IEEE 1394 Announcements Galore

Last week saw several IEEE 1394 announcements in anticipation of the third annual 1394 Developers Conference coming up June 2 in San Jose, California. (See previous report.) IEEE 1394, also known as FireWire, is a high-bandwidth local-area network (LAN) technology gaining considerable interest from consumer-electronics and computer manufacturers. IEEE 1394 can link a virtually unlimited number of home-entertainment devices with a single cable, and manufacturers hope to lower the cost of goods through a reduced number of necessary jacks, cables, and circuits.

Digital Harmony, which is developing an implementation of IEEE 1394 for home networks, announced new license agreements with several manufacturers, including Boston Acoustics, Harman International (JBL, Mark Levinson, Proceed, AudioAccess, Citation, Harman/Kardon, Infinity, Revel), and Sensory Science Corporation (California Audio Labs, Go-Video, Loewe). These companies join a growing list that also includes Denon and Meridian.

Boston Acoustics, Harman International, and Sensory Science say they selected Digital Harmony to eliminate the potential for product incompatibilities caused by differing 1394 implementations. Based on the IEEE 1394 standard, Digital Harmony claims that its Protocol Suite is the platform through which consumers can expect interoperability of multiple devices and multiple brands in a single digital network. Mark Bridgwater, vice president of marketing at Digital Harmony, says that "Our newest licensees bring powerful technological capabilities and vision to the process of developing products that will launch a new age of innovative home-entertainment networks."

According to Phil Muzio, CEO of Madrigal Audio Labs, "Soon, 1394-based systems will simplify installation of extremely complex, high-performance audio, video, and multi-room systems. With a simple daisy-chained, plug-and-play architecture, 1394 devices running Digital Harmony protocols should set the standard for both flexibility and ease of use." Madrigal demonstrated a prototype of its soon-to-be-released DVD transport, based on Digital Harmony 1394 technology, at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.

In other FireWire news, NEC announced last week that it will begin sending out samples of two new IEEE 1394 devices for multimedia home networks that are intended to extend the reach of the technology. One of 1394's shortcomings is that cable runs are typically limited to 4.5 meters between connections. NEC claims the new devices will allow stable operation of 1394 networks at distances of up to 500m. Full production of the devices is expected to begin in September 1999.

NEC also announced its newly developed "PortalGear" technology, which is designed to suppress interference in IEEE 1394 network connections between rooms, efficiently manage network data traffic, increase the number of nodes that can be connected to the IEEE 1394 network, and enable longer transmission distances. NEC says it is now working on miniaturizing the technology and hopes to implement it in a chip within the next two years.