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How hi-tech is changing the world Part 1: The digital hearth

In this wrap-up from last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, The Big Change summarises some of the hi-tech breakthroughs, launches and visions that are already changing or about to change the way we work and live.

Just more than 40 years after it was first staged by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas saw one of the greatest explosions of cutting-edge technologies in its history last week.

Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEOMore than 2,700 exhibitors, a record 1.85 million square feet of exhibit space across a number of venues, and the industry’s leading executives unveiling their visions, were all symptoms of a bigger trend that is playing itself out across the world.

According to CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro, in his “State of the Industry” address, consumer electronics industry sales will jump to $171 billion in 2008, a 6.1 percent increase over 2007. He cautioned that, although the industry would continue to outpace projected sales in other industries, continued growth is threatened by protectionist policies.

Following Shapiro’s remarks, Toshihiro Sakamoto, president, Panasonic AVC Networks Company, delivered the opening keynote address. Sakamoto shared his vision of the “Digital Hearth,” where technology, including high-definition digital imaging and displays, brings friends and family together.

Sakamoto unveiled Panasonic’s newest technology, including a 24.7 mm-thin flat-panel television, double luminance efficiency technology that reduces power consumption on displays by 50 percent, and the world’s first 150″ plasma flat-panel television with 2000×4000 resolution, which will be manufactured at Panasonic’s just-announced fifth production facility.

Sakamoto also performed the first public demonstration of wireless HD video transmission with Panasonic’s “Home Base,” and unveiled a wireless HD camcorder that transmits recorded HD video to a device without the need for a single cable. Sakamoto concluded with several new partnership announcements with major companies including Comcast, YouTube and Google’s Picasso.

A SuperSession called “Connect2Car,” co-organized by the Convergence Transportation Electronics Association (CTEA) and SAE International, featured auto makers and consumer electronics manufacturers discussing ways the auto and consumer electronics industries can satisfy consumer demand for in-vehicle technology. Panelists from BMW, Chrysler and Ford each described platforms for bringing integrated solutions into the car.

In another SuperSession, “The New Face of America’s Elections,” executives from the MPAA and YouTube and politicos from the Republican Main Street Partnership, The New Politics Institute and Americans for Tax Reform, joined CNBC anchor, Maria Bartiromo, to discuss the impact of new media on the 2008 elections. While panelists’ views differed on which political party and candidates have best harnessed technology, there was agreement regarding the power of new technologies to help candidates advance their platform, increase civic participation and empower American voters to be more informed about candidates.

In the the CES Industry Insiders Series, as reported previously in The Big Change, Jerry Yang, CEO of Yahoo! Inc., unveiled the new Yahoo! Mobile 3.0, an easier-to-navigate platform for mobile devices. Yang told the crowded theatre that Yahoo!’s goal is to remain a simple starting point to the Internet to help busy consumers navigate the ever-expanding web. “Our goal is to make your life easier,” Yang said.

“Technology Impact: The Shaping of Hollywood Decision Making,” a SuperSession hosted by Variety, featured top studio digital media executives from Paramount, Disney, Fox and Warner Brothers. The panel addressed how technology advances impact the strategic decisions made by studios, and explored new ways the Internet and mobile devices can drive monetisation of new media content. The group predicted an explosion of online video content in the next several years.

In one of the most visionary SuperSessions, “The Top Ten Technologies You’ve Never Heard Of,” a panel of technology experts explored what was really hot in consumer technology. In particular, they discussed the possibilities of wireless technologies that will allow multiple devices to work without the interference that consumers experience today. The panelists told a standing-room only crowd that products in the near future will be completely wireless, meaning no power cords or wires of any kind.

In “CNET’s Next Big Thing” SuperSession, CNET editor Brian Cooley moderated a panel which explored the top three technology ideas that should pay off big in the next year. The hot topics included technology in the car, PC in your pocket and the future of television.

And a keynote address by Intel’s President and CEO Paul Otellini kicked off with a cartoon take-off entitled, “Video killed the Radio World,” that focused on how the Internet has changed the world. Otellini said the Internet was going to bring services beyond RSS, push and alerts. Several travel demos of wireless translation technologies showed how technology can seamlessly provide the information we need regardless of the device we choose to use, especially while mobile.

A highlight of the session was when Steve Harwell of Smashmouth sang alone on stage connected to his band virtually over the Internet using “ejamming” software.

Otellini concluded (see The Big Change report) by saying that the personal Internet was inevitable: more powerful, more connected, more context-aware and more personal. He said, “the consumer will be the new generator of content creating brand new business models.”

The most sobering note was struck, ironically, by Gary Shapiro, in his “State of the Industry” address.

Urging CES attendees to support robust free trade policies, Shapiro noted that in 2006 U.S. high-tech companies exported more than $220 billion of their products, accounting for one fifth of total U.S. exports, and making high-tech America’s largest export sector.

Shapiro also announced an unprecedented free trade initiative between CEA, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The three groups made a formal request to Congress to approve pending free trade agreements, and to restore the President’s authority to negotiate free trade agreements.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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