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Waiting for a TV Technology to Inherit the Future

Unless, that is, the industry gets stuck in a senseless format war that scares away customers. Remember VHS vs. Beta? That same miserable experience is getting a replay this year as two camps of companies ready successors to the DVD.

On one side, a wide range of manufacturers, including Sony, Panasonic, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Philips, and a few major studios back a format called Blu-Ray. On the other, a wide range of movie studios and a few smaller manufacturers (Toshiba, RCA and others) support one called HD DVD.

Attendees look up at a display of Panasonic plasma TVs at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Photos Mike Blake -- Reuters)

_____Live Online_____
Transcript: Read the transcript of Rob's Jan. 10 Web chat, in which he discussed what he saw at CES 2005.
_____CES 2005_____
In Gadget Gab, The Post's Yuki Noguchi, Leslie Walker and Rob Pegoraro kept readers updated on the hot trends and gadgets on display at the Consumer Electronics Show.
In a reporter's notebook file, Rob Pegoraro wrote about his first impressions of this year's CES (Jan. 7, 2005)
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Both of these high-capacity discs should bring HDTV's crystal-clear picture and surround sound to movie releases as well as home recordings. The differences, in a nutshell: Blu-Ray offers more space, while HD DVD appears to be cheaper to make.

Andy Parsons, a senior vice president at Blu-Ray supporter Pioneer Electronics, predicted that the "sheer might" of the hardware manufacturers lined up behind Blu-Ray would leave no room for HD DVD to survive: "How can it? I can't really resolve that in my mind."

Jodi Reilly, assistant vice president at Toshiba's digital audio/video group, noted the range of titles already scheduled for release on HD DVD, including "The Matrix," "Apollo 13" and "Austin Powers." "The software ultimately drives the hardware," she said.

After hearing these arguments, I can come to only one conclusion: Customers should not have to think like venture capitalists when they go shopping. Compared with this mess, DVD as we know it looks fine.

Elsewhere in the sprawling expanse of the Las Vegas Convention Center, plenty of other technologies are trying to move down that road to consumer acceptance. Satellite radio looks well on its way, with both the Sirius and XM services past the million-subscriber mark (XM continued to hold a sizable lead, with 3.2 million customers to Sirius's 1.1 million). Will digital FM and AM be next?

Even further from mass-market acceptance is the wireless media receiver, a box designed to plug into a stereo and a TV and allow you to listen to and watch the digital music, photos and videos stored on your computer. RCA and HP announced upcoming set-top boxes, while Microsoft showed off TVs and DVD recorders from other manufactures that use its Windows Media software to act as media receivers.

If there were any way to phone the future to see whether any of these gadgets will fly, I'm sure some company here would hand me its latest Bluetooth-connected, WiFi-enabled, video-ready cameraphone to make that call. But some things are beyond the reach of even the consumer electronics industry.

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

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