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A new generation of high-definition television is about to hit the market with several vendors set to go head to head to a battle to swing consumers over to big screens with HDTV hard drives.

 By incorporating enough storage to make a buyer for a midsize business stand up and take notice, companies such as LG Electronics and Samsung are set to turn HDTVs into home servers capable of performing multiple functions in a digital home. This additional technology firepower will allow integrators to offer their own customisation specialties for these systems. But the million dollar question is who will grab this space. The CEDIA member or home automation specialist or the IT integrator who has the IP skill set. One thing that is certain and that is, mass resellers are not going to have the skill set let alone the training capability to deliver a truely effective customer solution in this space. However there are hundreds of cornerstore IT specialists who are run highly efficent businesses selling low margin products, who do know how to configure these HDTV systems with hard drives and they will be the biggest competitors for CEDIA member in this space. In fact many of them could well cut deals with mass resellers to do the service calls, that will be needed to transform these hard drive devices into proper media centers.

 “We’re designing appliances that pare down a system to take, basically, a Windows OS or a Linux OS and make that a specialised little kernel,” says Trevor Smith, sales director at Brite Computer, an IT builder and custom integrator. “There’s lots of neat stuff we can do. Costs are coming down. As [the hardware] becomes a commodity play, the necessity of extreme HD can continue [momentum] in the home.”

 For example, LG’s latest HDTVs are built with as much as 160 Gbytes of hard-drive space for storage–a marriage of PC-based technology and home video that is turning these devices into command centres for the home.”When you think about the home server concept in the industry, it’s always been somewhat of a misnomer. The fact that your mom will go out and buy a home server is highly unlikely,” says Bob Perry, LG’s vice president of channels. “But if your mom went out and bought a product that also had the ability to record and archive and keep all of those treasured family moments–photos, music, video, home videos–I think your mom will buy that product. The kind of storage built into these types of televisions is the first steps into the home server market. These are baby steps.”

 If the TV-as-home-server doesn’t grab the market’s attention, this will: The Federal Government is set to announce a switch off date for traditional analogue TV with some tipping early 2009, although the specific date is still up for grabs. That’s when viewers will need either a next-generation DTV or set-top box to receive a signal, which will be clearer than ever.

 The transition date, while firming up, was not yet set in stone as of last month. Vendors are currently lobbying the government. For them the sooner the better as it will drive big sales of large screens in Australia. They have also said that a government-mandated transition to DTV will be considered a watershed for the industry.

 Still, vendors and integrators aren’t waiting for the ink to dry on a new federal law. “Over the next couple of years, we’re going to see a substantially broader array of products that have storage in them and the ability to interconnect and share their content with other devices,” Perry says.

But some tier-one manufacturers aren’t waiting to begin broadline integration of IT into plasma or LCD TVs. Here are just a few examples of what was cooking at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month:

 · LG, unveiled several new HD products, including an AN 110 DLP wall-mounted projector. Its line-up of plasma displays in 2006 also will include four that have not only 160-Gbyte hard drives but also built-in high-definition DVRs.

 · Samsung said they will provide interactive digital cable services, including the Open Cable Application Platform (OCAP) that run on Samsung HDTVs. The systems will include access to an interactive program guide and other interactive TV features. In Australia this could well be via the Ice TV service.

 · ViewSonic has continued its move into the DTV arena with, among other things, its new NextVision 60 Series of LCD TVs. The products include the 40-inch N4060W, the 37-inch N3760w and the 32-inch N3260w. Also set to be a big player in this space is VIZIO who later this year will launch a range of LCD TV’s with built in HDTV tuners and hard drives.

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