CES 2010 and Apple: Video Where We Want It, When We Want It… and in 3-D

by Josh Rubenoff Jan 15, 2010

The Consumer Electronics Show, an annual event held in Las Vegas with tens of thousands of exhibitors, sets a general tone for the rest of the year in tech. Apple, however, never exhibits at CES, and so it's often the elephant in the room where mindshare is concerned. Announcements from handset manufacturers at the 2007 show were overshadowed by Jobs' unveiling of the iPhone in San Francisco during the event's second day. Still, last week in Las Vegas showed the majority of the tech industry putting their best foot forward in attempting to predict what products consumers would be willing to waste their disposable income on, and Apple can't help but take notice. In my next post, I'll talk about announcements from CES that might possibly be related to the Mythical Apple Tablet...but for now, here are two general trends from the expo, and my estimation of how likely Apple is to consider them when planning future products.

Innovations in the realm of 3-D (or stereoscopic tech) were by far the most prominent at CES, and one would be remiss in neglecting to mention James Cameron's Avatar as the primary reason for these announcements to be taken more seriously than as just a gimmick. With tons of 3-D televisions announced, pledges by cable channels like ESPN to air live sports broadcasts in three dimensions, not to mention the first 3-D Blu-Ray discs set to go on sale over the holidays at the end of this year and even a 1080p 3-D camcorder from Panansonic (complete with two viewfinders and a dial to adjust stereoscopic depth)... it's clear that, if not viewed as the future of cinema, the tech and media industry view 3-D as a very valuable addition to the viewing experience, one that they bet consumers will want to buy into and content producers will want to take advantage of.

Will Apple incorporate stereoscopic imagery into its own products? At the very least, not supporting the latest and greatest cameras is almost certainly a death wish for any professional-grade creative software, so I'm sure Apple will find a way to include support for Panasonic's camera, as well as others like it, in its next Final Cut release (much like it announced support for the groundbreaking RED ONE camera in Final Cut Studio 2 back in 2007). As for the prospect of 3-D Mac and iPhone displays in our future, I doubt it. The fact that one still has to put on special glasses to clearly view a three-dimensional display is a giant stumbling block for the effortless usability Apple fetishizes.

Another continued trend was web services integrated into TV. Rather than leaving it up to consumers to choose between an ever-widening field of set-top boxes, many TV manufacturers are working to integrate online video functionality into the televisions themselves. Whether it's the content selection on Sony's BRAVIAs, the HD movie rental service Vudu's integration with new LG televisions, or Netflix support on basically every device out there, companies are realizing that as content shifts from broadcast to the Web, they need to keep pace by giving their customers the entertainment they want.

Placing this string of CES announcements in the context of Apple's strategy creates an interesting question: would the company abandon the Apple TV in order to pursue a strategy of placing its software directly in the hands of set manufacturers? Historically, Apple has never been very good at partnerships, but let's be honest: the Apple TV represents a halfhearted attempt (Steve Jobs still refers to it as a "hobby") to have a gadget for the living room, and Microsoft's XBox 360 has won that battle many times over in terms of units sold. Here's a very shaky hypothesis: as graphics technology progresses, HDTV prices go further down and image fidelity starts taking precedence over portability, Apple will take drastic steps in order to gain footing in the battle over control of your living room.

Whether it's integrating its Apple TV software with display manufacturers or completely revamping its device. I'm not even sure if I believe it's such a pressing problem that Apple's willing to make that sort of effort, but feel free to discuss the idea in the comments.

Coming up: the e-reader explosion, the sudden influx in Windows/Android "slate" devices, the intriguing possibilities of Skiff and Tegra 2, and more.


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