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Hana promises single HD remote

Posted: 01 Feb 2006     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Nicolas Mokhoff  Hana  High-definition Audio-video Network Alliance 

Tired of using a separate remote for every device in your living room? An industry partnership called Hana (High-definition Audio-video Network Alliance) vows to simplify all that with the flick of a menu. If the recently formed alliance takes off as its founders intend, Hana-ready televisions and the complementary A/V components that tie into them will be under unified control on one TV screen this year.

The five founding companies, which come from the content, consumer electronics and information technology industries, hope to enhance the HDTV experience through the work of Hana. The alliance will create design guidelines for providing secure high-definition audiovisual networks in the home with HD products.

The charter members—Charter Communications, JVC, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America, NBC Universal, Samsung and Sun Microsystems—together with contributing members ARM, Freescale Semiconductor and PulseLink, joined in the Hana Lounge at last month's CES in Las Vegas by other companies interested in making Hana work.

The brainchild of Samsung, Hana builds on the FCC's mandate that FireWire—the IEEE 1394 interface specification—be built into all new DTVs. As Hana sees it, all the functionality of devices tied to the television by FireWire cable becomes software-manageable via menus on the screen. The Hana-based home network is DTV-centric, with all tuning and decoding hardware residing inside the DTV. The PC becomes another networked system.

"Hana is a milestone among industry alliances because we start in the living room, not the home office," said Hana president Heemin Kwon, the executive VP and general manager of the digital solution centre at Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. "Since Hana is a cross-industry effort with members from each of the impacted HD industries, we can achieve the 'win-win' necessary to commercialize HD networks."

Hana's members will not be inventing anything new. Instead, the alliance will rely on existing off-the-shelf technologies to reach its lofty goals. Its mission is to create industry design guidelines, using existing technology and specifications that will enable consumers to view, pause and record at least five HD channels simultaneously anywhere in the home with a single remote control per room, without compromising QoS and all via one STB.

"A major benefit of Hana's initiatives will be the ability for one remote control to manage all of the video equipment that gets connected to a Hana network," said Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst at In-Stat.

Hana-compliant products are expected to include HDTVs, next-generation DVD players, personal video recorders (PVRs), cable STBs and home theaters. The first commercial products are expected to be available at CES in 2007. By that time, enhanced HDTVs, network interface units, A/V hard drives and PVRs supporting Hana are slated to emerge, said Kevin Morrow, director of business development for Samsung's digital solution centre. Next-generation DVDs, game consoles and other devices will follow later that year. The alliance plans to facilitate compatibility among various manufacturers' products through compliance testing and Hana-organised developers' conferences.

Its first connectivity target for a Hana network is the 1394 FireWire cabling specification. Hana has formalized an agreement with the 1394 Trade Association to connect devices while eliminating the tangle of cables used to link today's TVs with home theatres, DVD players and other gear. The aim, Kwon said, is a single-wire 1394 connection capable of transmitting multiple high-definition data streams. The link will be hot-pluggable, he added, allowing devices to be connected and disconnected without having to power down.

The equally important secondary goal, the use of a single remote control, will be accomplished by software downloads to the DTV encoder and tuner mandated for every new DTV. As a result, the user would browse a menu on the TV screen and "softly" control the functions of each interconnected device.

Hana will work with the Advanced Access Content System, Open Media Commons and other digital rights management (DRM) technologies to enable consumers to move content across multiple systems, such as portable video players on the home network, without infringing on original content rights, thus protecting content providers from piracy. Hana hopes that its anti-piracy measures will also speed the arrival of new HD content.

As part of its charter, Hana will also focus on advanced video-compression technologies, enhanced security and wireless extensions.

Mass adoption?
Hana's proponents believe the spectrum of companies represented—specializing in content, consumer electronics and IT—will increase the likelihood of attracting new members and developing standards likely to gain mass adoption.

"You might ask yourself what a company known for its computer servers is doing by being part of this alliance," said Glenn Edens, senior vice president and director of communications, media and entertainment at Sun Microsystems Laboratories. But CM&E represents a third of the company's business, said Edens, who runs all of the research and development at Sun Labs. The company's expertise in networking will be tapped for Hana's home-networking requirements, he said. "We are conscious that Microsoft and Intel are in the home-networking space as well, and they are welcome to join Hana to make interoperability happen faster," said Edens.

Kwon emphasized that a Hana interoperability specification will be ready in Q1 of 2006. "With the end goal of one remote controller for all your home equipment, we are bringing a Windows system to the A/V world," said Kwon, alluding to the ease of use that Windows navigation has provided for the average computer owner. Kwon dismissed the notion that Hana, with only five charter members, is too small to make an impact. "The first year the memory stick was introduced, there were only eight players," he said. "Now, the technology has been accepted by all."

With IEEE 1394 (FireWire) as the only digital interface the FCC mandates in digital cable STB, Samsung Electronics' senior manager for business development group Cahng-Ki Lee said that it's time to decide which functions to implement in hardware and which in software. By concentrating on the display and using a single Hana-compliant decoder there, all other devices need not have hardware encoders of their own.

Nicolas Mokhoff
EE Times

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