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Virtual Valley Predictions for 2011

A display of old televisions, VCRs and radios ...
A display of old televisions, VCRs and radios in Amberley Working Museum, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
December 6, 2010 Deadline
January 2011 Issue

Virtual Valley Predictions for 2011

Prognostication is a year-round sport in the technology industry, with everyone trying to anticipate the “Next Big Thing.” Few analysts guess the trends, but since it is the start of a new year, time to offer some predictions from the Virtual Valley crystal ball.

The five predictions I offer share a common theme: with media going digital, traditional broadcasters and retailers are going to struggle. As newspapers and magazines have fallen to Web surfing, the next earthquakes will strike the film and television industries.

Prediction 1: Cable and satellite television subscribers will reduce or terminate their monthly services.

When the Fresno State Football Bulldogs beat Illinois 25-23 on December 3, I wasn’t near a television, but I was still watching the game live and in high-definition. I was watching the broadcast free via the ESPN website, as Visalia’s Ryan Colburn led the Bulldogs to victory.

As the game ended, I realized it was early Saturday morning where I was sitting, more than 2000 miles away from Fresno. For a brief moment, I was amazed by how much things have changed in the last decade.

If I want to watch a sporting event or television show, I’m as likely to be staring at a computer screen as a television. I watch everything from football to 2010 campaign coverage on my laptop and iPod Touch while sitting in coffee shops, airports and hotel rooms. I don’t have to wait to see anything, no matter where I am.

Cable providers have tried to respond to Internet video by offering “exclusive” on-demand content. The problem for cable and satellite companies is that most of what I want to watch, I can get online from several different sources. Even content that isn’t free is cheaper online than subscribing to premium services.

Prediction 2: Televisions will be more like computers, and computers more like television.

Many people have taken the next step and attached home computers to their HD televisions. The Mac Mini is a great little computer; I personally own one and love it. The benefit of attaching a computer to your television is that you can switch between surfing the Web and watching movies. I find myself searching the Web for information about the films I watch. I’ve even had the script for the new “Star Trek” on screen while watching the movie.

Television manufacturers have noticed this and aren’t about to cede the living room or family room to Apple and Microsoft. By the end of 2011, I expect at least half of new televisions to be Internet-ready hybrids.

The Samsung Smart TVs incorporate Internet-ready computer hardware within HD televisions. These televisions connect to your home network, either via a standard Ethernet cable or wireless router. Samsung has the Samsung App market, which looks a lot like iTunes. Remember, these televisions are really computers in disguise. You can even add a keyboard or video game controllers.

Prediction 3: Netflix, Amazon Rentals and iTunes kill the video store.

You can already attach various devices to your television to access movies and television content. Most video game consoles offer Netflix or similar on-demand video rentals. If you don’t intend to play games, an Apple TV is only $99 and offers both iTunes and Netflix content. Amazon is also launching Amazon Rentals in 2011 and is rumored to have a device similar to Apple TV planned.

We’ve already witnessed the slow and painful demise of video rental stores. Sadly, 2011 will see that trend accelerate. I’m not sure any traditional rental locations will survive another year. Vending machines might be the last physical DVD rental sites.

On-demand rentals aren’t the only challenge to brick-and-mortar rental chains. The prices of new films on DVD have fallen dramatically over the last decade. We know which films we are likely to enjoy, so rentals don’t offer much value to us.

Prediction 4: CD and DVD sections in physical stores continue to shrink.

Throughout 2011, major retailers will cut CD selections even more than they have, possibly eliminating their music sections by the end of the year. I have been in two major discount stores that had no discernable music sections. One store had a single rack of popular country, pop and Spanish-language music. Everything on the rack was the latest from big-name acts. Forget trying to locate anything “classic” or even from last year.

The second store only had a few children’s CDs near the televisions and video games. Forget trying to buy anything less annoying than The Wiggles or Kidz Bop. I asked a clerk about the CDs and was told that regional managers had decided the space was needed for a new video game display.

When people do buy music, they either buy digital downloads or order from online retailers. Today’s teenagers apparently won’t share my fond memories of trips to Tower Records and Virgin Megastores. They browse online lists instead of racks of imported CDs. I fear the fate of CDs rests with collectors and audiophiles.

Prediction 5: Video gaming goes 3D, without the glasses.

Nintendo is planning to release the Nintendo 3DS in 2011. This update to the DS handheld game unit supports 3D without glasses. However, the screen resolution is only 400-by-240. Nintendo compares this to standard-definition television. There are actually two overlapping sets of pixels, slightly offset and angled. One layer of pixels is angled towards the left eye and the other towards the right. You have to hold the 3DS screen carefully to experience acceptable 3D.

Apple, Sony, and Toshiba each have patents for high-definition 3D television that doesn’t require special glasses. Unlike the Nintendo 3D method, you also don’t have to position yourself carefully to see the 3D images, which would be difficult for most families.

The Apple patent includes home projection units. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first group to exploit the technology is the video game publishers. While 3D movies might be interesting, the possibility of complete immersion in a virtual world is enticing.

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