CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Mini players, color displays,
By James Kim
(December 15, 2004)
Portable audio and video is no doubt one of the premier categories at CES, and thanks to the current boom in the MP3 player market, we should see players coming out of the woodwork. According to an IDC report, MP3 player sales will enjoy a 20 percent compound annual growth rate in the next five years, with worldwide sales reaching $58 billion by 2008. The question that remains is not whether you will listen to digital audio on the go but which device amid a sea of choices best suits you. We expect the category, which includes standard flash MP3 players, do-it-all hard drive players, and portable video players, to continue a rapid pace of evolutionary improvements to design, features, price, battery life, and overall ease of use.
Look for several new micro hard drive players to bite into the market-share-leading Apple iPod Mini. Value-adding features such as direct line-in MP3 encoding, built-in speakers, and color screens should give this fledgling subcategory a boost for consumers. We've already witnessed a barrage of micros from Dell, Virgin, Creative, Rio, and others hit the market. Trust us--there will be more at CES. Large-capacity players such as the Dell DJ-20 will get bigger, and we'll see a number of 60GB players and even a couple that hit the 100GB level. While capacity grows, you'll see form factors continue to shrink--just look at Archos's new Gmini XS200, a 20GB player that's the size of a micro drive player.
We also expect to see more full-color and slick OLED screens on all types of MP3 players, with photo viewing as one of 2005's hot extra features. More and more WMA-based players will boast compatibility with on-the-go subscription services, and many more will be fully compatible with music store downloads. Services such as Napster, MSN Music, and RealPlayer Music Store will blossom in 2005 with more users, deeper catalogs, and increased player support. Conveniences in jukebox software such as automatic synchronization and optimization of digital audio and other media files will change the way we approach digital media.
Tiny flash-based players will continue to rise in numbers and popularity, and "extra" features such as FM tuners, voice recorders, and line-in encoding will become standard. In fact, virtually every MP3 vendor (except Apple) has a flash player. Also expect to see prices of flash-based players--even at the 1GB capacity--to come down well within reach of consumer budgets. The typical flash player will have a capacity of 256MB and will be available for less than $120. Likewise, full-featured 1GB players will dip below $200. And as a nod to the MP3 format, Sony will finally feature a few more players (flash for now, maybe hard drive later) that offer native MP3 playback. Also, look for companies such as N-tribe, Jens of Sweden, and Bang & Olufsen to offer "high end" MP3 players that feature tiny and stylish form factors, top-shelf components, and luxury price tags.
In the realm of portable video players, look for dozens of players to be introduced, many of them sporting smaller and lighter designs and larger screens. These will be marketed as 7-in-1 überdevices, and average prices will come down, thanks to an influx of international products. Some players, such as Archos's AV420, will record video, while others, including Creative's Zen PMC-100, will utilize Microsoft's Portable Media Center operating system. Expect to see more legal video-download services (for example, CinemaNow) to spring forth with much-needed PVP content.
Integrated wireless and streaming capabilities and beyond
Looking further down the road, expect revolutionary implementation of technologies such as Wi-Fi, streaming music to and from devices, and purchasing music via wireless broadband networks.
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