Cyberville predictions for 2006


Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 9:27 p.m.
The new year promises to be one where the pace of change in numerous areas related to high-tech and the media will accelerate dramatically. I'll don my Cyberville turban for the moment and try and look into a year where it's often hard to predict what will happen tomorrow, much less during the next 12 months.
Many of the changes I see happening this year involve television and video, and the accelerating integration of the Internet, broadband connections, portable media players and high-speed cellular phones.
New and improving video and audio compression technologies mean more information can be shoved into less space, at the same time the available bandwidth for video is generally expanding.
The broadband connection has been termed by some as the key to the Web's second-generation, and the move to deliver video via non-traditional sources will garner a lot of attention over the next year. As usual, expect a lot of promising new services to fall by the wayside for lack of sufficient expertise, capital, or revenue, but it's going to be a wild time for awhile.
Two pieces of extremely successful consumer hardware - programming service and congressional mandate to-be - are driving these areas.
The Video iPod from Apple has become one of "the" hot items over the past few months. The newest iPods feature a 60GB internal hard drive, which costs about $400. Apple's packaging and interface, combined with the unit's true pocket-size and dynamic display screen, allow users to record hundreds of songs and dozens of video programs onto a single device.
For commuters who ride rather than drive, the video iPod can serve up a ready stream of programming. Microsoft is quickly moving to equip many of its desktop, and even some laptop, computers with the Media Center PC Edition, which will allow users to record TV shows on computers plugged directly to cable and transfer them to iPod type devices.
The PalmOne Treo 650 has also become a defacto standard in the area of multimedia phones. A new video player is being developed for phones allowing video to be played back from the unit's flash card slot in near-iPod quality. A number of TV programmers are also moving to offer subscription video service packages of popular cable programming delivered live via the phone. Microsoft is introducing its own Treo, the 700w, to try and help gain control over this emerging market.
Radio "Shock Jock" Howard Stern's hugely-publicized move to Sirius satellite radio has spurred hundreds of thousands to purchase new satellite radio subscriptions, and it's likely the total number of satellite radio subscribers will surpass 10 million in the next 18 months. This move spells trouble for local commercial radio stations reliant on popular music formats the satellite stations can deliver.
And finally, Congress will pass legislation early in 2006 outlining the final transition to digital television, which will likely happen in 2009. Expect that sometime in 2007 the sale of analog television sets in the U.S. will end, with a $50 converter being required to use those sets after 2009. HDTV programming will continue to increase, but traditional broadcast and cable operations are being squeezed by declining market shares which will somewhat limit a more widespread full-time HDTV program rollout.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant whose column appears on Mondays in WorkLife. He can be reached at webgator@bellsouth.net or via www.tvccs.com. His columns are also available at www.gainesvillesun.com.

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