New specification brings video to electric sockets

While it can be difficult for technical novices to configure a wireless network, most people have figured out how to insert an electrical plug to a wall socket. The HomePlug Powerline Alliance is counting on that simplicity to appeal to customers who may own the components of a digital home but haven't yet made all the pieces work together.

The alliance announced the selection of the underlying technology for its forthcoming HomePlug AV specification at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week. The HomePlug specifications allow consumers to send video content over their home electrical networks by simply plugging a HomePlug-equipped set-top box or personal video recorder into the wall.

HomePlug AV is designed to improve upon an existing HomePlug standard with faster bandwidth, greater quality of service and simpler operation, said Oleg Logvinov, president of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance, during a press conference Friday in Las Vegas. The specification can be built into peripherals that connect digital televisions and wall sockets or directly into the television, allowing data to travel over its power cord.

The existing HomePlug 1.0 specification was designed for simple Internet content like Web pages or e-mail messages, which don't require as much bandwidth as is needed to display video content. HomePlug AV will let set-top boxes, digital televisions and other home entertainment devices share video content with up to 200M bps (bits per second) of bandwidth, Logvinov said.

Sharp Corp.'s booth at CES featured a living room entertainment center with Internet connections set up over power lines. The HomePlug AV specification allowed Sharp to send digital movies and television from a home media server to a digital television.

The concept is simple, but consumers have not rushed to purchase the devices, especially in the U.S. Most consumers have chosen wireless technologies like 802.11 for their home networks, due in part to the major support for Wi-Fi on the part of companies like Intel, Microsoft, Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

The HomePlug Powerline Alliance has the support of prominent television vendors such as Sharp and US cable providers like Comcast. But Matsushita Electronics (better known by its Panasonic brand name), Sony and Mitsubishi Electric launched their own powerline Internet alliance at CES this year, ensuring that multiple standards will be available in the market.

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