Opening disclosure: I am working on a consulting project with Netgear, but that work is unrelated to my blogging about them. I was invited to their press conference and chose to attend and got to see three new products that I was previously unaware of. This blog post is because I am genuinely amazed with a product of theirs.
Now, onto the story. Netgear had a press conference this morning and unveiled three new products which I will list and describe in ascending order of excitement and interestingness. Before the demos, Debbie Williams (Netgear’s Chief Marketing Officer) gave a brief “state of the union” for the company. Basically: 10 years old, market cap of $883M, products sold in >16K retailers, and they introduced 50 new products in 2006 (methinks about 42 of them were routers, but I guess it counts anyway, right?). She then went on to discuss how 2006 was the year of building the home network for the digital lifestyle (love that term, but I think I may have heard it before), and 2007 is the year of delivering the experience. She then introduced Vivek Pathela, Netgear’s VP of Product Marketing to do the demos (again, listed here in my order, not theirs):
- Storage Central Turbo. This updates 2005’s Storage Central device by adding the capacity to expand to multiple terabytes of data as well as gigabit Ethernet. If you aren’t paying attention to the bits and bytes, it means it can store and stream HD movies around your house. This is a fairly evolutionary/logical enhancement to the product line. The MSRP is $249 (with no included hard drives, which makes sense since it’s so much cheaper for you to buy your own anyway) and the product should ship “early” this year. More pics:
- Dual-Mode Cordless Phone with Skype. Now we’re seeing some interesting convergence happen. Quite a few companies introduced Skype or VoIP phones in 2006, some worked well, some didn’t. Netgear seems to have added a clever twist by incorporating a standard telephone in the same handset (aka Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS). This is a very smart combination, as it lets a consumer have just a single home phone that can work with both Skype and POTS systems. Also, you can get multiple handsets all working with the same base station (although an audience member asked a great question: can more than one handset make a simultaneous POTS call? which stumped the Netgear team – I sure hope it’s a yes). The demo went great as Vivek called Patrick Lo, Netgear’s CEO, and had a quick live call with near-excellent audio quality. MSRP $199, available now (on Amazon)!
- EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD. Oh my is this one interesting. It’s a, well, “box” that hooks up to your TV and your home network connection. It then streams your music, photos, and videos from any PC or networked storage device (NAS) to your TV. It also streams from YouTube (they demoed a classic Diet Coke/Mentos video, which about 90% of the audience reacted as if they’d never seen it before – wow). It also works in high definition (up to 1080p resolution), including full upscaling/downscaling of video. It supports almost every video codec, including MPEG-4 HD, WMV HD, DivX, MPEG-2, H.264, etc etc. It also streams iTunes (including protected content if from a Windows PC, sorry Mac folks). It also has USB to locally connect a flash drive or an iPod. It also supports multiple units so you can start a video in one room, then finish it in another. It also has full PVR (TiVo-like) capabilities. And from the demo, it looks like it works very well! As a guy who has spent about 8 years designing award-winning devices just like these, I am quite impressed. Quite! MSRP $349, available early 2007.
I’ve seen a bit of other coverage already of the conference. MacUser compares it against iTV and calls the UI “uninspired” which is a fair point, but I think making comparisons against a product that’s not really been “announced” yet isn’t quite appropriate. Also, I disagree that Apple will beat the $349 price point, as I think they’d rather rip into their loyal customer base who are more willing to overpay for the Apple brand. More coverage from Ed Kohler, Eric Savitz at Barron’s, Gadgetell, and SciFi.com, but for very extensive details, here’s the Engadget transcript. I also bumped into Dave Zatz (with Sakshi Goel of Netgear), Netgear’s resident CES blogger.
So there’s my front-runner for most interesting new product of CES: the Netgear Digital Entertainer HD. We’ll see how the rest of the show pans out! More Netgear conference pics below and the whole CES collection is here.