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Domesticated gadgetry


Columnist John Dix looks at the near future of home technology

March 11, 1999
Web posted at: 11:28 a.m. EST (1628 GMT)

by John Dix

From...
Network World Fusion
home computing
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(IDG) -- The goods and services we sell in the future will depend in part on how household electronic gadgets evolve. After all, advances like DVD players, Web-enabled PCs and interactive CATV services drastically change things for media corporations, giant retailers and others trying to reach the mass market.

Here is my take on what you will find in the home of the not-so-distant future.

PC

The PC remains, first and foremost, a personal productivity tool (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) and a Web-access device. Ultimately, some of the software will be rented vs. purchased from 'Net-based providers. Despite this, the basic PC configuration we are familiar with will remain the same for most users.

The following will become standard equipment with all PCs: support for voice- and video-over-IP conferencing; basic VOIP support for interacting with customer service folks at Web retailers; and a DVD player that can also record, which will be used to capture music, books on tape and videos purchased and downloaded online.

The PC will remain the primary Web interface for communicating, shopping, and doing research as well as for providing many forms of entertainment. Ergonomically, it is the best fit for these activities because of the screen's proximity to the keyboard.

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Internet access

The PC will be linked to the Web via cable modems. Your tube will already have a Web/TV link to support the built-in browser for interactive programming. (Since you won't need multiple Internet access technologies, this does away with your telco-provided DSL services, even if you used them before the TV content providers got their act together.)

TV

The integrated browser in your TV will make it possible to mix TV viewing and browsing. For instance, you can open a Web window while watching a ball game and look up a player's stats. And pay-per-view movies will probably be Web driven. Log into the Web, search for a movie provider, select what you want, pay for it online and Bingo, it is streamed to you.

The ad implications are also great. In addition to giving you the option of responding immediately to an ad, it has other benefits. Consider this: IBM has developed a technique that makes video objects clickable. So if you want to know where to get a shirt like the one Kramer wears on "Seinfeld", you can click on it and open up a link to the retailer's site.

CD player

The TV will be attached to a stereo or home theater system, which will be largely unchanged. In fact, the only part that will change is the CD player. It will become a DVD multimedia device that plays music or movies. More important, it will be able to record, letting you capture a movie streamed to you. (The industry will have fun wrestling with the piracy implications of this.)

VCR

VCRs will be made obsolete by Web-ordered pay-per-view and the multimedia DVD player/recorder. When you want to see something, you'll use the Web to order it up for immediate delivery. If you want to watch a home movie simply pop the mini-DVD into your player (more on that later).

Some people are talking about the need for digital VCRs, which will be RAM-rich devices to capture video for later viewing. They say these devices could learn what you like to watch, then go out on their own and collect programming that may interest you. But I don't see it. You wouldn't need something like this PLUS a recordable DVD device when the DVD box lets you save a copy of the content. That obsoletes the digital VCR.

Portable RAM players

These are emerging palm-sized devices loaded with RAM that you drop into a cradle attached to your PC and then log into the Web and download stuff you want to listen to, whether it's music, voice mail, books on tape, etc. At least that's the vision of the companies building these gizmos, but I don't buy this either. What content is worthy of digesting this way since you'll be able to burn your own CDs and walk away with all the music, books on tape and other custom audio you want. News? Even radio is more current. Voice mail? We have cellular phones.

Expect some of this functionality, however, to show up in personal digital assistants like the Palm Pilot.

Cameras

Film will continue to fade away and be replaced by magnetic media or RAM. Either way, you'll be able to attach your camera to your PC and print your vacation pictures on your laser printer or e-mail them to Mom.

Video cameras

The recording medium for video cameras will change to mini-DVD format, and it will be possible to forward movies of the kids to Mom.

Game stations

These won't go away because they are relatively cheap yet rich in function-specific capabilities.

Telephones

Despite years of promising video support, videoconferencing will be left to your PC-based system. The convenience of wireless phones far outweighs the advantage of seeing whom you are talking to.

So, that's my take on how the home will be wired the future.

Drop John Dix a line at jdix@nww.com.


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