Tops on my home-entertainment wish list is the experience recorder invented by physicists played by Louise Fletcher and Christopher Walken in Douglas Trumball's Brainstorm. Such a gadget is highly fanciful (and likely to be co-opted by the military, just like in the film), but there are five bona fide home theater trends we'll see take off in 2010, almost all of which are connected to connectivity — and reality.
1. Wireless HD
We likely will see the first HDMI 1.4-equipped gear at CES in January 2010, which means two things: 3D and the ability of multiple HDMI-connected devices to share a single Internet connection. But by then, HDMI may be old technology. The era of wireless HD connectivity is here. A WirelessHD consortium has created a wireless standard using the 60Hz band to connect your high-def sources to an HDTV up to 30 feet away with no cable whatsoever. You can hear the cheer from the folks with wall-mounted flat panels who can now get rid of that ugly dangling HDMI cable snaking to their gear stack.
Three HDTV makers have demonstrated WirelessHD sets: Panasonic (the 54-inch plasma Z1, $5,500, October), LG (two LH85 LCD models, a 55-inch for $3,200 and a 47-inch for $2,400, and the 55-inch 55LHX, $4,800; the latter two sets will be available later this year), and Sony (two XBR10 models, a 52-inch for $4,500 and a 46-inch for $5,000, both due next month). All come with a transceiver/tuner box to which you connect your varying high-def source boxes (cable, video game, media server, et al). Don't feel like shelling out for a new HDTV? Both Monster and Geffen will be selling wireless HD kits for retrofitting today's HDTVs, which are likely to run less than $1,000.
2. DIY Home Automation
The Clapper is the closest to home automation most of us can afford — until now. Home automation companies (think Crestron and Savant), those who make whole-home systems to control AV, lighting, thermostat and security functions — realize in a down economy they need to expand their market from the shrinking pool of multi-millionaires who can afford sophisticated custom systems to the rest of us.
Up-and-coming Control4 plans to produce iPod-simple, (relatively) affordable and retrofitable home automation — all controllable through your TV instead of expensive touchpad's. Control4 is spreading its wireless ZigBee system through deals with such mainstream companies as Pioneer, Sony and Panasonic, and is now selling its DIY home control wares through Best Buy.
Crestron is fighting back with its own simplified DIY ZigBee-based system called Prodigy. An average six-room wireless Prodigy system including controls for multiroom AV, lighting and climate runs a mere $3,200. Savant has answered the mass market call with its iPhone-centric Protégé system, which would run you around $5,000 for a basic system.
3. Connected HDTV
Sony, LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba are all making HDTVs that connect to the Internet to bring you Web video. According to In-Stat, 36 percent of digital sets sold in 2013 will be network-enabled. You might figure these are expensive, high-end models. Nope. In December, Costco will start to sell a connected Vizio 55-inch LED-backlit LCD that likely will sell for less than $2,000. And Samsung is even more connected-committed: 23 of its HDTVs, nearly half of all its models, are Internet TV-capable. Is the long-promised convergence of the PC and the TV finally here?
HDTVs aren't the only living-room devices able to pull in Web-based content. Among the connected Blu-ray players available now or coming soon: Toshiba's first Blu-ray player BDX2000 ($250, November); Sharp's first connected model, the BD-HP52U ($350, October) with a Netflix update due in November; Sony' first connected Blu-ray, BDP-N460 ($250, October) with an update for Netflix streaming this fall; and LG's previously announced BD390 with built-in Wi-Fi will get Vudu at the end of this month.
4. 3D HDTV
Sony's recent announcement of 3D PlayStation raises the stakes and improves the chances for 3D HDTV taking hold to a public leery of leering at TV through dark glasses. Panasonic is trying to run over the 3D competition with a truck — literally. A massive, tricked-out Panasonic 3D HDTV tractor trailer is currently roaming the country, encouraging all those who enter to don electronic glasses and view an impressive demo. Yep, 3D HDTV is coming to a mall parking lot near you.
But Panasonic certainly isn't the only TV vendor betting on 3D. JVC offers the 46-inch GD-463D10 ($9,000) 3D LCD display, but compared to Panasonic's demo, the less said about that the better. Mitsubishi hawked 3D-Ready DLP sets — whatever "3D-Ready" means — and several high-end projector companies demo'd five- and six-figure models.
An analyst called Alfred Poor with GigaOM Pro says there'll be 28 million to 46 million homes with 3D HDTV worldwide by 2013. We've offered admittedly contradictory prognostications for 3D, so at this point let's just say, we'll see what happens.
5. Mobile DTV
This isn't exactly a "home" theater trend, but a year ago, we reported on the impending arrival of Mobile DTV, which will let us receive and watch pristine DTV pictures on a number of portable devices. Industry watchers (myself included) figured there'd be some products by the end of this year.
Recently the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a voluntary association of more than 800 broadcast stations, announced it had (finally) finished the Mobile DTV standard. The group celebrated by bussing a bunch of government bigwigs around Washington, D.C., showing off live local news, weather, sports and other programs broadcast from seven Washington-area TV stations and received on Mobile DTV-compatible mobile phones, laptop PCs and netbooks.
Samsung and LG are likely to have the first Mobile DTV products, if not sometime this year then certainly early next. One of these Mobile DTV products is likely to be a USB tuner dongle for your PC. Using your PC as the TV — that's not just a trend in home theater, it's redefining the term.