Galore in Future Home
But Will Consumers Swallow
Even More Buttons?
O S A N G E L E S, Jan. 6
In the digital home of the future, you’ll be able to use the television
to order pizza and set the thermostat, record movies without a tape, make
popcorn and even buy new shoes. What’s more, the toilet will talk.
That is the vision to be presented
this week at the massive Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
All in all, more than 1,800
makers of everything from stereos and television sets, still and video
cameras, phones, computers and Internet products, auto dashboard computers,
palm-sized PCs and even talking toilets will parade their wares in front
of an expected 100,000 attendees.
But the burning questions being
addressed at the show, according to industry observers, are less about
the gear itself and more about how to link it all together, turn it on
and get people to buy it.
Does That Do?
Will those who aren’t really sure what all those buttons
on the TV remote control are for be willing to move to more complicated
“We’re really a transitional
generation,” said Ron Goldberg, executive editor of E/Town, an Internet
home electronics guide. “We see a generation of young people who have grown
up on video games and PCs who will easily adapt ... and a generation that’s
out of the technological loop.”
The concern is that all the
new gadgets may face resistance from consumers who are not ready to ditch
their existing analog televisions and telephones for digital models even
though newer, smaller, faster, clearer technologies are available.
So manufacturers are trying to figure how to link the
old with the new. For example, some of the most prominent items coming
out of the show this year are so-called “firewires,” or single digital
cables linking various components throughout the house such as the microwave,
telephone, television and computer.
Wireless technologies linking
components without cords also will be shown along with various types of
new personal satellite dishes and antennas designed to send and receive
For those who still need the
security of physically holding a “clicker” to turn the television on and
off, one popular technology will be a programmable remote control device
that would let a single button handle several functions.
Even for Grandma
“In terms of turning on the machines, your grandmother
will still be able to use her remote control, but with one button she’ll
watch her favorite soap opera and have the lighting just right. And if
she wants to record it on her video cassette recorder, she could push another
button and do that too,” said Jeff Joseph, a spokesman for the Consumer
Electronics Manufacturers Association.
There also will be devices that
respond to vocal commands, Joseph said. And “smart cards,” or wallet cards
embedded with computer chips, will figure prominently, allowing consumers
to use one card for anything from buying groceries to storing medical histories
to unlocking doors.
Many of the new technologies
that will be shown, such as digital TV, which costs as much as $4,000,
are still too expensive for the average consumer.
Prices Already Sinking
At least one new product—the Digital Versatile Disk player,
or DVD, which plays movies on a disc similar to a compact disc—has recently
come down in price, and it is expected to take the country by storm in
1999, analysts said. Prices have been slashed to around $400 from around
$1,000 when they made their debut 18 months ago.
In addition to mainstream items,
the show will feature such must-have products as tiny computers with child-sized
keyboards, portable golf score shredders, talking cars that will not only
navigate but will—through invisible speaker phones and computers—ask would-be
thieves to identify themselves and call the police if they are unable to
“The (talking) toilet will be
most interesting and most helpful,” Joseph said. “There’s a voice to tell
you to keep the seat down and other messages. It’s recordable and you can
record whatever message you want. I’ll keep it away from my wife.”
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