Published on February 05th, 2010

Android Will Revolutionize User Experience in the Digital Living Room

When Google kick-started Android™ as an open-source platform in 2007, it was designed to provide rich applications and functionality for mobile handsets. Now, thanks to Android’s well-defined software stack (which allows easy application development and portability across embedded devices), Android is penetrating other consumer markets. Android can bring an incredibly rich Internet experience to devices like DTVs, set-top boxes (STBs), Blu-ray players, and more with functionality and business models that were not previously possible.

Until now, these digital-home devices were primarily closed systems with limited applications, such as program guides, DVR, and service messages. But the convergence of devices and the constant demand for connectivity are leading to a paradigm shift in the user consumption of multimedia content.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the consumer home-entertainment experience was defined by “time shifting,” by which proprietary content could be viewed “anytime” on VCRs, PVRs, and later DVRs/on-demand. Over the last five years, “place shifting” emerged, by which content can be viewed “anywhere” on devices like the SlingBox, iPod, and smartphones. Next-generation DTVs, STBs, and digital-media adaptors will now enable “source shifting,” which allows users to access content on any device from diverse sources—local devices, networks, and the Internet.

This is similar to the evolution of web browsing. Users traditionally access web content on PCs via content portals or search engines. Now, via an HDTV, consumers will access content that resides on an STB, Blu-ray player, YouTube, Netflix, and other providers in the “cloud.” As embedded home devices like security systems, energy-usage monitors, lighting controls, and even refrigerators become more intelligent, the DTV will become the central device to view, monitor, and manage the smart home.

Android can enhance the ability to search for and access videos, music, and other Internet content like news, weather, calendar, and traffic—all from one device. In the next few years, we’ll see an explosion of Android-based devices for the digital living room. Consumer demand for the smooth delivery of rich Internet content will dictate market evolution.

To enable this, Android must be capable of the following: handling high-definition transport streams for digital broadcast and IPTV; integrating with existing middleware and offering client/server support for video on demand; providing conditional access and security for protected content access; conforming with DLNA standards for network access and content sharing; and providing a viable “living room” user interface for remote-control support, large-screen UI, and menu system.

Other necessary enhancements include:

  • True multitasking: Current Android software will turn off background applications when resources are needed for the current application. This is unacceptable in digital-home applications, where several high-priority applications run in parallel.
  • Hardware-accelerated HD video and multi-channel audio support: Current Android supports only mobile video and basic audio features. MIPS has already demonstrated true HD running at 1080p.
  • Support for 2D/3D accelerated graphics hardware: Presently, there is no standard way to support graphics acceleration.

Working groups of the Open Embedded Software Foundation (OESF), a consortium that is taking Android beyond mobile devices, is working to standardize frameworks and define interactions with existing middleware stacks. The results are astonishing. Android running on the MIPS® architecture has been demonstrated on a networked-home media player from NetLogic Corp. and Blu-ray and IP STB designs from Sigma Designs. KDDI R&D Labs recently demonstrated the world’s first Android STB, which has its roots in a MIPS-based Sigma Designs platform. In addition, D2 Technologies demonstrated its mCUE converged communications client for Android-based devices. Demonstrations at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) have taken Android’s progress even further.

There is no question that the Android development and embedded OEM design communities have their work cut out for them. But Android is here to stay. Community interest in leveraging Android for applications beyond mobile devices is growing exponentially. Best of all, Android is capturing the imaginations of device makers worldwide. As the OESF and its more than 50 member companies continue to enhance Android for devices beyond the mobile handset, we are sure to see the first production-ready devices in our living rooms in 2010.

Kevin Kitagawa is the director of strategic marketing for MIPS Technologies. He has more than 15 years of mobile and consumer-electronics experience. Kitagawa holds a BS in electrical engineering, computer architecture, from the University of California, Davis, and a masters of business administration in marketing from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California. He can be reached at Kevin@mips.com.



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