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CES 2012: TV makers offer simple ways to share content

January 11, 2012 |  8:41 am

At the Consumer Electronics Show 2012, several major brands unveiled cloud-based services that push content sharing beyond the boundaries of the home

Consumer electronics manufacturers have talked up the idea of sharing photos, videos and music across devices for the better part of a decade. At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, though, several of the major brands took the concept a step further, unveiling cloud-based services that pushed content-sharing beyond the boundaries of the home.

LG, for example, showed off "my CloudShare" with a feature called Familycast, which enables remote access from a connected TV set in one home to the digital content stored in another. Samsung displayed "allshare," which enables people to remotely access music, movies and pictures either from their home network or from copies stored online, and a "Family Story" app that shares pictures and messages across multiple homes through connected TVs, tablets and smartphones.

These capabilities reflect the work of the Digital Living Network Alliance, an inter-industry coalition formed in 2003 to promote interoperability among devices in the home. Before the alliance started working on its specifications, manufacturers used a hodgepodge of different and potentially incompatible technologies -- some of them proprietary -- to store information and send it from device to device. DLNA cleared the confusion by picking a common set of standards for file types and communications protocols for devices to support.

The DLNA specs enable TVs, camcorders, smartphones, tablets and other devices connected to a home network to be automatically discovered by and share content with one another. More than half a billion products that meet the DLNA specifications are now in use, by ABI Research's estimates, laying the groundwork for the services that the likes of LG and Samsung demonstrated at CES. (Notably absent from DLNA is Apple, which follows its own muse on home networking.)

The new wrinkle this year is the addition of cloud-based sharing, which manufacturers pitched as a way to share pictures and home movies with friends and distant family members, or to enjoy one's personal music and video collections when away from home. Consumers have been able to do such things for years through their computers; now, the big consumer electronics brands want to make sharing simpler and bring it to more devices.

For example, Samsung's "Family Story" enables people to store photos -- including those snapped by the camera built into selected Samsung TVs -- in the cloud, where they can be viewed by others who are authorized to see them. The Family Story app essentially creates a private social media group through the Internet, with new photo uploads automatically made available to each member.

The cloud-based services on display at CES have the potential to promote copyright infringement, but that's true of any online-sharing application. The manufacturers' main selling point also seems to be sharing family memories, not record collections or Hollywood movies.

For Samsung and LG, at least, there's no revenue attached to the services -- they're free to users. So for now, cloud-based sharing is a feature aimed at selling more hardware, not a route to generating recurring revenue. But with Apple testing consumers' willingness to pay an annual fee for enhanced online storage, will their rivals in the consumer-electronics industry be far behind?


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-- Jon Healey in Las Vegas

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him at @jcahealey.

Photo: Samsung President Boo-Keun Yoon discussing the company's connected TV strategy at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Credit: Samsung