The Hot Five

Every autumn, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) publishes its "Five Technologies to Watch" list of "technology trends poised to shape the consumer electronics industry" in the year ahead. Most of the choices may seem obvious, but the final entry on the list this year may be a surprise for audiophiles.

Geared toward industry professionals, "Five Technologies to Watch" provides a comprehensive analysis of each trend named and its impact on the consumer electronics market. Each of the five technology sections details the strategic issues, market forecasts, consumer perspectives, key players, partnerships, business models, and public policy changes for that particular technology.

Not surprisingly, home operating systems top the list. The report suggests that future versions of automated home systems will offer capabilities that reach far beyond automated lighting. "The over-riding notion is for a PC or central server to act as a gateway, funneling content into and out of the home and connecting all devices and users inside and outside the home environment," says the report. The publication also discusses several possible applications including controlling temperature in distinct zones throughout the house; accessing centrally stored content such as music, TV shows, and digital photos from any room in the house; and alerting homeowners to any security problems while they are away from home.

Next is a favorite of many computer users: Wi-Fi or wireless fidelity technology. Described as a short-range wireless radio approach that "frees PCs, laptops, notebook computers, and other electronics devices from physical links to the Internet," Wi-Fi is set to evolve into "ultra wideband" in the near future says the CEA. "Ultra wideband transmits a flat signal over a wide array of frequencies, making it faster and more efficient than Wi-Fi. Research shows that speeds of one Gigabyte per second may be achievable, which is fast enough to download entire theatrical films in a matter of minutes."

Digital video recorders or DVRs, made popular by Tivo and ReplayTV, are the third item on the list. The CEA notes that DVRs allow consumers to record up to 300 hours of programming without a videotape, skip commercials, and pause live TV. According to a CEA study, 72% of consumers are very or somewhat interested in buying a DVR, and believe that the technology will edge out the VCR in the near future. The report also mentions that HDTV camcorders and Blu-Ray discs that can store more than two hours of HDTV programming on a single disc also are in the works for digital recording.

The publication reports that mobile gaming will continue to grow in the US, especially over wireless devices such as cell phones and PDAs. The number of wireless gamers in the US could reach 19.6 million by the end of this year and 112.4 million by 2007, says the CEA. Faster processors, more vivid displays, expanding capacity, and easier connectivity are improving the performance of mobile gaming devices.

And last, but certainly not least to audiophiles, is high-resolution audio in the form of SACD and DVD-Audio. The CEA reports that the new high-rez formats are "seeing growth similar to that of the compact disc, and are likely to grow even faster as the technology becomes more innovative in the coming years." In the future, says the CEA, expect to see high-rez audio that can be downloaded and played over the main home audio system—see the first and third technologies on the list for more details.