Toshiba Ships Pricey, Wireless Media Center
Magnia SG20 intended to evolve into a digital hub for the home, linking PCs, stereos, TV, and more. Tom Mainelli, PCWorld.com
Soon home PCs and consumer electronics products will talk to each other, and Toshiba plans to be at the center of that discussion. The company launched its Magnia SG20 Wireless Media Center Tuesday, a $1399 server it says will act as a digital hub for the entire home.
Toshiba designed the Magnia SG20 to be an access point to data, voice, and entertainment technologies, says Oscar Koenders, vice president of product marketing.
"All media is adopting PC-friendly formats," Koenders says. From MP3 music to JPEG photos to MPEG movies, people are seeking a way to share their digital content at home--and from the road as well. Toshiba expects Internet protocols to be the method.
The company's unique position as a market leader in a range of electronics--from notebook PCs and cable modems to such consumer products as television sets and DVD players--puts it in a position to link those devices and their content, Koenders says.
"We need to sync consumer electronics and PCs," he says. Ease of use is key, he adds.
Koenders admits the Magnia SG20 is a bit costly for it to gain broad acceptance. But he says early adopters will recognize the device's value.
The Magnia SG20's key feature is its ability to share and back up content, thanks to a 15GB hard drive and two empty drive bays that will allow users to add storage, he says. Backup service over the Internet via IBackup is available for an additional fee. The unit has a printer port, plus seven Ethernet ports that allow you to connect up to seven PCs or other Ethernet-ready devices, and even share a single broadband connection. Virtual private network capabilities let you access files stored at home while you're on the road. For example, you could stream music stored on your home PC to any PC with an Internet connection. The system also has an integrated firewall.
A wireless connection to the Wireless Media Center requires an 802.11b wireless PC Card (Toshiba sells one for $102). Toshiba is offering a PC Card slot instead of built-in networking, so the unit isn't tied to a single standard, Koenders says. Users can update the Linux-based Magnia SG20 by downloading software drivers for new technologies, such as the much faster 802.11a.
Finally, the Magnia SG20 includes features that control video monitoring and home automation tasks online. For example, you could connect a digital video camera to the unit, and access its video feed from afar.
Toshiba promises painless installation. A CD-ROM guides you through PC setup, and then you control all functions through a Web interface.
Electronics Come Home
Aside from a few stereo components, very few consumer electronics products currently plug directly into the Magnia SG20, Koenders says. However, Toshiba plans to support the IP connection in models across its product lines, including TVs and DVD players. With these ready network capabilities, you'll soon be able to access your favorite MPEGs, photo albums, and MP3s through your television.
And although its features sound like those of a server, Toshiba positions the Magnia SG20 as something new.
"We don't want to look or act like a server" because that implies complexity and difficulty, Koenders says. "If we make it simple enough, people will like it."
In fact, consumers want networking products like the Magnia SG20, but only a few are willing to pay such a high price, says Gemma Paulo, networking analyst with the research firm In-Stat/MDR. "That's pretty expensive for the home," she says, but notes that it will appeal to some. "It's a good idea. They could hit some real high-end consumers."
Toshiba's decision to let buyers choose their wireless connectivity is both good and bad, she says. It leaves open the option to move to 802.11a, which should provide better throughput than today's 802.11b, which simply can't support multiple data streams, she notes. But its $1399 price--sans network card--is daunting, she adds. A basic wireless network (two wireless NIC cards and an access point) can cost as little as $250 total.
However, Paulo calls Toshiba "on the edge" of innovation in this area. To appeal to mainstream consumers, the Magnia SG20 and future products must cost less, she advises.
In fact, Toshiba expects prices to drop, Koehners says. Updates to the SG20 will cost less, he promises. Toshiba will likely unveil details about that product at PC Expo/TechXNY later in June, he says.