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Guitar maker eyes the digital home

Jun 03, 20034 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* Gibson Labs Magic protocol provides high-speed, real-time multimedia connectivity

Gibson Labs Magic protocol provides high-speed, real-time multimedia connectivity.


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Last week ( we looked at three emerging home network standards, OSGi, WiMedia and Zigbee. To further complicate things, this week we’ll look at a fourth: Magic (, or the Media-Accelerated Global Information Carrier protocol, developed by Gibson Labs.

Magic is a multimedia protocol that routes and sends audio, video, MIDI, control information or other data over long distances (up to 100 meters) using standard Cat-5 Ethernet cables. Gibson created Magic to compliment its line of digital guitars, as a cable replacement to make it easier for musicians during live performances to connect their instruments, amplifiers, receivers and the like. Gibson introduced the first Magic speakers, amplifiers and audio systems last year, and the company is working with 3Com to build Magic chips to embed in a variety of devices.

In essence, Magic enhances Ethernet, making it a reliable, suitable transport mechanism for multimedia. Magic has the ability to do isochronous (or time-dependant) transfers inside Ethernet, which allows for deterministic latency between two points. In other words, if you send a data packet, you’ll know it will get to its destination in a specific amount of time. Magic transmits packets at a fixed size and at a fixed rate, which is what media requires. Ethernet doesn’t do that because it was designed as a document delivery system, a way to get a file to a laser printer. When it got there didn’t matter, so long as it got there fast.

“When we originally set forth to make the digital guitar, we needed some sort of audio standard that could play the notes in real time,” says Nathan Yeakel, Gibson Labs CTO. “If you’re playing an instrument, you can’t have any perceivable delay. Magic lets us do audio and video distribution with extremely low latency.”

The protocol uses Universal Plug and Play for auto-discovery, meaning Magic-enabled devices simply need to be plugged in to each other to work. Magic allows for Fast Ethernet data rates of 85M bit/sec, and 850M bit/sec over gigabit. It supports power over Ethernet and competes with IEEE 1394 and analog connections.

Rightfully so, Magic is catching the attention of consumer electronics manufacturers and is taking steps to get the word out. Gibson’s talked to Microsoft and Intel, and is in discussions with a very large consumer electronics manufacturer. The guitar maker is working to get a study group together with the IEEE, and its taken part in some meetings at the Consumer Electronics Association.

Gibson envisions Magic will be used as a home network backbone technology, in homes that are already wired for Ethernet. Magic is compatible with wireless standards, but it requires a very high level of quality of service, which wireless can’t yet provide. Yeakel says Gibson is watching Ultra Wideband technology very closely.