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A Visit To Gadget Heaven

19 Jan, 2003 By: Kurt Indvik

I am still reeling a bit from some of the wondrous visions I beheld at the recent Consumer Electronics Show In Las Vegas: A man playing bad chess against a very good robot who kept up a steady stream of patronizing banter at his befuddled opponent such as “Well, now, that's a move I hadn't considered!” A stupendous black Ferrari bejeweled inside with an array of video and audio equipment that would have me living in that vehicle if I could figure out a way to squeeze in a porta-potty. And, of course, the already famous Microsoft Dick Tracy-like wrist watch.

But back to more mundane things like home video, it was clear that home entertainment is making quantum leaps, not so much in new forms of electronic entertainment, but in streamlining and consolidating what we already have strewn about our living rooms, home offices and bedrooms. It's a simple a concept as the home theater in a box was a few years ago, but now it's reaching the far ends of the CE spectrum.

In virtually all of the major hardware brand booth spaces I wandered through I saw variations of this theme. The combination of TV/DVD/DVD Recorder/PVR/CD technology and control interfaces to let users enjoy multiple applications simultaneously.

Oh, yes, I also saw an off-site demonstration of the an Internet-enabled DVD console running software from Phoenix Technologies, designed under DVD Forum's preliminary iDVD standards (still in the final stages of approval), to bring CD-ROM applications to the TV set, among other interactive and Internet-based applications, through such things as DVD consoles, set-top boxes, etc. So you can add some Internet functionality to this scenario in the near future as well, and that brings in music and video downloading into the picture.

And of course Microsoft's own media player initiatives, combined with wireless connectivity in the home (and those nifty new PC tablets I saw at the show as well), makes the concept of an integrated home entertainment, multimedia center far closer to reality in the next several years than I would have thought prior to attending CES.

But outside of the few new DVD/VCR combination decks I saw at the show, it's also clear we are entering another phase of the digital revolution where, because our entertainment is becoming all digital, we can use digital means to control and blend this content.

I think we have many, many years to enjoy the fruits of DVD as a storage medium for collectible entertainment. But with HDTV moving fast down the pike, and our cable/Internet-connected home entertainment systems encapsulating every known application of digital playback (and some with storage) known to man, the short-term consumption of nonpackaged entertainment (e.g. VOD) will have a snug little home in which it may reside. The technology is here. It's now a matter of how fast it is adopted into American homes.

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