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The Fourth Annual Interactive Music Conference
PROJECT BAR-B-Q 1999
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: Apostles of the Church of Appliantology

Participants: Tom White; MMA
Conrad Maxwell; Conexant Systems Bob Starr; Beatnik
Stephen Handley; Texas Instruments Scott Foster; Aureal Inc.
Jim Rippie; Be Incorporated Todd Hager; Dolby Labs
Robert Sloan; Philips Peter Clare; Sensaura
Marc Stimak; Aureal Inc. Aaron Higgins; Microsoft
 

Facilitator: Charles Boswell

 

Introduction

It's worth beginning with an assertion that seems obvious, but even so should be made just to orient ourselves: the proliferation of the Internet and cheap technology brings an avalanche of change to just about everything.  Thinking about "everything" all at once will put a crease in your brain, but fortunately, Project Bar-B-Q allows us to focus on one small piece of the evolving universe: audio.  The "Appliantology" group took the opportunity to think about how this avalanche will pick up and provide a great deal of motion to the development of all sorts of audio products: home stereo components, personal listening devices, communication devices, pro audio production tools, and audio entertainment devices like games and novelty toys (to name a couple).

Having made the obvious point, the real problem is, what kinds of products are we talking about, exactly?  And what are the technological and cultural hurdles that make it difficult for us to capitalize on new opportunities and new ways to improve our collective lives with better audio experiences?

In an attempt to wrestle the issue to the ground, we set out to answer the following questions and set an agenda for future action:

  • Where is Audio going?
  • What new categories of products do the new economy and technology allow?
  • What new products can we envision?
  • What kinds of legacy technology keep us from moving to a new generation of audio products?
  • How might these new products change different areas of our everyday lives?

Where is Audio going?

As Appliantologists we chose to look where audio is going in terms of audio devices.  We look at portable devices, PC audio, Car Audio, Studio equipment and audio in the home.  A few common trends appeared for all these environments.  These trends are:

  • Direct to your ears
  • Content filtered to your interests
  • Broadband wireless connectivity
  • Miniaturization
  • Transparent data compression
  • Intelligent processing algorithms (3D, noise removal, etc.)
  • Voice User Interface
  • Should enable social interaction

Audio will be delivered more directly to the ears, a trend that originated with the success of the consumer WalkmanŽ.  For portable devices we could see wireless speakers in and around the ear like speaker earrings.  In the home for example the use of wireless headphones will allow listeners to have separate programs (with a multi-channel output device) and not interfere with each other.  Audio content will be filtered to your interests.  That is the audio that is listened to will be more individualized.  You could subscribe to a personal radio station that just plays music of your particular tastes.  Audio devices will be connected to the World Wide Web wirelessly to allow portable devices to get music from anywhere.  Miniaturization will continue allowing more capabilities in smaller devices.  A voice user interface will be utilized more for ease of use and eliminate bulky or cumbersome keyboards/ displays.  Audio devices should serve to bring people closer together and improve socialization.

These common trends for audio appliances are examined in this report in the following types of audio environments:

  • PC for audio
  • Personal Portable (Carried on your person)
  • Car ( Wireless devices)
  • Home (Living room, den, garage .)
  • Studio (Home studio and small studio)

1. What do we mean by Audio in "Audio Appliance?"
An audio appliance can be, for example, a sonified Internet game or a device used for music listening in the home.  It can be a portable listening device that can play back audio in any location.  An audio appliance can be used for creating music at home, on location or in a studio.  An audio appliance can be for communication like a telephone.

How will the PC evolve as an audio delivery device over the next 5+ years?

The PC has many attributes which makes it a good audio appliance.  It is flexible and upgradeable, has large mass storage and is connected to the Internet.  It has good sound creation capabilities like music synthesis and 3D audio effects.  It has many applications for music creation and interactive playback.  So why isn't the PC the best audio appliance?

PCs have many flaws making them difficult to use as a mechanism for providing audio to the user.  They are complex to use and maintain.  They are unreliable, crashing frequently. Software performs haltingly or erratically.  The keyboard is an awkward input device that can take users years to become proficient.  PC's are traditionally plagued with poor quality speakers designed for the office desktop.  They deliver fan and hard disk noise in addition to music.  They are slow to boot.  They are difficult to use and control in the living room from a 10' viewing distance as they were designed for solo use at 18 inches.  Finally they tend to be unattractive to look at.

PC functionality is being pulled into many devices in the home like the web browsing TV and audio channels via the set top box.  In the short term, the PC may become a server/router located away from the living room in the basement or closet or will be managed by the Telco's via a wide area network.  This server will store content and be networked to appliance devices with varying degrees of intelligence (processing power).  Moving the PC out of the room solves the problems of fan and disk noise and appearance.  Only the I/O device is in proximity to the user.  The speaker quality issue is solved since the user is able to network home-theatre-quality speakers to the server.  Then, appliances can determine their own user interfaces and the poor UI problem is also solved.

The complexity, slow to boot, and unreliability issues are solved in two ways: 1) In the longer term when broadband connectivity into the home becomes widely available, media will be delivered into the home like a utility such as electricity (i.e. server moved from basement to outside the home altogether). 2) The PC will become decentralized and focused into multiple simple appliances that will each provide a specific service that single server would otherwise provide.

Intelligent software agents on the Internet or on the home PC will cater to each individual's tastes. Personalized music agent will monitor your listening habits and suggest music in your interest area. Alternatively these agents respond to broader musical trends, allowing you to occasionally go beyond your current interests and broaden your horizons. Music recognition technology will allow audio database searches for sound bites instead of keywords. A personalized news agent will collect only news items you are interested in for personalized news and traffic reports. Appliances will have access to broadband data access. The full archive of all music will be available with better supporting material than can be supplied with the CD of today.

The keyboard and mouse will be supplemented or replaced by a voice user interface as well as by simple to use hand held remote controls.

Where is the PC going?

  • Disappearing into the Home
    - Diversifies into home Appliances Segments
    - Centralized Server in the home or at TELCO
  • With More Appropriate UI
    - Voice User Interface
    - Hand-Held remote controller

Where is Home Audio Going?

Several classes of device have been defined.  Home appliances are tied to the server/router (basement or external to the home).  Handheld or personal appliances can operate standalone, but may also be plugged into the home network.  Appliances for the car provide media services while on the road, but can also interact wirelessly with the home network while parked in the garage.  Studio appliances can be either home or personal devices, but serve a different need than passive consumption of entertainment.

Home appliances will consist of entertainment devices that primarily provide audio/visual I/O to the user, but may have some additional processing power built into them.  For example, speakers that are aware they are part of a two-speaker listening environment may have local processing power available to perform HRTF processing on multichannel input.  Multiple sets of wireless headphones will be used for head to head gaming and for listening to different channels while watching a single TV using picture in picture.

Example devices room by room:

  • Basement/closet will contain noisy server equipment.  External servers operated by the Telcos will remove the necessity for even this equipment.
  • Kitchen will contain a low-quality LCD display suitable for display of recipes and small video telephone picture.  Two speakers capable of receiving and downmixing/virtualizing multichannel audio (in-house server could likely do this processing, but external server (Telco) is not likely to, forcing this processing to be done at the appliance).
  • Living room contains two sets of headphones for head to head gaming using two game-quality displays or for listening to different channels while watching video in picture-in-picture on a Huge HDTV, 6 speakers including subwoofer, karaoke player.  All these devices are fed their media from the server.
  • Den/Office will contain a game-quality display that allows game play with users in the living room.  Traditional keyboard and mouse, speakers, video phone, portable music authoring system including music controllers, music creation device, DJ scratching station and multi-track recorder/sequencer also are present.
  • Bedroom contains a small HDTV, four speakers, handheld remote interacting with GUI displayed on HDTV screen.
  • Garage is capable of two-way wireless communication with car while parked in garage or driveway to allow downloading of music and news selected or created by intelligent Internet agents.

Where are handheld audio devices going?

The ultimate destination for portable audio devices is in the ear.  The futuristic view is of an Ear Implant or personal headset that can be removed.  There are those who see the Orwellian aspects of such devices paid for by advertisers who beam audio adverts directly to the populace.  Using a practical application these devices would eliminate speakers which would allow for silent rock concerts.  By adding head tracking the device could yield an immersive 3D audio environment or binaural sound delivery.  They could function as hidden language translators or as noise cancellers for the much needed personal silence.  The direction of wireless devices like speakers and microphones is towards miniaturization and with devices in the ear is the ultimate destination of such devices.

In the near term miniaturization of components will allow for earring speakers.  These earring speakers will be wirelessly connected to other devices.  Multiple earrings can be used to create multichannel sound.  A microphone can also be included in these devices.

Miniaturization of devices will also make a voice user interface more desirable.  You will be able to command and get responses aurally.  Devices will summarize web pages using spoken language.

Functions will be combined. PDA, Cell Phone, MP3 player, GPS locator, Watchman etc. These combinations will allow for useful applications.  A friend locator will use the GPS combined with inter device communication to determine if friends are in the neighborhood.  In Japan similar technology is used to input the personality characteristics of people you'd like to meet.  If there is such a person in the area the device will alert you.

Devices will be used for the creation of music.  Traditional instruments are difficult to learn to play.  An intelligent device could aid in music creation.  The user could sing into the device and which would create instrument sounds with the same pitch.  This would allow the joy of music creation to a wider audience.

These devices would be more "personalizable" allowing the user to choose any song or musical phrase to be the alarm or ring indication.

The portable device would have credit card capabilities as well as a UPC scanner allowing the user to use the device to purchase things without the need of a cashier.  Audio content via the wide area network could be purchased via the web directly with the device.

The device could see wider use with the addition of tactile feedback.
Product ideas include:

  • Music Disc player using 20 Giga byte DVD to store most of users collection.
  • Radio/MP3 player
  • Video Phone
  • Portable book
  • Hand-Held computer
  • Music DVD disc player that contains 20 GB of mp3 files holding your entire audio library in a portable format.
  • Wireless networked Gameboy T with Voodoo3 graphics and virtualized multichannel headphone output for immersive portable multiplayer networked gaming.
  • Easy-to-carry music creation appliances for people of beginning abilities (rhythm machines, DJ scratching, music tutors, karaoke) with appropriate musical control surfaces and larger screens.

Where are Music Studio Appliances Going?

These devices will encompass consumer, hobbyist, and professional applications.  Some shrink-wrap software products will move to simple appliance devices, avoiding PC complexity The user interfaces and control surfaces of these devices will become more effective for music production since mouse and keyboard are terribly inadequate interfaces for musicians). Faders, knobs, and wheels will replace these devices.  Multichannel (e.g., more than stereo) inputs and outputs will be incorporated.  DSP farm add-on devices can be plugged in to the system as needed to handle processing all these channels.

Low latency, high bandwidth Internet connections will allow multiperson, geographically diverse jam sessions in realtime.

The studio will become portable - the feature-rich digital audio workstation will be able to live on the laptop or smaller device.

Where is Automobile Audio Going?

The car will be wirelessly connected to allow Internet access for personalized radio and news as well as information like GPs map information.  When parked in the garage the car will be locally connected allowing the transfer of audio libraries.  The audio portion of a TV show can continue in the car when leaving the home.

Wireless networking in the car will allow in-traffic realtime chat with fellow drivers.  Users will be able to tell other drivers to turn their bright beams and turn signals off, or ask them to meet for coffee.

Audible bumper stickers will allow the driver in front of you to beam a short personalized slogan onto your speaker system.  Audible billboards will be able to play sonic content of their ad over your car speakers as you drive past them.  Drivers will be able to automatically find the station playing the cool song emanating from the car next to you.  Noise cancellation and acoustic modeling technologies will enhance the listening experience.

Other product ideas include:
interactive disco lighting in the car and
wipers synchronized to the car audio

Summary

The PC as we know it today will disappear into the home, being supplanted by external servers/routers and smaller, focused appliance devices.  These appliances will be limited in function and focused towards the consumer.  Speech recognition and music recognition will be important technological developments allowing voice control and search-by-content through audio media.  Consumption of audio media will become more personalized to each individual - either through music-on-demand or through filtering of broadcast media to exclude content outside the customer's tastes.  The line between music listeners and music makers will soften greatly.  There is a need for greater availability of high bandwidth connections in both the wired and particularly the wireless environments.

Call to action

What is keeping these products from being realized?  The most important need in the home is standardization in connectivity.  If we had interoperable standards today we would have a much large number of home networked devices created.  Speech recognition must be improved in order to allow an audio user interface.  Bandwidth needs to be increased in in-home networks and for the pipe into the home.  And lastly miniaturization needs to continue in order to combine functionalities into one device.

section 6


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select a section:  1. Introduction  2. Speaker Summary  3. Executive Summary  
4. The Big Picture Group  5. The Impact of Digital Distribution on the Various Constituencies Within the Music Industry Group  
6. The Apostles of the Church of Appliantology Group 
7. The Sound Pressure Lobby Group   8. Schedule & Sponsors