'98 COMDEX Good News for DVD, LCD, Future Fans
by Jim Bray
Who would have thought
it? The humans of the ancient world were right: the world is flat!
As was made obvious
by the fall 1998 Comdex computer show in Las Vegas, the world's becoming
flat thanks to oodles of new flat screen monitors and a new crop of flat
speakers. The world is also becoming more networked, less wired, and computers
are leaping off the desktop and onto the TV top.
manufacturer worth its salt displayed flat monitors, ranging in size from
about 13 to 21 inches, and Viewsonic has broken the $1000US barrier with
one of its models. Flat screens take up far less desk space than a conventional
CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor, but until recently it has been expensive
and the image you get has been unsatisfying.
Not any more, judging
by the wide range of really nice looking screens on display at Comdex.
And the price of the big, plasma monitors continues to plunge. A year
or so ago, companies like Fujitsu and Sharp were offering 42 inch plasma
screens that sold for about $40,000US, but they're now tipping the money
scale at scarcely over ten grand US. Now this is still an arm and a leg,
but it's dropping so fast I anticipate you'll be able to afford one of
these 3 inch or so thick monitors for your home theatre or corporate presentation
within the next two years or so.
And the convergence
of PC and Home Theatre continues, speeding up as it goes.
This convergence has
really been going on since the compact disc brought computer technology
to consumer audio, but now it's reaching the point where computer technology
is everywhere: you can surf the web from your TV, watch movies in Dolby
Digital surround sound on your computer - or on your wall-mounted flat
plasma TV/computer monitor. And just as surely as microchips appeared
in your TV and audio/video receiver, traditional audio and video manufacturers
like Cambridge Soundworks and Pioneer are jumping with both feet into
the computer speakers and monitor (respectively) markets.
It's a matter of sales
survival. This is only going to continue and even accelerate. And that's
good. The more quality choices a person has the better it is.
is really a lot more than a buzzword - not only are audio, video, computers,
telephony, etc. - becoming one, but theyre making each other smarter
and better, too. And that's also good.
At last years
Comdex in Las Vegas, convergence was alive and well, but it was still
all about computers. But this year it was all about convergence, from
the big flat screen TV/monitors that one minute would be displaying your
spreadsheet and the next would be running a DVD copy of Godzilla to video
cameras that couple with your Internet phone to make the "Picture
Phones" we were promised for years but which never really materialized.
It wasn't all convergence,
though. There was also a lot of todo about storage devices, from the "Superdisk"
which wants to replace your 1.44 meg floppy drive with an indentically
sized disk that can cram 120 meg on it (while still reading and writing
to those hundreds of floppies you have laying around the home or office),
to gigabyte portable storage drives from Iomega and others. And perhaps
foreseeing the day in which homes have as many PC's as they do TV's, a
handful of companies offered home/SOHO networking solutions designed to
let you share resources between your plethora of PC's.
for example, showed off a 1Mbps PCI that uses your home's phone lines
to transmit the data from computer to computer. The company says you don't
need any special networking knowledge - just PC's and telephone jacks.
There were also wireless home networks on display.
DVD was everywhere
at Comdex, and there are even some hints of upcoming DVD-ROM titles (mostly
of the electronic book type of creature). There were lots of DVD ROM drives
in evidence, too, from just about every manufacturer, and since these
are backward compatible with your CD-ROMs it makes sense to buy a DVD
ROM drive instead of a new CD-ROM drive.
And a really exciting
new technology being pushed again this year was something they chose to
call DVD RAM, which means recordable DVD's you can use to store horrendous
amounts of data. Who knows, they could make your crash-prone hard drive
obsolete in a few years, the Performance vs. Price Gods willing.
WebTV is now facing
competition in the TV-top Web browser battle. Canadian company WebSurfer
introduced its version of the technology, offering similar features to
WebTV, but for less money - and while WebTV ties you in to the WebTV service,
WebSurfer claims to give you the flexibility to use any ISP you desire.
Winbest also showed
off its Dreamer 2000 "Family PC," a TV-set top PC/wireless keyboard/remote
control. This AMD 300MHz K6-powered beast plugs into either a computer
monitor or a TV, and offers 32 meg of RAM, 3D sound and graphics, and
a DVD ROM drive with Dolby Digital output. Far more than just an Internet
box, the Family PC threatens to offer the best of both worlds - for $1199US.
Sound is now making
its presence felt in the computer industry in more ways than just booming
multimedia speakers. From the number of companies offering voice recognition
stuff (and better quality stuff than before - it actually appears to work
quite well), it's clear the industry thinks we're all going to be talking
to our computers soon instead of pointing and clicking and typing. There's
everything from E-mail programs and PIM's to word processors and language
Which makes me wonder
about the cacophony if everyone in his office cubicle is prattling away
at their PC's instead of the relatively quiet "tap, tap, tap"
of fingers on a keyboard or clicks of a mouse. Someone needs to invent
the old "Cone of Silence" machine like Maxwell Smart used to
use. And if you do, I want shares...
and NXT showed off a series of flat speakers that, like their monitor
counterparts, can be desk or wall-mounted. Gallant's Audiostorm MT7 f/x
are ultra flat panels available in a six piece Dolby Pro Logic or Dolby
Digital configuration complete with subwoofer.
And Creative Labs
had a terrific display of their outstanding new Sound Blaster Live, a
demo that showed the wonderful quality and flexibility of this "Lexus
of sound cards." We were treated to electric guitar and violin as
reproduced through the SB Live, as well as the array of effects and sounds
it can come up with on its own.
Creative even showed
a portable MP3 "walkman" it's developing that lets audiophiles
take these high fidelity audio files on the road with them.
And new Office Suites
were being touted as well. Microsoft had a big booth showing off new features
coming in Office 2000, while Corel had a smaller presentation to introduce
its WordPerfect Office 2000 suite. Corel is emphasizing compatibility,
ease of use, and power rather than a bunch of fancy new features you might
not need, in all the suite's Version 9 products - and it's also adding
a real competitor to MS FrontPage with Trellix web authoring and presentation
software that'll be included in the suite.
is also unleashing a Linux version of WordPerfect,
to give aficionados of the popular operating sysem a powerful suite to
But how about those
who don't need the powerhouse features of Word, WordPerfect, Excel, Quattro
Pro et al? Well, MiniSoft is bringing out Office 99, a kind of stripped
down office suite that includes Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Database,
and Draw program. Pricing isn't available yet, but get this: the whole
suite only requires a 486/66 PC, 16 Meg of RAM and a mere 20 Meg of hard
drive space once installed. Sounds like a terrific idea!
The most bizzare
item this year? To me it was AlbaComp's Personal Monitor (right:),
a 36 gram heavy doohickey that attaches to a pair of glasses. It's a tiny,
180,000 pixel computer monitor that lets you wander around the home/office
while viewing your monitor at the same time. So you can now work and run
into things at the same time!
Comdex was an excellent
example of where we stand today: on the threshold of an entertaining,
efficient (well, as efficient as computers can be, which isn't always
as efficient as we'd like!), and interesting reality in which the universe
is truly at your fingertips. This is hardly a leap of vision; it has been
building for years, but it's fascinating to see just how quickly and overwhelmingly
the various communications and information technologies - including the
Internet - are coalescing into the nervous system of our global society.
It should be
an interesting ride.
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product information - check out our "What's
New?" page, which features product announcements and press releases
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