The Digital Den Emerges

Most audiophiles are generally loathe to think that they'd run their main audio systems from a computer. Last time we ran a poll, answers such as this one from David L. Wyatt, Jr. were typical: "Why in the world would I hook my computers to my stereo? If I want to make a compilation CD of the music I have purchased, I'll just burn one."

And yet, there were still quite a few readers who have made the leap and are exploring ways to get their computers to perform audiophile chores. Among the big draws for doing this is the ability to connect a system to the Internet for either music downloads or Internet radio, not to mention using the computer's hard drive as a music server.

The general population seems to be catching on to this idea, too. A recent survey finds that nearly three out of four (72%) US consumers say they are interested in a product that would "easily connect their home entertainment systems to the Internet." Researchers at Ipsos-Insight have dubbed this phenomena the "Digital Den" and have also found that most consumers are concerned about the time and knowledge required to set up a Digital Den system, as well as compatibility issues with equipment they already own.

In addition to audio capable computers, the surveyors define Digital Den–type products as media hubs, wired-Ethernet media players, and wireless digital media players such as Fireball, Soundblaster, Macsense HomePod, and Turtle Beach AudioTron At-100.

But until the big consumer electronics giants get behind the concept in unison, actual sales may be modest. The researchers' findings also indicate that two out of three (64%) US consumers say they are not familiar with home-entertainment products that act as a central hub for sharing music, movies, games, and other digital content between home electronic devices and the Internet.

Ipsos-Insight's Todd Board remarks, "Low familiarity and confusion are not surprising given that we are still in the early adoption-phase of Digital Den–type products. At this early stage of the game, with so many brands and product variations, there is a risk that 'translation clutter' is confusing potential customers as to what the products actually do. Not so different from the confusion consumers are encountering with the introduction of things like VoIP, or telephone service via the Internet."

However, among those who expressed an interest in connecting their home entertainment devices to one central media hub, the study finds that the majority (64%) said they anticipate purchasing a Digital Den–type product within the next year, if one is available for a reasonable price.

Board explains, "People are interested in networking their home entertainment systems to the Internet, and they are willing to spend money on Digital Den–type products if the price is right." The results indicate that the majority of people interested in Digital Den products say they would spend around $50 to $200 to connect their home entertainment systems, which is roughly what they would pay for a DVD player or video game console, notes the study.

"Consumers are confused about the equipment, functionality, and compatibility of Digital Den products," Board concludes. "These misperceptions could be barriers to conversion for many consumers. What's key to understand here is that when consumers aren't sure how a new technology approach will work, and aren't totally comfortable that it will work, they look to trusted brands as a proxy, a 'guarantor' of product performance. Firms looking to enter the Digital Den space need to start with the basics; that is, raise awareness levels, improve consumer understanding and performance trust, and then get consumers excited about the features and benefits of creating a Digital Den."