The Next "IT Technology" For Specialty AV Wasn't 3D and What Might Be Next

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The Next

iPad-on-the-horizon.jpgWith the meteoric rise to fame of VHS over Betamax in the early 1980s, the consumer electronics business has always had its "next big thing" products to propel the business to growth year-in and year-out, in ways that often ignored the current overall economic climate. Video cassettes were a start but technologies like Dolby surround sound, big screen televisions, Laserdisc, DVD, satellite TVs, universal remotes, digital projectors, video game consoles and especially flat HDTVs all got consumers to spend money on specialty AV. Blu-ray has become successful but the HD DVD-Blu-ray format war soured many consumers on jumping into the fray. They all remembered the VHS-Beta war and more recently the no-winner war between audiophile formats: SACD and DVD-Audio.

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Historically, housing markets going into the tank wouldn't keep consumers out of the stores to buy the new, hot technologies and for the last few years that new, hot technology has been 3D HDTVs. Respectfully, 3D has its place as a feature of a modern flat set but what sells HDTVs today is a thin form factor and an even thinner profit margin, resulting in everyman pricing for huge, beaming HDTVs. People simply don't go out to buy a new flat HDTV because of 3D. They get 3D because it comes with the set (sets that amazingly, often don't come with glasses) and can be played back via an HDMI-capable $130 Blu-ray player or 3D-capable satellite receiver.

The economic downturn since 2008 has been nothing short of epic but that's not to say people aren't spending on electronics. They are, and in huge numbers, but for the first time in a generation the IT product isn't a specialty AV product as much as it's a computer. Apple's iPad is the hot ticket. Yes, I know there are other tablets out there and that there are geeks who love themselves some Windows 7, but seriously - those people also own a Zune. Apple's iPad is something else. It brings a Crestron-like touchscreen to the masses that can control their music, movies, images, photos, applications, games and more. It is a bookstore, a video arcade, a record player and much more. It can control your lights, thermostat, volume and AV system. An iPad can keep you entertained from Los Angeles to London non-stop without recharging the battery. Simply put - the Apple iPad is the hot new ticket, but for the first time in over 25 years the hot new technology isn't really sold at a traditional stereo store as much as its sold at a computer store.

Concerningly, the iPad and other devices have taught us that via a 3G or wireless Internet connection, we can buy, consume and enjoy media on a streaming basis that only a few years ago was unthinkable. While streaming content is amazing for its convenience, make no mistake that streaming content at this point offers pathetic performance for audio and even worse performance for video. Images are compressed, pixelated and thin looking. Audio at best is a fraction of the quality that you could get 10 years ago from a DVD. Players like Netflix are pulling back as hard as they can from the rental of physical media, as the mailing and disc costs eat away at their profits while those who want the high level of performance that Blu-ray can deliver, including uncompressed audio and true 1080p video, have no choice but to pay higher and higher rental rates.

Some suggest that 4K video is poised to be the next "IT technology" while there was a small story showing mainstream consumer demand for HD audio to be higher than anyone thought. For me - I am game for both. I would eBay my liver to afford a 70 inch 4K plasma to replace every current 1080p set in my life today. New projector? No problem, I am in. As for rebuying my music collection on 24 bit Blu-ray - I would preorder dozens of titles if the major labels would be smart enough to sell them to me on a copy-protected, high performance format like Blu-ray or a download that I could use with Apple products. And I am not the only person who feels this way. Even in a down economy - people pay for the IT technology. Don't believe me? Count how many iPads are sold in an hour at your local Apple store.

What I do know is that the era of 3D as the driving force compelling people to buy specialty AV will end soon and something else will take its place. Be it HD Audio, 4K video, OLED video displays or something that I have never even dreamed of - it's time for some new excitement. Steven Jobs and Apple have had enough fun teaching people how to consume low quality media. I am in the mood for something high end and HD for the next new technology that moves the consumer electronics market.

Additional Resources
• Read more original stories like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See similar stories in our Industry Trade News section.
• Learn more about the iPad as a Crestron controller.

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