Tuesday, January 12, 2010

CES 2010 - What Did I Miss?

It sounds like I didn't really miss all that much. Reports that've been posted on Engadget and other blogs make it sound like CES 2010 was a lot like the previous years. There're a couple of things I've noticed over the years. The two biggest technologies that get the lion's share of attention are displays and smartphones. Every year they try to have something that's suppose to represent the next great thing. A couple years ago it was large, thin displays. Last year it was large, thin and faster 120 Hz processing speed. Now it's even thinner and even faster 240 Hz processing and now with 3D! So the new big thing is 3D TV. Even if I owned a big 3D capable 60" flat screen TV, I don't think it would be all that great. I think 3D has to be on the really big screens to be appreciated. If I want to see a 3D movie, I'll go to our local Imax. I just cant get excited about sitting in our family room wearing 3D goggles. Just thinking about it gives me a bit of a headache. I'm not even going to comment on smartphones because I'm just not really into them. I also missed a handful of companies showing off tablet PCs that they hope will be competitive with Apple's upcoming iSlate or whatever it's going to be called.

There were a few announcements or presentations that piqued my interest. During Steve Ballmer's keynote, he stated several times that the PC was the most advanced entertainment device (or something along those lines). Years ago, even back in the late 80's and into the 90's, they always talked about the convergence of technology. Especially the convergence of TVs and PCs. There were other things, like movies and hi-fi, but I think those were the 2 biggies. Anyhow it didn't happen the way Microsoft, Intel, HP, etc. thought it would. Or it didn't happen as quickly as they wanted. So in the past few CES trade shows, they hardly mentioned the PC. Instead it was all about the extenders and stand-alone gaming consoles, like the Xbox 360 or PS3. The PC was too complicated, noisy, big, etc. And people just didn't seem to understand that you weren't limited to a 17" CRT monitor. The tone seemed different this year. He genuinely seemed excited about all sorts of PCs - laptops, notebooks/netbooks and very small form factor HTPCs running Windows 7, Media Center and potential functionality with Mediaroom 2.0.

So since the success of our future products depends on the success of HTPCs, I guess there are reasons to be optimistic. Mediaroom 2.0 will allow major content providers, like AT&T's U-Verse, use HTPCs running Win7 and Media Center to tune into their programming instead of a dedicated set-top box. Initial reports are a little confusing and talk more about using Mediaroom 2.0 with the Xbox 360, but Ballmer made some reference during his keynote about it working with PCs as well. There were also a few announcements about a new CableCard tuner from Silicon Dust. I own one of their HDHomeRuns, so I'm a big fan. This is a dual tuner that connects to your home network. Any PC on your home network can tune into programming from cable providers or over-the-air digital broadcasts. The only big problem was you could only get cable stations that were unencrypted or clear-QAM. This limited you to mainly the basic tier, which includes your local programming (including local HD stations) and some crap channels. All the upper tier programming, stations on expanded basic or above, like ESPN, Comedy Central, Bravo, Discovery, etc. are all encrypted and couldn't be viewed and recorded using the HDHomeRun and your HTPCs. This is going to change when Silicon Dust ships their new CableCard dual tuner and we will be able to view and record encrypted programming from the cable companies. The cool thing about these HDHomeRuns is that your HTPC doesn't need an empty PCI-E slot for a tuner. The really small and silent PCs, like Dell's Zino HD, don't even have the space for internal tuners. So the CableCard ready HDHomeRun will be a great match.

So, it looks like some of the news out of CES 2010 is encouraging for us HTPC'ers.

1 comment:

  1. The real issue is whether the new cable cards will pick up and unencrypt only those stations the consumer continues to be subscribed to and egregiously overcharged for. There is nothing new about that.