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New TVs Are Easy to Admire, Tougher to Comprehend

(If $2,000 is still too pricey, there will be plenty of traditional cathode-ray-tube high-definition sets. But few vendors here bother to exhibit them or talk about them.)

Whatever TV technology you buy, you will face a bewildering array of options. Your next TV may include a built-in digital video recorder, WiFi wireless networking or, in the case of two sets by Epson (yes, the printer company), a built-in photo printer.

"Whatever TV technology you buy, you will face a bewildering array of options," Rob Pegoraro wrote in his weekly Fast Forward column, based on what he saw at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. (Steve Marcus -- Las Vegas Sun Via Reuters)

_____Live Online_____
Monday, 2 p.m. ET: Rob Pegoraro will be online to talk about his latest columns on Verizon Wireless's BroadbandAccess service and e-mail technology.
_____Reporter's Notebook_____
Subtlety Is Not in CES Vocabulary (washingtonpost.com, Jan 9, 2004)
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Fast Forward Archive

Recording the shows you watch on the digital television may constitute another headache. The industry, not having settled a three-way format war in recordable DVDs, has already moved on to a two-way format war in high-definition recordable DVDs.

Most manufacturers, including the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Philips and Samsung, back a format called Blu-ray, but the "official" standards-setting organization, the DVD Forum, has anointed an incompatible technology, HD-DVD. This is the industry at its squabbling, feudalistic best.

"The products are in some cases inherently complex, but in other cases unnecessarily complex," Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said at a luncheon Friday. He cited a WiFi router whose convoluted setup "reduced grown computer scientists to tears" -- and caused a quarter of these devices to be returned.

The biggest surprise at this show was how many manufacturers are working on wireless systems to share a computer's collections of music, photos and often videos with a home theater. But while these devices might make life a lot easier they also might make our stereos act like that WiFi router.

Microsoft unveiled a number of initiatives to help users get their photos and songs off the computer. It's developing software to smooth media sharing in Windows and in the special Media Center edition of the operating system, and it's revising the copy controls in its Windows Media file format to allow buyers on songs on such sites as Napster to broadcast their purchases to other machines in a home network.

Microsoft also is working on software to run a family of paperback-sized "Portable Media Centers" that would store copies of the entertainment collected on Media Center PCs for viewing outside the house. It has plenty of company in that effort. For example, Sony has its own proposed home media network, complete with a "LocationFree" tablet display to allow Web browsing from the couch. (Several manufacturers are working on a less ambitious but more immediately useful kind of networking -- wireless surround-sound systems that don't require you to snake wires across the living room to reach the rear speakers.)

The bright spot in all this confusion is that it leaves room for creativity -- the best LCD or DVD recorder may wind up coming from some firm in Taiwan or China nobody's heard of. And all the while, prices continue to drop. It takes a while, but sooner or later just about anything you can see on the show floor here winds up in the likes of Target and Wal-Mart at prices that normal human beings can stomach.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at rob@twp.com.

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