Sharp unveils well-connected home server

Sharp will soon launch a Linux-based home audiovisual server in Japan that uses a broadband connection to reach beyond the boundaries of the home and allow users access to their stored video and image files from computers connected to the Internet.

At its heart, the HG-01S is a hard disk-based video recorder with an additional photo album feature. However what differentiates it from other digital video recorders or home servers on the market is the inclusion of a Web server and networking functions that allow recorded video to be viewed from other computers across the Internet.

It has a 120G-byte hard disk drive and records in MPEG-2 at 720-pixel by 480-pixel resolution at either 8M bps (bits per second), 4M bps or 2M bps. This translates to 30 hours of video in the highest quality mode, 60 hours at medium quality and 115 hours at low quality. It can also transcode MPEG-2 video into MPEG-4, which is a newer and more efficient video compression system.

At home and in front of the television, accessing the device is much like any other hard disk based video recorder. A graphical menu offers quick access to recorded TV programs.

Away from the living room, there are a number of options. Around the house, a built-in wireless LAN (802.11b) adapter offers access to any suitably equipped computer while the Internet can be used to access and view recorded programs and images when away from home -- if the device is hooked up to a broadband connection via its Ethernet port.

Users need to install Sharp's Media Palette software and access is routed through the company's Sharp Space Town Internet portal. From a personal computer, it is possible to view recorded TV programs and it is here that the MPEG-4 transcoding function becomes handy. Streaming 8M bps video across the Internet is roughly equivalent to trying to send a DVD movie in real time and the data rate will be too high for all but the fastest connections to handle. The MPEG-4 data stream is much lighter. This can also be viewed on some PDAs.

Another function of the device is its family photo album feature which collects and can display snapshots. These can be transferred to the server directly from a memory card via a PC Card slot on the front of the device. If the user wishes, some can also be published on the Internet for other people to view either from a personal computer of cellular telephone. Members of the family can also send images taken with camera-equipped cell phones back to the server which will store them in its memory.

The home server also offers access to an electronic program guide service (Adams EPG/TV-Asahi) and an Internet-based TV guide with links to TV program home pages. Through this service it is also possible to search and access pages on the general Internet via the television.

Up to five users can be given profiles and access accounts for the server although only one person can access it at any one time. This means that, for example, someone at home will not be able to watch a recorded TV show if someone away from home is doing the same thing.

The HG-01S will go on sale in Japan on Feb. 15 and cost around ¥100,000 (US$848). Plans for overseas sales of the device were not announced.