Coming Soon to a Brain Near You

You've come a long way, baby. Forty years ago, you used a tinfoil antenna to pick up black-and-white TV. Today, high-def screens are bigger (and flatter) than the walls of my first apartment, and home theater receivers are so powerful that their 7.1 speakers can shake the earth. Add the Internet, cellphone downloads, Wi-Fi, and satellite radio, and you've got an amazingly rich entertainment environment. Can it possibly get any better?

Yes, it can. The next few years are pretty easy to predict. Unless Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD inflict destruction on each other (a real possibility), they'll up the ante in video playback tremendously. Even if you've been digging the picture quality of plain ol' DVD, get ready for a surprise. The 1080p resolution of HD DVD and Blu-ray will look much better.

We're also seeing the start of commercial movie downloading. Sure, kids have been ripping and sharing low-rez movies for years. But now Hollywood studios are getting into the business, selling good-rez movies online. You'll need someplace to keep all those files, so storage capacity will continue to spiral upward. If you have 100 gigabytes today, surely you'll have 10 terabytes shortly. Speaking of storage, portable players will just keep getting cooler, too.

That's all neat. But, cynical A/V buff that you are, jaded by the rapid evolution of technology, you're saying to yourself: "Ho-hum. Of course I expect that my TV's picture will look as real as the view out my window. And of course I expect that my portable player will hold a million songs." But please, don't get too complacent. There may be truly startling developments just over the horizon.