May 31, 2005

Future Tech: Content Creation Is King at CES

TiVo's new Tahiti software, which allows viewers to get their programs from both cable and online sources.

Each winter 130,000 geeks, gadget freaks and consumer electronics nuts gather at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to peer into the immediate future. Most years there are lots of promises, and a few new products. But this year was very differentand very important for documentary filmmakers and content creators of all kinds. The importance is not in any one technology or box, but in a series of trends that will rock the very foundation of content creation, sales and distribution.

High-Definition Video The Sony HVR-Z1 and HDR-FX1 are game-changer devices. They will forever make shooting in DV or non-HD formats simply impossible. This camera is solid, ergonomically gorgeous and clearly a signal that non-HD cameras are a thing of the past for the prosumer and professional image capture business. Next up: post-production. Sony's Vegas, also cool, is simply no challenger for the Final Cut Pro HDV plug-in or upgrade that's rumored to be out any day. No longer will you be able to tell a network that there is an additional cost for shooting in HD. This camera flattens the landscape.

Mobile Media Portable Media Players (PMPs), which first emerged in 2003, actually evolved from the more common digital audio devices, the MP3 players, but they add new functions of storing video and data. Devices from Sharp, Sony, Creative Zen, Samsung Yepp, iRiver and Archos were the talk of CES. And this red-hot consumer player will need to have content, and not just TV downloaded from BitTorrent (if you don't know that word, Google it now).

Home Media Centers This is another idea that has been kicking around, and is now really coming into its own. This will be a battle among TiVo, Microsoft and your cable company. All three want to own that box in your living room that stores music, digital pictures, recorded TV shows and, soon, programs downloaded off the Internet. TiVo showed Tahiti , a very cool new software upgrade that will allow users to get their programs both from cable and from new, on-line sources. Microsoft, with its partner, Hewlett-Packard, showed the Microsoft Digital Entertainment Center. This computer, built to look like a piece of consumer electronics, is really amazing, with tons of features and a very nice user interface. It will be in stores this September, I'm told.

Internet Protocol TV I saved the best for last. Right now, if you're a filmmaker and you want to get your film into the hands of your audience, you have three choices DVD, TV or theatrical. But there is a real new option on the horizon: Internet Protocol TV (IPTV). Really. Not streaming. Not little boxes of video on your computer. TiVo, Microsoft and a slew of other manufacturers are building boxes that tie your broadband connection into your TV. That means you can find content on the Internet and download it to your TV. Take a look at for a glimpse at what IPTV is available today, with tons more on the way.

Don't assume that the future of TV is the same as the past, or that this year will be the year of the flat screen or the home theater. The real innovation is in content. And it's already on its way to a Best Buy near you. Keep your eyes peeled.


Steve Rosenbaum can be reached at