Designs on an Apple-Branded DVR


The rumor mills are abuzz about an Apple-branded digital video recorder.

According to a couple of sources who claim to know, the next Mac Mini -- that's the small metallic computer that sells for $499 and up -- will have the ability to record TV shows.

A DVR Mac wouldn't exactly put Apple Computer (AAPL) on the cutting edge. Microsoft (MSFT) and its PC-making partners, including Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Gateway (GTW), have been down this road already with the Media Center PC. Chipmaking giant Intel (INTC) grabbed headlines Nov. 30 with its Viiv (rhymes with "five") technology that's designed to transform the PC into a home entertainment hub.

ULTRAWIDEBAND FUTURE. Having built success on the audio front with the iPod family of products, Apple clearly has designs on the video-entertainment business, as the latest iPod already shows. But if the rumors are true, then I have a suggestion for how to make an Apple-branded DVR truly shine: Make it fully wireless.

Apple has a history of pushing the wireless-technology envelope. It was early to embrace wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, networking technology, with its Airport wireless routers. It later cranked up the speed with the Airport Extreme, which relied on the 54-megabit-per-second 802.11g standard before that standard was even fully ratified.

This week I met with a company called WiQuest Communications, which makes chips for a wireless technology called ultrawideband. UWB technology is good at transmitting a lot of data at a very high speed. It's not very good at doing it over long distances, but within close range, it's a gem.

FREED FROM CORDS. Imagine how much better the iPod would be if you didn't need a dock or a USB cord to transfer songs to it: All you'd have to do is bring the iPod into the same room as the PC to sync the latest version of the playlist on your computer with the player. How cool would it be to easily and wirelessly take video stored on your PC in the den and play it on a TV in the living room? In both cases, the data could fly across your home without restrictions on where you have to place the hardware.

To say nothing of the aesthetic improvements that would result from eliminating the rat's nest of data cords -- USB, FireWire, and the bulky, clumsy hubs for each -- which is only compounded by the cords connected to the power strip. I've got just such a mess under my desk at home, connecting my PowerMac, a couple of external storage drives, and a USB hub for my digital camera. It's not pretty.

WiQuest Chief Executive Matthew Shoemake says his company has been involved with the WiMedia Alliance, an industry coalition that aims to promote the use of ultrawideband technology in both computers and consumer-electronics devices. Members include Intel, Eastman Kodak (EK), Microsoft, Nokia (NOK), Philips Electronics (PHG), Samsung, and Sony (SNE), among others. But one name I don't see listed among the members is Apple.

DIGITAL REAL ESTATE. And that's O.K. for now. UWB technology should start showing up in chips by the end of the year. Those chips would then have to be adapted into products, which would take another year or so, maybe less, to develop and bring to market. So I don't expect to see many products on the market until mid-to-late 2006 or early 2007.

But Apple is the kind of company that could benefit from -- and may already be experimenting with -- the possibilities that UWB could offer. That's especially true given Apple's aim to build on successes in portable digital media and make a play for what has become the most coveted digital real estate: the living room.

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