the like. Kurt Scherf, vice president of research for Park Associates in Dallas, calls this a "pretty daring" strategy. "I hate to be colored a skeptic," he says, "but it's a bit early for apps like AllMiMedia."
Still, this kind of connectivity is beginning to surround us. Already, users of TiVo's Home Media Option can program their DVRs remotely, while GoToMyPC subscribers can access their PCs from anywhere for $20 a month. But neither service lets you sit in a Tokyo hotel room and watch The Sopranos on a cell phone. If AllMiMedia pans out, that could be almost as much fun as hanging out all night with Scarlett Johansson.
High-Definition Audio Comes to PCs
Yet another argument for putting a PC in the living room: the new High Definition Audio specification Intel will implement in its new Grantsdale chip set, expected to arrive in desktop computers in late June. "Think of this specification as the plumbing" for up to 7.1-channel surround sound, 192 KHz of bandwidth per channel, and 32-bit sampling, says Tom Loza, Intel technology initiative manager--that's more than enough to support Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio discs, which use 24-bit, 5.1-channel encoding. The AC '97 spec it replaces describes only 16-bit, 48-KHz audio. However, a system based on Grantsdale will also require HD Audio hardware codecs, typically integrated into its motherboard, to take full advantage of the plumbing.