Tech Trends to Watch in 2006
by Tim Gnatek - ExtremeTech
With the growing number of technology-infused products and services
tipping into the mainstream, even hesitant tech adopters are starting
to take advantage of new ways to acquire, share and enjoy
Which items will go from conversation pieces of the digerati to
must-haves for the mass market? Sizing up some of the notable
entertainment technology trends of 2005 gives one perspective on the
emerging status quo and what are likely the breakout technologies in
Portable Entertainment PCs
Laptops are more popular than ever. According to some sources, the
notebook market will rise 30 percent this year, and overtake homebound
units by 2010. It isn't just the anywhere access: laptops geared for
entertaining make a good case for replacing both the TiVo and the big
old box at home.
Even ordinary laptops are going for movie screen makeovers: Research
firm IDC forecasts widescreen-format displays will outpace standard
screens next year. But entertainment PCs, like the Toshiba Qosmio and
Fujitsu N6010, have more than just a pretty screen; they come packed
with 100GB hard drives, Windows XP Media Center Edition and processors
that can simultaneously record live TV, stream tunes and play movies
on 17-inch letterbox LCDs.
If that's not big enough, the machines also include digital outputs
for connecting to larger displays like plasma screens and high
definition televisions, and remote controls for on-the-couch
High definition televisions have gone mainstream as well. Thanks to
HDTV's convincing improvement in picture quality and a growing number
of available programs, more shoppers are buying into the new picture
All the major networks provide at least some prime time programming in
high definition, and many special cable and satellite channels like
TNT and DiscoveryHD offer the format exclusively.
Cost has always been an obstacle for these sets, which pump out nearly
ten times the pixel count of standard televisions but dropping prices
have caused some insiders to believe that high-definition television
will be the hottest trend of the holiday season.
Units like Sony's entry-level 30 inch set, the KV-30HS420, can be had
for as little as $700, while bigger 45-inch living room sets like the
Sharp Aquos LC-45GXSU come in under $5,000.
Making Digital Video
Capturing moments on film has become a lot more convenient; in
addition to smaller camcorders filling the market, many of today's
other portable gadgets hide miniature movie-makers that record in
computer-friendly formats for sharing online.
Cameras have featured movie modes for some time, and newer versions,
like the pocket-sized Kodak EasyShare V530, give more attention to
video-specific features. It not only records 5 megapixel photographs,
the camera shoots MPEG-4 format movies with an anti-shake mode that
steadies jittery hands.
That even more essential carry-along, the cell phone, also has dozens
of video-recording models to choose from, from Nokia's 7610, a
showpiece imaging phone for early adopters that captures up to 10
minutes of film, to the more affordable Motorola V551 video phone. The
captured movies may not be box office quality, but they certainly
suffice, and are incredibly portable, making them just the answer to
recording impromptu moments.
Sharing Personal Media
With all that video-making wherewithal, more people are faced with the
question of what to do with their new movies. Post them on a blog?
E-mail them to friends? Upload them to a peer-to-peer network?
Unless you're a shameless exhibitionist, you won't want to
indiscriminately share personal moments online (just see the Numa Numa
dance to be reminded how embarrassing this can be). Fortunately, a
spate of new file-sharing tools can help you share video with just who
The peer-to-peer service Grouper.com has honed itself to personal
movie distribution, allowing users to control access to films or files
by creating or joining private file-sharing networks. Share self-made
media just among family, post videos to an online club, or release a
movie to the masses. With a new software update, users can edit videos
and add a soundtrack or special effects to movies before posting.
Other services encourage private file sharing too: private
peer-to-peer groups like Qnext turn your computer into the hub of a
private network for only those you invite. The program allows members
to access your hard drive like a folder on their computer, allowing
access to only the files you indicate. Qnext bills their application
as a do-all program; not only can you share clips with others, but
with the built-in instant messaging, internet phone service and
videoconferencing, you can remind friends to check them out.
Video to Go
Thanks to some of this season's most wished-for gifts, we've seen more
ways to carry video clips around with you this year.
Although the category isn't new, it has come a long way; early
portable players like the Archos AV320 suffered in storage and
portability compared to today's slim-lined creations like the iPod
Video, which holds up to 60 gigabytes in roughly half the size. The
latest devices also hide video players within other hot portable
gadgets, like the Sony PSP game system. Cell phones are becoming
mobile sets as well, as 3G models with video players like the Nokia
6600 rise in popularity.
Already, South Korea's Digital Multimedia Broadcasting company runs a
whole television network for wireless mobile devices. That may not be
so far away for the U.S. -- programming from the likes of Disney,
Warner Brothers and ABC television is already available for download
on-demand to portable devices.
Podcasting has become a more familiar term this year, as commercial
broadcasters and corporate marketers catch on to publishing radio
shows over the Internet . Today, many popular radio programs,
including top AM radio talk shows like "Coast to Coast AM" and "The
Rush Limbaugh Show," offer Podcasts of their daily episodes to
subscribers, as do many newscasts and public radio programs.
Joining them this August, General Motors became the first company to
issue corporate Podcasts about their product line. Podcasting has
grown influential enough to take over the terrestrial airwaves, too.
Adam Curry, MTV video jock and pioneer in Podcasting, now hosts a
Podcast talk show on Sirius radio, while this year in San Francisco,
KYOURADIO (1550 AM) became the first all-Podcast radio station;
Podcasters can upload their shows to the station's Web site for later
Entertained by Open Source
Whether for entertainment or productivity, 2005 was another year
marked by the growing popularity of open-source software
programs. Free to use and modify, the community-built programs
continued to challenge the commercial software industry, led by the
most popular of recent adoptions, the Firefox Web browser.
In just a little over a year since its debut, the Mozilla development
team logged over 100 million downloads of their application, and just
released an updated version with improved surfing conveniences.
But it's not just the program that turns heads; since the program
facilitates third-party add-ons, hundreds of developers have released
their own tweaks to the tool, making it an ideal device for frittering
There are thousands of other open-source projects under way, many of
which are skewed to entertainment and are free to try. For example,
look at: http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/index.php Juice is an
open-source tool for recording Podcasts; Audacity provides a free
sound editor, and Xine allows for playback of DVDs, video files and
streamed multimedia online. Other open-source programs are listed at
It's not just programs; you can listen to open-source audio, too.
Musicians are beginning to take advantage of nontraditional copyright
options like Creative Commons licenses to protect their works while
allowing others to further mash up the music.
Guessing the Future
Will these trends someday be as common as MP3 downloads and DVD
players? There's no way to really tell what the future holds (look no
further than the 1950s textbooks that predicted we'd be riding flying
carpets to Mars). While there are certainly signs that the masses are
adopting new entertainment technologies, picking today's top trends
and guessing tomorrow's is an exercise in the imagination. Yet, it's
one with value; even if the guesses miss the mark, they help clarify
our vision of what's to come -- truly our best guidepost to the future.
Consider this for example:
Hot Video Game Console
Xbox 360 Platinum System Console
The Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system places you at the
center of the experience. Available this holiday season in Europe,
Japan, and North America, Xbox 360 ignites a new era of digital
entertainment that is always connected, always personalized, and
always in high definition more...
Tim Gnateck is a regular contibutor to the New York Times.
Copyright 2005 Tech Tuesday
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