An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Gates Keynote Underwhelms
Coming as it did just days after Apple Computer's CEO Steve Jobs delivered his Macworld San Francisco keynote address (which I'll report on in Monday's WinInfo Daily UPDATE), Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates's 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) keynote address on Wednesday evening had a lot to live up to. In many ways, however, Gates didn't measure up: If you break down his talk, you'll find that he primarily discussed previously released products or updates to those products. Gates mentioned only two truly new products: Media2Go, which is essentially a video version of Apple's iPod, and the Microsoft SPOT Watch. I can't get excited about a connected watch. (I had two of those Timex data watches years ago, by the way.)
Apple Should Have Made Media2Go
I'm excited about Media2Go, a handheld multimedia device that plays videos, music, and photo slideshows. Media2Go is the size of a thick paperback book, and various consumer electronics companies--including IRiver Samsung Electronics, SANYO Group, and ViewSonic--will make it. The Windows CE .NET (formerly code-named Talisker)-based device features a 320 x 240 color screen and a 20GB hard disk. The UI, which is based on Windows XP Media Center Edition, allows simple navigation with menu choices such as My Music, My Videos, My TV Shows, and My Pictures. Microsoft claims that the devices provide 12 hours of battery life while playing audio content and 6 hours while playing video. You'll need that time, too, because the Media2Go takes advantage of new Windows Media 9 Series media formats to deliver up to 8000 Windows Media Audio (WMA) 9 audio files, 175 hours of 320 x 240 Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 video, or up to 30,000 2 mega-pixel photos. I'll post a full preview of Media2Go soon on the SuperSite for Windows.
Shifting Time and Space
The computer industry is awash in buzzwords and phrases, and here's an interesting new phrase to chew on. You might have heard about the concept of "time shifting," in which you use a video-recording device to delay the viewing of live content, such as TV shows. This year, a sea of portable video devices has given rise to a new term--space shifting, in which you not only delay the viewing of live content but watch that content away from the device that recorded it. Arguably, we've been enjoying content away from the recording device since the days of Sony's first Walkman, but recording a live TV show and viewing it in full quality on a portable device is still a relatively new concept.
Microsoft Has a Plan for Smart Displays
One of the most obvious complaints about the first round of Windows Powered Smart Displays is that the devices are expensive and easily replaced by low-end laptops, which are comparatively priced but far more powerful. To combat this problem, Microsoft and its hardware partners are working on ways to improve the platform, including some interesting ideas for making the devices useful when they're not remotely displaying your XP desktop. ViewSonic, for example, made two announcements in this vein. First, the company will offer a version of its 10" secondary display that won't include XP Professional Edition or a USB wireless adapter, shaving at least $300 off the device's retail cost (usually about $999). And the company struck a deal with Nevo Technologies to supply home-automation software for the Smart Display, giving users a secondary use for the device. Other hardware makers are working on similar plans and, for the next Smart Display revision due in late 2003, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Microsoft, and other companies are working on faster wireless technologies, ways to improve overall performance, and any areas in which customers say the experience is now lacking. Again, I'll provide more details soon on the SuperSite for Windows, along with a full review of the ViewSonic airpanel V150 Wireless Smart Display.
Media Center Goes Mobile, Finds More Support
I'm happy to see new Media Center PC form factors arriving, and some of the new designs--especially the laptop-computer-based systems from Alienware and Toshiba--are exciting. Many of the newer Media Center PCs are designed to look at home next to your stereo equipment, and more attractive, non-PC-looking designs are starting to arrive. Now if only we could convince Microsoft to let us buy the XP Media Center Edition software separately from a new PC, we could all enjoy this exciting new interface to digital media.
Companies Fight Media Center PCs with Set-Top Boxes
Many hardware makers are obviating the need for a Media Center PC by creating set-top boxes that interact with your PC's digital-media content through a home network. HP and SONICblue are two good examples: The companies offer similar devices that feature a TV-based UI, wireless and Ethernet compatibility, and interaction with your PC. The idea is that a PC is a great place to acquire digital photos, music, and video but isn't necessarily a great place to use that media. With these new devices, such as SONICblue's GoVideo network DVD player (available in March for $250), you can stream digital-photo slideshows, digital-music playlists, and digital video from your PC to the TV set. $250 is a lot less expensive than the cost of a Media Center PC, and the devices are arguably of far more use to most consumers.
SONICblue Advances State-of-the-Art in the Living Room
Speaking of SONICblue, the company has also rethought digital video recording (DVR), a suddenly surging technology the company helped jumpstart with its ReplayTV devices. SONICBlue's GoVideo line of products has always done double-duty, with dual VCR decks and combination DVD/VCR devices. This year, however, the company is introducing the GoVideo DV6430, which combines a DVD player and VHS VCR in one machine, along with 128MB of RAM, so users can pause and rewind live TV. The device is a simple, elegant solution for those times when the phone rings or you want to watch a football replay. The GoVideo DV6430 can store up to 15 minutes of MPEG-2-quality video, enough time for a quick trip to make a sandwich. SONICblue also touted the automatic-commercial-advance and connectivity features of its new ReplayTV 5000, which the company introduced in October. The ReplayTV devices have had the ability to display photos from your home computer for some time; the company is adding the ability to stream music from PCs later this year.
Personalized Devices Dominate
Like last year's show, 2003 International CES is all about devices, not PCs. Many of these devices connect to PCs, and although connectivity is a theme (of sorts), many of this year's devices tout personalization features. For example, Philips Electronics showed off its Emotive Micro stereo systems, which come in a wide range of color choices to match your home decor. And HP is taking an interesting approach to personalization with a new printer, the HP DeskJet 3425, which can print its own skin. The DeskJet 3425's top panel is clear, so you can print a photograph of your choosing and insert it into the panel. It's a nice effect, prettying-up an otherwise boring home office device.
Transmeta Moves from PCs to Devices
Although ultra-mobile CPU maker Transmeta will continue to ply its wares to laptop makers, the company is moving into the potentially far more rewarding market of PC-like devices and other devices. One intriguing Transmeta solution is the OQO Ultra-Personal Computer, a full XP-based PC that's smaller than the Media2Go devices, yet features a larger 800 x 400 screen, USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, and docking connections so that you can use it at home with your large monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Transmeta also exhibited various Tablet PC designs, new ultra-slim notebooks that don't have fans, home-storage servers with hot-swappable 2.5" hard disks, various embedded product platform boards, and rack-mounted server blades. The company also demonstrated its next-generation Crusoe processor (code-named Astro), which will ship by the end of the year. Astro features desktop-level performance but continues Transmeta's market-leading power-saving and cool-running capabilities.
But Wait, There's More ...
Because of the new CES schedule--Thursday through Sunday--I'm not done yet. Monday's WinInfo Daily UPDATE will contain more Short Takes--from 2003 International CES and otherwise. See you then!