CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
Video, more video, and VoIP:
CES 2005 spawned software for the hardware you love
By Lindsey Turrentine
(January 10, 2005)
It's a no-brainer: to run consumer software, you need a PC. But to use the software we found at CES 2005, you'll need much more.
True to CES's consumer electronics and home entertainment bent, this year's CES software announcements made impressive inroads into the land of streaming media and home networking, pushing TV, music, and photos out to all kinds of nontraditional devices. And as we predicted, VoIP made its presence known in a big, big way in Las Vegas last week, pairing new IP phone hardware with cheaper and more flexible service plans.
But perhaps the most interesting development of the show is that most software and services announced at CES relied on seamless integration with hardware, from phones to cameras to televisions. Even Bill Gates's keynote highlighted only those versions of Windows that serve up multimedia content or run embedded on digital entertainment devices. Is software on its deathbed? Probably not, but from what we're seeing, you could probably live the rest of your life without purchasing boxed software.
Windows Media Center's ripple effect
Now that Windows Media Center has been on the market for some time (if not, quite yet, in living rooms around the world), competing and complementary products are springing up left and right. One of our CNET Next Big Thing Award winners, Orb Networks Orb, does the seemingly impossible: it streams digital content stored on your PC straight out to your Internet-connected devices, cell phones and PDAs included. In other words, if you already own a Media Center PC or similar, you can view your snapshots and watch your season-long collection of Lost from anywhere in the world.
At CES, we also checked out Meedio TV and SnapStream Beyond Media, both alternatives to Windows Media Center with one huge advantage: they don't require the purchase of a new PC.
If you don't know what VoIP is yet, wait five minutes. Internet companies such as Vonage want you making phone calls through your broadband connection within the next year, Ma Bell be damned, and they used CES as a lure. Perhaps the most interesting VoIP application was a new breed of Wi-Fi VoIP phone created to take advantage of commercial Internet calling services such as Vonage. A consumer-friendly-looking, candy bar-style phone, the UT Starcomm F1000, for example, will start shipping this spring packaged with service from Vonage and other VoIP carriers. Wi-Fi phones aren't new--industrial versions have existed for years--but this one comes with purse- and living-room-friendly trimmings; it coughs up changeable ringtones, three-way calling, and call waiting. But here's the rub: this phone lets you take your home phone number with you and simply uses your $25 VoIP plan from anywhere there's an open hot spot.
Of course, the world isn't yet plastered with hot spots, so you won't be replacing your cell phone any time soon. But a Wi-Fi phone would be a great alternative to a home cordless phone and useful for, say, taking your home phone with you to work.
And UT Starcomm wasn't alone in the VoIP vanguard. VoIP video phones made the rounds, the most stylish of which was the ouch-expensive $799 Motorola Ojo, which serves up video calls free.
Where we went wrong
No one's perfect. So when we predicted that free software would make a comeback at CES, we knew we might be wrong. We were. Last week, we saw no free software at all. CES was all about entertainment, which doesn't come cheap. Especially in Vegas, baby.
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