The Future of Home Electronics

08 February 2009

Interview with

Chris Vallance, Mark Ward

Meera - It's time to find out what the world of technology has to offer in 2009. This month I'm in the business centre for BBC news online. I'm here with our resident tech expert, Chris Vallance.

Chris V - Hi, there's a reason why we've come up here. That's so  I can pick the brains of the BBC's resident tech expert, Mark Ward who is the technology correspondent for the news website. We're going to chat about trends in technology. It's the start of the year. There's one event which really showcases the tech industry: CES - the Consumer Electronics Show and Mark, you were there. It was at the beginning of January that the big conference happened. What was being showcased?

3D TVMark - Lots of things, really. It's a consumer electronics show. The clue's in the title. Everything was there. The big surprise was that I was expecting lots of funky shiny stuff but the big thing there was TV. Bigger screens, obviously but more stuff to do with your big, flat panel TV you bought last year. It's be either adding web bits to it or doing more with your high-definition movies and things like that. TV was the star of the show.

Chris V - And it was a bit 1950s as well, 3D TV?

Mark - Yeah. This was very much the kind of next generation, stereoscopic so you still have to wear a better quality of 3D. The problem is that, for all the talk you're still going to have to buy a 3D capable set. That's going to be pricy and there's very little content out there at the moment. Broadcasters will when there's content and the content makers will say we'll make it when there's an audience. At the moment it's a lot of plans but precious little action.

Chris V - We have seen things like IMAX which have a similar problem. We have a huge cinema, you need special cameras. They have taken off so it's not hopeless for 3D TV.

Mark - No, there's a lot of commitment in the film industry to do it. In 5 or 10 years time we might start to see that percolate through but people keep their TVs for a long time. If you've just bought one you're not going to spend the same amount again just to get 100 movies. There's a vast catalogue of better stuff you could get at.

Chris V - I think for 2008 I've got in my hands one of these little tiny netbooks, these small very ultraportable laptops. They're not very expensive and they've been a real hit. Is that going to continue next year, at least according to the people at CES?

ASUS Eee PCMark - Yes, there's a lot of tiny, shiny computers on show. Netbooks now are about 50% of the PC market. Improved by 100% last year, probably going to do the same this year. I think at CES we saw the end of the compromises you're going to have to make when you buy one. Typically it means they're a bti slow. Graphics aren't great and batteries can be a bit problematic. Whereas at the show last year we saw battery lives, much more powerful processors and graphics were starting to improve as well. You might be able to play decent  games on it and certainly show some video.

Chris V - But times are hard. Is that affecting what was on display at CES?

Mark - Well definitely. There  was certainly some stats quoted about sales figures, things like that. In certain sectors you're starting to see a shift from the kind of maximum people can afford in terms of a flat panel TV to something they're happy to spend. You see a bulge around the 32-40 inch sets rather than bigger than that. Certainly a lot of people were saying the consumers might hold up pretty well, actually. People have tended to have got their flat panel TV, got their games console, got their smartphone and now they want to do something with it. Games, movies, those kind of web-based services will be pretty popular over the next year as people stay at home rather than go out and save money.

Meera - mark, other than what you saw at CES this year is there anything else you're looking forward to in particular?

Mark - There's a growing emphasison green computers, green electronics, that kind of thing. I think Groucho Marx said about Doris Day - he knew her before she was a virgin. I suspect that's the same with a lot of electronics companies. They discovered they're not as bad in the green statistics as they thought. They're touting that as something that people should pay attention to. I think people are pretty sceptical. I think it's starting to figure in people's perceptions beyond brand and price. People are going to start taking those green credentials quite seriously.

Meera - What about you, Chris? What do think's coming up this year?

Nikon D700 cameraChris V - I'm interested in, it's not necessarily brand-new for this year, I think we're going to see more of it and people employing this technology creatively. I'm interested in these SLR, single lens reflex, cameras that can shoot video. There are two on the market at the moment at very different price ranges. The films that they produce are really interesting because you can change lenses which you can't do with a cheap consumer camera. You can put wide angle lenses, zoom lenses, you can even do those tilt-shift lenses to make everybody look like little tiny people. The creative possibilities are really interesting. The quality of images, because of the different way they focus onto the sensor, that looks very different as well. It's more like film. There are drawbacks. People who've reviewed them have said they're hard to handle, hard to keep them steady. You need tripods, you need to know what you're doing. I think the creative possibilities are really interesting high-definition films produced on these things start to appear on the web. I'm just really interested. I want to see what people make with this stuff. It's quite exciting from a visual point of view.

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