Electronic industry confident for future

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The future for media and entertainment is to be available everywhere and always if the Consumer Electronics Show, which ends in Las Vegas this weekend, delivers on its promises.

The industry, as represented by more than 130,000 visitors and exhibitors to the show, has exuded an air of supreme self-confidence this week.

Participants are optimistic that they have a blend of sophisticated, beautiful gadgets and compelling services that support a business model allowing them to make money.

Exactly how these services will be distributed and which platform might prove to be the “winner” – set-top box, media centre PC, gaming console, mobile phone, MP3 player or a combination of any or all – remains to be determined. Companies must still work across a variety of gadgets and distribution channels.

Much of this involves companies encroaching on to each other’s territory and therefore a great deal of aggressive jockeying for position.

So when Microsoft announced enhanced search facilities for Vista, its next-generation operating system, and a music service launched in conjunction with MTV Networks, it was clearly looking to wrestle back some of the initiative seized by Google and Apple in recent years.

In a speech late on Friday, Larry Page, Google’s founder, was expected to move his company on with the announcement of video distribution services, adding broadcasters to a long list of companies threatened with disruption by the internet giant’s march.

But equally this process involves the forging of alliances that might otherwise be seen as unlikely, a point emphasised by Sir Howard Stringer, chairman of Sony, who called on content groups and hardware manufacturers to work together. “Content and technology are strange bedfellows but we must understand each other,” he said this week.

Sony is also engaged in a battle with its peers over the future of DVD. The Japanese giant is at the vanguard of the Blu-ray movement that will offer one version of an improved, interactive DVD experience in competition with HD-DVD, a standard vigorously promoted by Toshiba, NEC, Microsoft and others.

The booths demonstrating these very similar but incompatible technologies have been drawing large crowds from buyers.

Elsewhere there was the traditional sight of the big getting bigger – 102-inch-screen plasma televisions – and the small getting smaller. There were mobile phones and MP3 players that might easily be lost forever in the average jeans pocket.

In the automotive hall, product displays included televisions in the boots and footwells of cars.

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