The revolution in consumer electronics

The advancing complexity in consumer electronics is posing serious challenges for designers and users alike. Key to managing this complexity is the intelligent use of embedded systems.

When I was asked to spearhead this consumer electronics supplement to Embedded Systems Programming and EETimes , I found myself interested from a number of different angles. Over the years having worked on a embedded systems that found their way into various consumer devices, I certainly have a professional interest in consumer electronics. I've also quite often found myself on the consumer side of the counter.

Being an engineer I tend to dig more deeply than most people into the boxes I buy. I'm rarely content unless I know how something works, so I've pried open most of the boxes to see just what makes them tick. In the past the guts of these devices had more than their measure of analog components, but nowadays I usually see very familiar CPUs and other components. This change is hardly surprising to my professional self, because I know that increasing complexity is driving the consumer electronics industry to heavier use of embedded systems.

The transition is not happening easily, however. The consumer electronics industry is struggling with a number of issues regarding increased complexity. Recently I invoked a Federal Communications Commission ruling that required cable companies providing high-definition (HD) content to offer at least one set-top box with an active 1394 port. In the course of this process I had to educate a number of the cable company's personnel on just what this port was and why I wanted it. When the service tech brought the box out to my house, he proudly announced 'Here is your 1364 (sic) box!” As of this writing, I am still trying to resolve a 1394 compatibility issue between that Scientific-Atlanta 3250HD box and my Mitsubishi HDTV and DVCR.

Compatibility issues are not the only problem. For this revolution to succeed it must not only tear down the old but also build a new industry. This industry must not only outperform the old but do so in such a way as to allow the new players to make money. The Internet mantra that profitability is a distant second to market share has been definitively buried over the last few years.

The key to handling the amazing complexity of these challenges is intelligent use of embedded systems. As with so many areas these days, the future of the consumer electronics industry is inextricably tied to the systems we build. I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge.

Larry Mittag is a contributing editor for Embedded Systems Programming magazine and a member of the advisory board for the Embedded Systems conference. He is also the director of engineering for A7 Engineering, a contract engineering firm that provides products primarily based on Windows CE. Larry can be reached at .

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