LAS VEGAS -- Talk about multitasking. Tomorrow's kids will be watching live TV in the corner of their ski goggles while zooming down mountains and simultaneously chatting with ski buddies over short-range wireless headsets.
At least that seems to be where things are heading, judging by the many media gadgets being showcased here at the 37th annual Consumer Electronics Show, which opens today and ends Sunday. Mobile media -- picture tiny new audio-visual jukeboxes in all shapes and sizes -- is a major theme at what has evolved to be the top technology trade show in the United States.
Orb Networks shows off a service that lets subscribers remotely access their digital media files from their home PCs, and even watch live television, on gadgets with Internet connections.
(Joe Cavaretta - AP)
"The big trend for the show is going to be around place-shifting of media," declared Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for research firm NPD Group.
That's geek-speak for carrying media around in your pocket, on your lapel, in your car or -- who could forget? -- on your cell phone. Only you won't be calling it a cell phone judging by all the new features phone makers are building into their do-everything communication contraptions. And don't ask whether anyone really needs TV in their pocket; that's party-pooper talk at this high-tech toy extravaganza.
As if on cue, start-ups are rolling out new services to deliver video and audio programming to still-experimental portable media players -- companies such as Orb Networks Inc., which recently began selling a $10-a-month service that beams live TV and any other stored media to phones, handhelds and laptop computers. At a preview reception Tuesday, Orb Networks was showing the televised Orange Bowl on a laptop from a signal streamed live from somebody's home in California.
Gaithersburg-based TimeTrax Technologies Corp. is here touting a different concept that piggybacks on satellite radio. TimeTrax enables recording for digital radio, much as TiVo and its clones do for TV. TimeTrax began selling a $50 adapter a few months ago that lets subscribers of XM Satellite Radio automatically record and play back shows, so they can listen to them at their convenience. TimeTrax today is releasing a similar product for Sirius Satellite Radio. Both of the start-up's products may be controversial with the music industry because they turn over-the-air broadcasts into digital recordings.
"I think we will see a shakeout in the first half of 2005 over time-shifting technologies and the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not permissible," said TimeTrax chief executive Elliott D. Frutkin.
Cell phone giant Motorola Inc., meanwhile, is making it hard for convention-goers to miss its new communication clothing line announced Tuesday. To tout the futuristic duds, Motorola built a giant snowboarding ramp dubbed the "MotoMountain" in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center where real snowboarders will be putting on a show.
The idea behind the clothing is to make it easier for sports buffs to talk on cell phones and listen to music while snowboarding, bicycling or doing other activities. Motorola's parkas will have hoods with sewn-in stereo speakers, collars with embedded microphones, padded holsters for Motorola phones and voice-dialing controls. The gear lets people talk over Bluetooth, a short-range wireless technology.
In partnership with Burton Snowboards, Motorola is offering a line of clothes that, like the jacket above, promises to deliver on the company's vision of "seamless mobility" by letting wearers integrate personal digital devices into their garments. (Courtesy Motorola)
So okay, the attire being developed in tandem with Burton Snowboards won't have live TV receivers sewn into the linings when it's released next winter, but it's not hard to imagine that as the next step. After all, eMagin Corp., a company specializing in micro-displays, is here touting its new 3-D glasses allowing people to watch video on super-bright displays built into the glasses.