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The Sixth Annual Interactive Music Conference
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Group Report: Networked Audio Devices Interoperability Standard
Requirements Document

Participants: A.K.A. "Dos Equis" Stephen Handley; SonicBlue
Tom White; MMA Gary Johnson; Big Damn Consultants
Jeff Patterson; IUMA Jim Rippie; Sonic Network
Todd Hager; Dolby Laboratories Mike D'Amore; Kensei Consulting
Jorge Salhuana; Texas Instruments  

Table of Contents



   2.6.1 Content Distribution
   2.6.2 Content Conversion
   2.6.3 Content Streaming
   2.6.4 Content Copying



1 Introduction

The flexibility and convenience, offered by compressed digital audio devices, have changed the way people listen to music. While these devices have already matured greatly in quality and their potential is obvious, there are still many ways in which they can be improved to offer even greater benefits to the consumer.

One such improvement that needs to be made is device communications. At present, access to, and movement of, content between networked audio devices is frustrating at best. In most cases these devices need to connect to a PC to obtain content. Some companies are developing products that remove the requirement of the PC. However, even these only provide limited communication with other devices.

To clarify, it is beneficial to draw some comparisons with existing audio devices. At present if I buy a Sony CD player, I can connect its output to a Philips Amplifier or a Yamaha Cassette Deck. In contrast, a Rio jukebox will not talk to a RCA Lyra, which will not talk to a Creative Nomad, etc. etc.

This current lack of the ability to connect multiple "networked" audio devices together is unacceptable and needs to be fixed, before the consumer will truly accept these new devices as the "next generation" of audio appliances.

The goal of the XX Group is to outline a strategy for standardizing networked audio device communications. This document, which highlights the requirements of the standard, is the first step in the process. The document will be expanded upon post project BBQ and transformed into an initial proposal to be presented to a new industry standards group chartered with the task of developing the final standard.

2 Requirements

The following is a simple list of basic requirements for a networked audio device communications standard and some of the questions these requirements raise.

2.1 Interoperability

  • It is necessary to define what is meant by interoperable. Interoperability issues exist from the physical layer to the application layer. Some questions that arise are:
    • Should there be a baseline physical connection?
    • Which network protocols are appropriate?
    • Should there be a baseline CODEC?

2.2 Device Connection

  • The ability of devices to connect with other devices raises many questions, such as:
    • How do devices recognize other devices?
    • How is information shared between devices?
    • How is privacy of the user protected from attack by unwelcome devices?

2.3 Device Capabilities Description

  • For a device to share information with other devices, it is necessary that it understands these devices capabilities, including:
    • Services Information
    • Content Information
  • The way in which this information is shared is also important. I.e. should it be shared automatically or should it be shared upon request?

2.4 Quality of Audio

  • In any audio appliance, the quality of the audio is an important factor. In networked audio devices, audio quality raises questions such as the following:
    • What is acceptable audio quality?
    • Should audio quality scale depending upon device and application?
    • Should multi-channel audio be supported?

2.5 Content Access and Description

  • Given the amount of content that these devices are capable of storing, there needs to be an effective way for users to organize, navigate, search and listen to content. Based on this, the following questions should be answered:
    • Is there an effective way for devices to share information about content?
    • Can content descriptors (metadata) be easily attached to content?
    • Do the devices understand the same metadata?

2.6 Content Manipulation

2.6.1 Content Distribution

  • One of the most appealing features of networked audio devices is the ability to connect directly with content distributors and obtain new content. At the same time, such a feature raises many questions and issues:
    • Can protection of content be guaranteed?
    • What business models (incl. Method of payment) are workable?

2.6.2 Content Conversion

  • Since end users will have preexisting content in multiple formats which they will want to place on the network, it is necessary to answer the following questions:
    • Does content have to be converted to a baseline CODEC, or is there support for multiple CODEC types?
    • How is preexisting copyrighted content protected on the network?

2.6.3 Content Streaming

  • Another feature offered by these devices will be the ability to stream content (as opposed to copying or moving from one storage location to another) between devices. Some questions such an application raises are:
    • Is there any restriction on which devices can stream content to/from another device?
    • What balance should be reached between audio quality and guaranteed delivery of audio?

2.6.4 Content Copying

  • One of the most controversial features of networked audio devices is their ability to make copies of content and distribute the copies to other devices on the network. Some of the issues with such a feature include:
    • How to allow some devices to copy copyrighted content while preventing wide spread copying of this content.
    • How to allow content owners to dictate the policies regarding copying of their content
    • How to efficiently provide content of different quality and memory requirements based on device storage capabilities.

2.7 Storage

  • In networked audio devices, there are two types of storage, permanent and removable. Both have their benefits, but also require the following issues to be addressed.
    • Is it possible to bind content to media?
    • WRT removable media, is it possible to protect content but also provide same flexibility I have with current removable storage types (e.g. CD and cassette)?

2.8 Digital Rights Management

  • By far the biggest issue facing the design of any networked audio communications standard is that of Digital Rights Management or DRM. In order for such a standard to be successful, it find the right balance between addressing the rights of the content owners and the needs of the consumer. Some of the questions and issues raised by the need for DRM are:
    • What is "FAIR USE" (In it's current form and with respect to this standard)?
    • How does DRM affect streaming between devices?
    • How does DRM affect the end user experience?
    • What is the difference between moving content and copying content?
    • Are content owners able to dictate the policies regarding use of their content?

3 Action Items

Now that the main issues have at least been raised, there are a number of follow up steps required to achieve the end goal of a networked audio device communications standard.

  • Complete the requirements document.
    • This document raises a number of questions. It is now necessary to convert this document into a requirements document which answers these questions and outlines the specific requirements of the standard.
  • Identify preexisting pertinent technologies that fulfill requirements
    • Are these technologies proprietary or open?
    • Which industry groups (if any) are responsible for these technologies?
  • Form a NEW standards group focused on the task of designing this standard
    • Work with preexisting industry groups to influence any leveraged technologies to required to realize the standard
    • Develop any new technologies required to complete the proposed standard
    • Time frame (by next BBQ) - at present time it is not feasible to formally request proposals and invite memberships, due to current climate within industry. Individual members of XX group will continue to move toward a solution which, at the point in time where an industry group IS feasible, the current proposal will form the basis for the final open standard.
    • Readers interested in the status of this group and this issue can contact Stephen Handley at device-interoperability-info@projectbarbq.com.
  • Ask Linda to set up email address so that information can be provided to interested parties.

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1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. Networked Audio Devices Interoperability Standard
5. Towards Interactive XMF  
6. Improve PC Audio 
7. Game Audio Network Guild
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