NEW YORK A decade ago "convergence" was a hot buzzword signifying the merger of Internet, computer, and television. A few years and a few billion dollars later, it hasn't quite worked out as predicted -- yet. Meanwhile, a newer, most decidedly twenty-first century form of convergence is taking place, quite rapidly, right in our pockets:
The convergence of all things portable and electronic.
What was once a cell phone is now a cell phone, address book, portable game player, digital camera, camcorder, and GPS location device. Audio MP3 jukebox will be next, followed by video multimedia jukebox, and TV. Ultimately, any distinction between today's PDA equipped with a cell phone (such as Handspring's Treo), and a cell phone equipped with hand-held PC will disappear. It will all converge. The size of the device will depend mostly on the preferred screen size big and small units will have similar abilities.
This "pocket convergence" was the buzz at the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas see Video trumps voice in cellphone of the future, TV May Soon Beam From Cell Phone Screens, and Toward a new definition of consumer.
Of course, professional photographers will always have good reason to use standalone cameras, and network TV camera crews will continue using professional camcorders separate devices will not entirely disappear. But for most people, the convenience of a single "Swiss Army Knife" of portable electronics will outweigh their limitations and compromises.
As far as television viewing is concerned, however, those compromises can be quite severe. The pioneering MobiTV service, for example, recently launched on Cingular (see Live TV Service Launched On Cingular), runs at a paltry two to three frames per second (normal video runs at 25 or 30 frames per second) on most handsets.
What's going on here? In the midst of an era that's supposed to transition us to widescreen, high definition television, people are watching on tiny two-inch cell phone screens, running at a frame rate that looks more like a slide show than a TV!
Video and audio purists alike have long scoffed at the masses' inability to perceive true fidelity in picture and sound. Video aficionados snub their noses at the bright, all-too-blue, high color temperatures on most living room TV screens, for example.
But with cell phone video being marketed at 3-fps, one has to wonder whether there's a bottom to all this.
"Never underestimate the intelligence of the TV audience," used to be an axiom of TV programmers in the U.S. To this I'd like to add a corollary:
"Never underestimate the technical quality standards of the TV audience."
Inevitably picture quality will improve. But during these pioneering days of "pocket convergence," the bandwidth limitations of today's cell phone technology will surely place severe limits on the ambitious video capabilities that designers of next-generation pocket devices would like to include.
So, to the designers of future handheld video convergence devices, I pose three questions in this, the first blog of Video Imaging DesignLine:
1. How much do you think the "typical" consumer cares about video quality in a pocket convergence device?
2. Which devices do you think will be "absorbed" in Borg-like fashion into the pocket convergence device, never to exist as a standalone anymore?
3. What's the best name for the pocket convergence device? (Hint: It's not "pocket convergence device"!)
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