Be careful what you wish for: Media receivers providing more places to play streaming digital music in the home could mean more single-device remotes (some not even able to communicate between rooms) cluttering the coffee table.
On the other hand, the number of remotes could actually drop with the arrival in early 2004 of MiHome, software that turns PDAs and other wireless devices into all-knowing, smarter-than-smart remote controls that function anywhere in the house.
To work MiHome, "All you have to do is choose your content and choose your player," said Jim Behrens, CEO of BravoBrava! (www.bravobrava.com), which previewed MiHome at Phoenix Technologies' Strategy 2004 conference in Monterey, Calif., in late November.
The 15th annual conference, which a decade ago was a gathering place for notebook and PC makers looking for partners, was focused this year on multimedia. But there were also discussions ranging from security to automotive telematics to a pre-boot routine that gives a PC the ability to play DVDs or ensure security before the main operating system loads.
The common thread is that all are areas targeted by Phoenix as it moves beyond its initial role as a supplier of BIOS (basic input/output system) software for computer system makers.
Behrens demonstrated MiHome running on both a Pocket PC with WiFi and a GSM cell phone with a data link. It can also work with a Tablet PC, smart display, or notebook.
Infrared remotes with their line-of-sight range won't cut it in the future, says Behrens, when your music source is on the home office PC, the output device is in the family room, and you're in the kitchen. Not only can MiHome control home devices, it can pull TV listings based on your satellite or local cable provider.
And the PDA display doesn't just show remote functions or a program guide, it's also able to display the image itself, whether it's a photo from your PC or a video doorbell. You might be across the country, but with a cell phone, you could tell your PVR (personal video recorder) to record a show.
BravoBrava! plans to debut MiHome at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January and ship in the first quarter of 2004. A functional version of the software would be just $12 a year. Eventually, the company hopes to license the software to manufacturers such as TiVo or add functionality to remote control software such Universal Electronics' Nevo (www.uei.com).
To make all remotes more capable of supporting this software, Behrens would like to see network-ready consumer appliances and wants manufacturers to add "four simple lines of code" into future products that tell the network and smart remote software about the products' basic attributes such as screen resolution, refresh rate, and communications capabilities.