Digital amusement options continue to expand, but the majority of people still don't have a network suitable for sharing entertainment around the home.
Lifehacker readers are generally tech-savvy, so the odds are good that you'll already have a home network, and realise the benefits it can bring. (In this context, I'm talking a proper network connecting multiple devices, not just a Wi-Fi router streaming out internet access to individual systems with no other connectivity.) Those benefits are particularly evident when it comes to entertainment: with centralised storage and good media centre software, you can easily access TV shows, movies, music and photos on any device that suits.
However, despite the benefits, uptake is far from universal. This week Canon released its biannual Consumer Digital Lifestyle Index (CDLI), which uses data from market research firm GfK to track trends in PC and gadget usage by Australians. The most recent instalment covers the second half of 2010.
There are lots of interesting stats in the CDLI, but the ones that jumped out at me were the figures relating to home networking. While the press announcement emphasised that these numbers were growing, they remain low overall. Just 47% of notebook PCs and 43% of desktops are connected to a home network. For non-PC devices, the figures are lower still: 22% for mobile phones and just 9% for televisions.
One factor evident in the survey that might influence that pattern is that upgrade cycles in many categories are becoming shorter, meaning we're not hanging on to our tech for as long. Around 44% of us have a sub-two-year life cycle for PCs, and for cameras the same figure is 26%. Despite standardisation, that in turn can make networking less than appealing: who wants to be configuring new devices all the time?
That, I suspect the biggest reason for rejecting home networking is that it remains complicated in the first place. Wi-Fi security settings are a pain to configure and performance can vary, and when you encounter problems the first standard advice is usually "switch off security and see if that helps". Using cabled Ethernet networks largely eliminates that issue, but unless you've designed your house from scratch with cable ducts to every room then trying not to drape the lounge area with cables can be a big challenge. And that's without considering DRM and format playback issues. The benefits may be considerable, but I'm not really surprised so many resist.
A final piece of good news for gadget buyers, whatever your networking preferences: average prices across the survey fell by 13%. The bits really are getting cheaper.
Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained.