20 September 2005

What is a Media Adapter

The digital media adapter is simply a device that allows you to take digital files from, say, your stereo or tivo, and transfer them to your computer. Your computer, of course, can be an iPod. Now that a lot of home entertainment systems include an MP3 player, it's not unusual for people to transfer songs from their computer to their home stereo, or want to display snapshots on the big screen TV.

This one, on the left, is the LinkSys Wireless-B media adapter. It links television sets and radio receivers to your computer. CNet points out that it "can’t handle video, Internet radio, or audio CDs; requires Windows XP and .Net framework; hogs host PC’s resources; incompatible with firewall..." Readers kicked it to the curb. Far superior was the Apple Airport (Obvious question: then why, JRM, did you included a photo of the inferior product? The reason is that the LinkSys looks like what it does, thereby helping readers intuit what a media adapter is. The AirPort, while the better device, looks like another small beige box).

Moving right along, one feature of intimate computing that interests me is the multifarious uses to which users adapt them. One is the adoption of consumer electronics to enhance productivity; another is the use of media playback devices, such as the MP3, as new forms of artistic creation. One plausible outcome of these category mergers that the media adapter is a member of, is increased use of "found" images (via, say, Flickr or PBase) and found audio.

Closely related to the media adapter is the media receiver, a stereo receiver that handles a wide variety of media formats like MP3, etc. The difference between an adaper and receiver is that you can plug the speakers or (rarely) a television set directly into the media receiver. The adapter and the receiver are both likely to employ Wi-Fi to link entertainment components.

Most reports I've read, understandably, deduce that the massive adoption of other media formats, like CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and so on, is unlikely to happen with this family of gizmos because people are more likely to get the features built into mainstream equipment. Also, it may be several years before humans get accustomed to broadcasting Grokster, Morpheus, or KaZaA directly to their home stereo system. More likely, people will prefer to download to their iPod, or, for older users with legacy equipment in mind, to a CD. This, being widely anticipated by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) will keep prices high.

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