LOS ANGELES - Grab the popcorn and 3-D glasses and get ready for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the trade event that got its start as a gadget-fest but has emerged as an important showcase of new entertainment technology.
The show has been the glitzy platform from which manufacturers launched such products as high-definition television, the digital video recorder, the compact disc player and the camcorder.
On display this week will be four technology trends that promise to shape how people get their entertainment.
• Manufacturers will seek to capitalize on Hollywood’s current mania for 3-D films by unveiling televisions that bring 3-D into the living room.
• Another trend is TVs that connect to the Internet.
• As more consumers expect to be entertained wherever they happen to be, TV broadcasters are hanging their hopes on a third technology at CES – mobile digital TV.
• Finally, manufacturers will show a gaggle of portable gadgets to deliver all manner of entertainment, including books, videos and music.
Still, 3-D will occupy center stage.
The groundwork has already been laid for bringing the multi-dimensional images into the home. The Blu-ray Disc Association, a group of consumer electronics, computer and entertainment companies, last month agreed on a single standard for recording and playing back 3-D movies on Blu-ray discs. Televisions capable of displaying these images are expected to be introduced at the show.
Many in the entertainment industry believe it could take years for 3-D television to catch on. After all, it’s taken more than a decade since the introduction of high-definition television in the late 1990s for the sets to reach a majority of American homes.
Even now, fully one-third of HDTV owners – or about 14 million – aren’t watching high-definition programming, according to a study done by media researcher Frank N. Magid Associates. By that measure, it could take years for 3-D television sets to become cheap enough – and content to become plentiful enough – for the technology to reach the mainstream.
“In my own mind, there are a lot of other innovations for the consumer to chug through way before 3-D,” said Mike Vorhaus, Magid’s managing director of new media.
Internet-connected televisions might well be on a faster adoption path.
Last year, a handful of companies debuted TVs that used Yahoo’s “widgets” to deliver an array of popular online applications, including eBay, Flickr and Twitter, to the set. This year, nearly every TV manufacturer will have an Internet connection in its lineup, along with a slew of deals with Netflix, Facebook and Google.
Increasingly, people are turning to portable devices to watch movies, TV shows and short videos. To capture this segment, hundreds of broadcasters are pinning their hopes on a third trend – mobile digital TV. The new technology lets viewers watch from a laptop or portable device, such as a smart phone or portable DVD player.
“We need to follow our consumers,” said Brandon Burgess, chief executive of Ion Media Networks Inc., which owns 59 broadcast TV stations. “There are only 160 million living rooms in the U.S., but hundreds of millions of devices. The trends are clear that mobile devices are where consumers will be getting video. We want to be there.”
Chances are, there will be even more mobile gadgets out when TV stations start rolling out their mobile DTV broadcasts later this year. Dozens of manufacturers will be trotting out devices with screens measuring 5 to 8 inches – smaller than a laptop but larger than a smart phone. One device, the LG Mobile Digital Television, features a 7-inch-wide screen and built-in DVD player. Others will emphasize the ability to read digital books, such as Plastic Logic’s wireless Que ProReader, which features a screen the size of a sheet of notebook paper.
Whether they will flourish remains to be seen. Aside from e-book readers such as Amazon.com’s Kindle, consumers have traditionally shied away from devices with small screens.