The Problem With Home Media Servers

The Diffusion Group reports that another reporting body (un-named and no link to it) is reporting that home media servers are set to grow to 150 million units sold in the US by 2010. The Diffusion Group argues that these numbers seem pretty high. They also claim the report does not define a home media player. Are we just talking set top boxes or iPods as well?

Also, yesterday, Sony announced a new media sever here. They claim it can stream media from both iTunes and Windows Media Player, as well as their own Sony CONNET service.

These features and projections are all fine and good, but I think there are two big hurdles to overcome. Being in a position where I help end users of home media servers, I can speak of the user experience problems that some of these product have. If these cannot change, mainstream adoption will stay low.

DRM (digital rights management) interferes with a good customer experience. DRM is an attempt to keep formats proprietary to specific players. The industry (the RIAA and DRM media vendors) claims that it is to prevent piracy. Customers do no have th right to choose what file format they can play, they are stuck with the format the the vendor has chosen and/or licensed with. It is a format war, and the customers’ user experience are the civilian casualties. Music purchased on Napster, Rhapsody, and YahooMusic can only be played on very specific devices. Music purcahsed from iTunes can only be played on iPods. Some CDs do not allow you to (or make it difficult to) make the backup copy you are entitled to make under fair use.

•Network Security Roadblocks
Most computer operating systems and routers have so many security measures built into them that plug-and-play is not a reality when connecting to a home media server over a local network. With poorly designed media server software that does not automatically open a clear path to the media along with the failure to fully adhere to set standards (like UPnP or DLNA) and expectation, “home media server” as a brand becomes synonymous with long support calls, networking headaches, bad user experience.

This could be why we do not see a wireless iPod. Network security obstacles would interfere with the user experience. For the same reason, this could be why Apple has their own platform which they have total control over: AirPort and AirTunes integrated with iTunes.

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