Friday, October 12, 2007

One last note on powerline

At the HomePlug conference this week the chief executive of RadioShack gave a no-nonsense talk about what people pushing new technologies like powerline need to do to succeed. One element was addressing and articulating a real user need.

For Oleg Logvinov of Arkados that need is whole home audio. He showed his HomePlug 1.0 chips with a pair of direct-drive speakers from Tatung delivering music remotely from an iPod dock in another room. Wi-Fi has trouble doing this, especially in European homes with thick walls, and the powerline approach is not as dependent on a PC as a controller as Wi-Fi, Logvinov said. But Wi-Fi can't be having too many problems in this space, given Tatung and Roku are delivering products that meet a similar need.

Arkados has tailored its silicon to support this app with appropriate interfaces and an ARM core to handle audio processing. This is a pretty cool product, but I question whether the market is big enough to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the startup that has toiled on this path seven years. With a $200 bill of materials, the speakers are a bit expensive for the casual iPod-using teen and I wonder if the HomePlug 1.0 speeds are adequate for the golden ears of the audiophile crowd. A Philips engineer on hand said Dolby audio requires latencies of less than 20 milliseconds, a capability it could be hard to insure on powerlines.

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