5 Tech Trends for '08 Page 2

Wireless VIDEO Imagine how The Future will look. Now glance out your front window. You'll notice two important differences. Most concepts of The Future, unlike your driveway, don't include a rusted-out AMC Gremlin up on blocks. Also, The Future doesn't have rows of wooden poles strung with utility wires. The Future is sleek, which means wireless.

Now consider your home theater system - and the thicket of wires not only stuffed behind your TV but possibly running throughout your house. How great would it be to eliminate those? Wireless audio, although still not mainstream, has been around for quite a while in some headphones and rear speakers. But wireless video is a much tougher proposition because of the greater bandwidth required. Still, the possibility of streaming high-def video is beginning to emerge.

The High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is fast becoming the de facto standard for lacing together consumer gear. An HDMI cable can transfer uncompressed multichannel audio and 1080p video at blistering rates of 3 gigabits per second. To achieve the same bit rate wirelessly is no small feat, since transmitted data is under constant and unpredictable attack by invisible interference from other radio signals and is degraded by physical obstacles like walls.

Solutions are fiendishly difficult. One might involve analyzing video data and giving priority to data that's deemed visually important. That way, if communication is stressed, only less important visual details will be lost, and hopefully not noticed by the viewer. Fortunately, clever engineers have devised a number of ways to wirelessly deliver uncompressed audio and video in real time over short ranges. For example, Motorola and Amimon are pitching the Wireless High-Definition Interface (WHDI), and Samsung has demonstrated a system using the emerging 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. Also, a consortium of manufacturers (including LG, Panasonic, NEC, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba) has developed a system called WirelessHD. Importantly, that group has sought approval from Hollywood studios, which must grant security certification before they'll allow their content to be streamed.

Manufacturers are already hinting at near-future products. DVD players, game consoles, TVs, and projectors are all possible candidates. But there's a catch: Until there's an industry-recognized wireless high-def standard, we'll be wondering if our Sanyo projector can talk to our Samsung TV. Yep, another standards war.

Prognosis The Future is wireless. Cellphones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth - wireless rules. Spending a lot of money to eliminate one HDMI cable between your DVD player and your TV is questionable. But if that money lets the player communicate with any TV in the house, then that's a significant upgrade. Reliable wireless video - at 1080p, over distances of 30 to 100 feet, and through walls - is a technology that we're anxiously awaiting. We just have to avoid a standards deadlock. No problem: In the future, we'll all just get along, right?

4K VIDEO Also in the future, everyone will have to jog 4K every morning before the robot makes their breakfast. Just kidding. (Then again, such a policy would make us fit and toned - and it would cure the health-insurance crisis.) Actually, 4K is a technology standard underlying new-and-improved digital video resolution that will make your awesome 1080p screen look crude. (I know that sounds harsh, but someone had to break the news to you.)

The 4K standard represents the next level of display resolution, as well as the brave new world of digital cinema. Imagine seeing not just a 1080p picture but four 1080p pictures displayed simultaneously. That's the kind of demo that manufacturers are showing as visual proof of 4K's incredible prowess. In particular, 4K designates a display resolution of 4,096 x 2,160 pixels. That works out to 8.8 million pixels, more than quadrupling the resolution of a 1,920 x 1,080 display, the highest of consumer high-def currently available.

The resolution of 4K is indeed staggering, and it has immediate implications. For starters, a vast and mighty 50-GB Blu-ray Disc couldn't even accommodate a 4K movie; you might need a 300-GB disc for that. So 4K will make the format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD moot by creating the need for even higher-density optical storage.

Currently, 1080p is the top dog in consumer video, but 4K is the ultimate in professional digital cinema. In fact, the advent of HDTV consumer technology spurred the pros (including the movie industry) to devise something even better. Just like everyone else, movie theaters want to kick the analog habit and go digital, abandoning film for files. The studios have agreed on 4K and 2K (2,048 horizontal pixels) as the standards for digital movie distribution and projection. Some theaters have already installed 2K and 4K projectors to show movies as well as live events ranging from sports to opera. As 4K enters the consumer market, it will open up our living rooms to the wonders of digital cinema.

Prognosis 4K is the real deal. The four-fold increase in resolution over 1080p is significant and impressive enough to encourage upgrades. Stepping up from "home theater" to "home cinema" will be more than just semantics, because 4K gives the kind of picture that previously was only associated with film. It's amazing that right after we bought 1080p screens, even better ones come along. Ah, the simultaneously frustrating and rewarding march of technological evolution.

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