by Mel Lambert
Las Vegas, NV (January 18, 2007)–Having suffered a less than stellar buying season during the past Christmas holiday season, the consumer electronics industry is frantically searching for the retail Rosetta Stone. What will be the breakthrough technologies that boost sales and profits?
Some 140,000 people thronged to the Consumer Electronics Association’s annual CES Convention to find out. According to Bill Gates, Microsoft Corporation chairman and CES2007 keynote speaker: “Young people–the new generation–spend more time on their Windows PC than they spend watching TV. Portable devices [are] proliferating, with Wi-Fi and 3G connections [providing users with] information wherever they want to go.”
What’s missing, Gates argues, is connectivity. “Delivering on connected experiences requires more than just great hardware,” he argues. Content providers “now need to think about how they create around this environment; how they connect into it. People want to do things across multiple devices, working with many other people.” In other words, hardware innovations need powerful operating systems–revealing Microsoft’s not-so-hidden agenda–to access distributed content from film companies, television and cable networks plus music labels.
“The key element that’s missing,” Gates concluded, “is delivering on connected experiences, where people are being productive, doing new creative things…where they’re sharing with each other, mobile and playing games. That missing key element is something that we’ve all got to deliver on to take full advantage of [emergent] hardware.” Windows Vista, available January 30, holds the promise of integrating these and other elements, and is being actively supported by developers of DAWs, video NLEs and media integration software.
Generating such content falls to our area of the playroom, and there is plenty of material to be repurposed for multichannel playback via a variety of high-definition sound and video formats. At CES2007, DTS, Dolby and SRS were demonstrating media generated with new authoring tools that take advantage of some elegant data compression schemes, while leading PC companies showed that creative power and CPU horsepower is available in desktop and portable formats at highly affordable prices. In essence, the tools we need are now credit-card commodities, upgradeable on a continuous basis as new production assignments come our way.
Meanwhile, at MacWorld San Francisco, Apple Corporation extended its reach into the consumer consciousness with the remarkable new iPhone–basically a widescreen iPod with Cingular Wireless connectivity–and Apple TV, which enables MP4 and other content to be shown on a 16:9 monitor or receiver, using HDMI or conventional video ports; the device automatically synchronizes via a wireless or Ethernet link to a host PC holding the iTunes library. As synchronicity would have it, Sony, Panasonic and other consumer giants are developing enhanced IPTV connectivity for monitors and TVs, including add-ons that stream downloaded and locally generated content in SD and HD modes. (Microsoft’s Xbox 360 will soon incorporate the company’s IPTV Edition software to stream and download video, games and other digital content; with more than 10.4 million Xbox consoles sold to date, it’s a natural adjunct.)
And for mastering material for use within production and recording facilities, several vendors were showing Blu-Ray and HD-DVD burners; LG Electronics now offers a deck that will replay either format–a development that might please Time Warner, which recently announced the remarkable Total HD dual-disk format for consumer use. And while DRM and other matters still remain volatile–recent examples of code-cracking not withstanding–traditional media vendors, including Verbatim, are offering blank media in the $20/disc range. While at these prices such media is not quite ready for mass-market users, with some drives offering the ability to master SACD refs discs, we have more powerful tools than ever before.
My personal “Slam-the-Forehead-in-Stark-Amazement” Award goes to Audio-Technica, which unveiled an LP-to-Digital recording system consisting of an automatic stereo turntable plus Cakewalk Pyro Windows-compatible software and an interface cable to let users create CDs and MP3, WAV or WMA files of their favorite vinyl offerings. It had to happen.
Former magazine editor Mel Lambert currently heads up Media&Marketing, a full-service consulting service for pro-audio firms and facilities (www.mel-lambert.com).
Consumer Electronics Association