Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pre-PMA: Imaging in Canada Continues to Soar

PMA EXPO 2008, the Photo Marketing Association's annual imaging show, kicks off tomorrow in Las Vegas (see last post). This means that everyone involved with everything from compact digital cameras, to high-end DSLRs, photo frames, printers, memory cards, and the like, will be traveling over to Sin City to show off or check out the latest and greatest in imaging for 2008.

If 2007 was any indication, 2008 is poised to be an exciting year in the category. The Canadian Imaging Trade Association (CITA) reports that sales of digital cameras grew 26% in 2007, which was more than twice as much as they had expected! Manufacturers shipped 8 million more digital cameras to retailers in Canada in 2007 than in 2006.

There are likely many reasons for the continually strong market. For one, compact digital cameras are getting more and more affordable, making upgrading a more viable option. For example, Fuji will be showing off an 8 MP, 3x optical zoom ultra-thin digicam at the show that will sell for just about $150 in Canada!

The same goes for the price of digital SLRs, thus encouraging enthusiasts who would otherwise not have purchased a DSLR to join the pack. In fact, according to the CITA, DSLRs led the sector's growth in 2007, with 210,000 units shipped, representing a 45% increase from 2006. This year, customers can continue to purchase DSLRs like Canon's Rebel XSi DSLR (which will also be on display at the show) at sub-$1,000 price points.

When you think back to digital camera and DSLR pricing even just a few years ago, it's amazing to see how things have reached an entirely new pricing level altogether.

Another potential driving factor for increased purchase behaviour is that, as larger capacity memory cards become available (and for less money to boot), people are taking more and more pix. As they get better at doing so, they become more interested in digital imaging. More interest leads to better familiarity and understanding of the technologies, which in turn leads to a longing for more advanced, upgraded models. Imagine how many digital cameras went out as gifts this past holiday season!

Which brings us to another obvious reason for the surge: new and exciting technologies within the cameras themselves. And if the pre-show information that some of the biggest players have already sent out is any indication, we have plenty to look forward to in that department. (visit for some highlights).

Meanwhile, here are a few pre-show observations for what's on tap for 2008:

In the DSLR arena, Live View, which lets you preview the shot in the LCD rather than the viewfinder, seems to be a more common feature this year. This is particularly useful when you want to snag a picture of a subject that's at an awkward angle, like a musical artist over a crowd of people.

Last year, I observed the "hot" features in the compact digicam arena to be face detection, high ISO, bright LCD screens, and image stabilization capabilities, and these all remain popular in 2008. However, each manufacturer is adding greater functionality within each technology, whether it be the ability to identify more faces, differentiate adult visages from children's, or even a smiling or blinking person from a stone-faced or closed-eye subject; or more advanced stabilization that can detect and compensate for fast motion of the subject. Automation of features is also increasingly popular, allowing technophobic, entry-level users to truly push a single button to snag a great shot.

Finally, although the megapixel race is still out in full force, it appears to be flattening out a bit, topping at about 10 MP, with 8 MP as the perceived "sweet" spot. This is a good sign that consumers might just be catching on to the fact that there are more important aspects to a camera than just higher numbers.

PMA EXPO 2008 is sure to be chocked full of goodies. Stay tuned to this blog,, and for coverage, including live, video demonstrations right from the show floor.

[Photo: Nikon's S550 digital camera, scheduled for available in the Spring, offers a 10 MP sensor, 5x optical zoom, and new Smile and Blink-Warning modes. In the smile recognition mode, the camera will automatically take a photo once the subject smiles; while blink-warning will display a message if it detects a blink, then magnify the shot on screen to allow you to confirm or deny the claim. Additional features include ISO 2000; 2.5” LCD; macro shooting as close as 10 cm; three movie modes; and 50 MB of internal memory.]

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Price Gouging is Never Right

A colleague and I were chatting the other day about price gouging. Particularly, the way things have gotten so expensive in Las Vegas during the annual Consumer Electronics Show. You no doubt pay more for a flight to Sin City (or any other destination, for that matter) during the days of such a big show then you would any other time of the year. Why? Because airlines know that people from around the world will be traveling there in the thousands. Hotel stays also creep up in price: you might end up paying upwards of $300 for a room that would cost half that any other night. (On New Year's Eve, for example, even the most basic hotel room in Vegas will run you five-hundred smackers!) And do we really need to pay US$10 for a watered-down, half-glass of vodka and cranberry at a cheesy hotel bar?

Of course it all comes down to the basic principles of supply and demand. The more coveted a product or service is by the masses, the higher the price of said product might rise. I've seen nasty examples of this on several, isolated occasions. Anyone who lives in Toronto and tried to buy a bottle of cold water during the sweltering hot summer blackout a few years ago knows exactly what I mean ($5 for a 250 ml bottle, anyone?)

This got me to thinking: is price gouging rampant everywhere? Rather, more specifically, is it rampant within the consumer electronics industry?

In the CE industry, it seems that the situation is exactly the opposite, especially when it comes to big-ticket items. It's no secret that companies like Toshiba and Sony took a hit in order to sell products like first-generation HD DVD players and Playstation 3 at the prices they did. And we all know what severe price erosion is doing to the flat-panel TV industry.

But when it comes to many smaller-ticket items, the gap between cost and sale price is exponentially wider. However, this isn't exactly price gouging: manufacturers and retailers need to make a profit somehow, right? And just because a product might cost X to manufacturer, we all know that plenty of people involved in between the manufacturing process, and the point the product arrives in your hands, need to get paid somehow.

Of course every Tom, Dick, and Harry will have felt, at one time or another, that he's paid what he thinks is "too much" for something. But there's a big difference between perception of price, and actual price "gouging" of the customer.

Needless to say, before you buy into anything, whether it's a product, vacation package, or service, do your research. If you're planning a vacation, investigate times, other than the obvious seasonal differences, when prices usually rise. For example, heading to any city when there's a big trade show or festival won't be your cheapest bet! And always make comparisons before forking over your dough.

As for the water story, it was only select gas stations that were gouging customers who strolled in with sweat dripping off their foreheads and dry mouths, dying for a drop of cold aqua. But charging $5 in a situation like that is just wrong, no matter how you slice it.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Where are the Most & Least Affordable Places to Live in Canada?

This has nothing to do with consumer technology, but somehow information on a study about affordable housing around the world ended up in my e-mail inbox, and I thought I'd give it a read. It turned out to be quite interesting, noting that 13 Canadian cities were among the most affordable to live in the world. Even more interesting, however, was that a few cities in our home and native land were named the least affordable to live in terms of housing. Needless to say, this piqued my interest, as I gather it might yours.

First, let's take a look at the most affordable Canadian spots. These include (in order of most affordable): Thunder Bay, ON; Saguenay, QC; Saint John, NB; St. John's, NF; Regina, SK; Windsor, ON; Quebec, QC; Troi-Rivieres, QC; Winnipeg, MB; Sudbury, ON; London, ON; Oshawa, ON; and Ottawa, ON. Most of these don't surprise me, although I am surprised not to see cities within Nova Scotia, which I had always believed to be a very affordable province, on the list. (Digging deeper, it looks as though Nova Scotia might have just missed the cut).

Now, what about the least affordable cities to live in Canada? According to the study, which was conducted by Wendell Cox, a consultant and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and Hugh Pavletich, a New Zealand property investment manager, they're all in British Columbia! Kelowna has the top-priced Canadian housing market, followed by Vancouver, and then Victoria.

Worldwide, Los Angeles took the cake for the most expensive housing market. In fact, four of the top five least affordable housing markets around the world were located in California. Other places in the world with unattractive housing prices included Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. In all, 227 cities from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and the U.K. were included in the study.

Although specifics weren't provided, the study also reported that eight additional Canadian cities were pegged to be "moderately unaffordable", and three labeled as "seriously unaffordable". (The BC markets were actually on the list of the "severely unaffordable!") As for Toronto residents, contrary to the beliefs of many, it looks like Toronto is actually on the lower end of the scale.

Of course, the question on reader's minds is probably: how was this data determined? The index was created by taking the median household income and the median price of a home in urban areas of each city, along with the number of years it would take to purchase said house. It can be argued that the numbers might be slightly skewed by several factors: the number of urban areas in in each city, for example; or the number of citizens on the extreme low or high ends of the income scale are both factors that could impact the median number. Nevertheless, the study provides some interesting insight into the Canadian housing market.

Friday, January 25, 2008

U.S. Cable Subscribers Down

A recent In-Stat study discovered that the number of U.S. households subscribed to cable TV service is down, even though worldwide, cable TV subscriber numbers are up. In 2007, there were just under 68 million U.S. households with cable TV. This sounds like a lot (and it is), but it's half a million fewer than the year prior. Why have numbers dropped so significantly?

The obvious reason is that many customers are gravitating toward other means of getting their TV fix, like satellite, DVDs, and even the Internet. I know one journalist who doesn't subscribe to cable: he simply waits until a hot TV program is released to DVD, buys each season's set, and watches the episodes at his convenience. In the end, it's cheaper, and there are no pesky commercials to skip through. But on the flip side, you lose the feeling of anticipation in having to wait an entire week to find out "what happens next". If everyone followed this theory 20 years ago, would anyone have really been so anxious to find out who killed J.R.?

Worldwide, however, the news about cable TV is good. In-Stat reports that 91 million cable TV households are now digital, which is up 41% from last year. Most of these are in China. In the cable TV market overall, China also leads, followed by the U.S. and then India.

Hopefully an end to the Writer's Guild strike is in sight to provide a more compelling reason for the U.S. public to not only jump on the cable TV bandwagon, but the TV bandwagon period.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

IFPI Grasping at Straws to Deter Illegal Music Industry

Discussing issues related to illegal music and movie downloading, and the high-definition DVD format war in this industry is like a Hollywood gossip blog writing about Britney Spears. You read the same stuff over and over again, yet can't help but cover it because it's such a hot topic. Here's another one for the roster: the International Federation of the Phonographic Industries (IFPI), which works in tandem with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), hopes to help deter illegal music downloading by urging Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take action against its guilty customers. Huh?

Yes, the Federation says that ISPs should take a "far bigger role in protecting music on the Internet". By "far bigger role" it means cutting off any Internet user that frequently uploads copyright material using the provider's service. In November, the French government put such an action plan into play.

Although this might be an effective way to deter illegal uploaders (and thus downloaders), at what point will blame stop being placed on anyone and everyone? Should Microsoft or Apple be held liable because they provide the software for the computers to work? Or how about PC manufacturers? Should they be deemed guilty by association if an illegal uploaded is using one of their products to engage in his activity?

Perhaps the efforts should be placed on figuring out why people are sourcing content in this way in such large numbers, and find out how to sway them toward legal content rather than away from illegal versions. Illegal music downloading has become such a widespread problem, in part, because consumers don't see an acceptable alternative in the digital arena. Now that DRM-free tunes through legitimate sites are surfacing, we might see more support move toward legal activity, and away from "free" stuff.

Also, the IFPI blames a lack of interoperability between services and devices for hampering progress in the legel digital download space. Yet other associations and groups try to lobby for levies to be placed on portable audio players to compensate for the ability to record tunes from one device to another. So we should be able to download tunes and use them on a multitude of devices, but if we use them on a multitude of devices, then we're illegally "copying" them.

When will it end? We likely have a long way to go.

On a related note, the IFPI says that digital downloads account for about 15% of the global music market, up 4% from last year. In the U.S., that number spikes to 30% in revenue. In 2007, 20 illegal tracks were downloaded for every legally downloaded one.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Toshiba, PS3 Lead High-Def DVD Race

According to DisplaySearch, Toshiba led the pack in standalone high-definition format DVD players for the first three quarters of 2007, accounting for 64% more units than all of the Blu-ray manufacturers combined! The research company attributes this to aggressive pricing and promotions, and I'd have to agree: a $99 high-definition DVD player is indeed pretty aggressive! But really, what does this mean? Despite the favourable numbers, the HD DVD format is still dealing with the recent blow from Warner, which decided to exclusively join the Blu-ray camp.

Interestingly, though, DiplaySearch also reports that gaming console hardware, not standalone players, were the dominant shipped high-definition DVD product through most of 2007, accounting for 85% of all global shipments between Q1 and Q3 2007. What's more, revenue growth was more than three times that of standalone players between Q2 and Q3 of last year.

In the case of Blu-ray, it's safe to assume that the majority of PlayStation 3 purchasers bought the console to play games, with high-def movie watching as simply an added bonus (the PS3 has a built-in Blu-ray player. To achieve HD DVD playback on an Xbox 360, one requires a separately purchased player that connects to the console). Nevertheless, sales of the PS3 helped skyrocket Sony into the number-one spot worldwide for Blu-ray players, with the firm having achieved a whopping 97% share in the first three quarters of '07!

Overall, North America accounted for 80% of the worldwide market for high-def DVD hardware in Q3 2007. Worldwide, Sony, Toshiba, and Microsoft made up 98% of high-definition DVD hardware shipments, leaving all the others to fight for that remaining 2%.

Paul Erickson, Director of DVD and HD Market Research at DisplaySearch reinforced a point I've made in earlier blog posts: that the two competing formats (Blu-ray and HD DVD) not only have to compete against each other, but also against the "standard" DVD format, which many consumers are still quite content to enjoy.

"Due to consumer price sensitivity and satisfaction with regular DVD in North America," he said, "the substantial growth needed for next-generation DVD to grow beyond a niche market dominated by consoles will require time, persistence, and aggressive pricing. This is expected to be a dynamic that will persist regardless of whether the market consolidates around a single format, or continues onward with the status quo."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Let's focus on ways to make the players and, even more important, the software titles, more affordable; and added-value features more enticing...not just from one format versus the other, but in relation to the standard DVD experience.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Even the "Good" Networks Going Online

Don't be mistaken: offering your TV programming online is not a last ditch effort to gain customer loyalty nor maintain a dying audience. Case in point: Popular subscription channel HBO says that it will soon offer its subscribers the option to access movies and original programming on the Web.

HBO, along with fellow subscription channel Showtime, arguably broadcast the best content on TV today, with popular (and edgy) programs like The Sopranos, Entourage, and Curb Your Enthusiasm from HBO, or Dexter, Californication, and Brotherhood from Showtime. HBO certainly isn't suffering for viewership, so is this move simply indicative of the future of TV?

According to the New York Times, HBO is starting the online video offerings in Green Bay and Milwaukee, WI, but plans to roll-out the service through other parts of the U.S. Of course, only those who subscribe to the HBO channel through a cable or satellite provider will be granted access to the online version, but HBO obviously sees value in giving them the option at all.

The New York Times says the programming will be watchable via an application that downloads it to the PC's hard drive. I wonder: will downloads be password-protected? Will there be an additional fee to download a show or movie? More important, does this mean that an HBO subscriber who's traveling outside of the U.S. (even in Canada!) will be able to log-in, download a show, and watch it, no matter where he is?

If this is the case, it's an absolutely fantastic step in allowing customers to enjoy the content they pay for in the ways they want to. But it might also pose concerns for devices like the Sling Media Slingbox and Sony LocationFree TV, which let you tap into your cable or satellite set-top boxes at home to watch programming from anywhere in the world. If you could essentially do this directly from your cable or satellite TV provider, why would you need these additional devices? Imagine being able to log into your cable or satellite TV service using your laptop in the same manner you use a TV and set-top box. The computer monitor becomes your TV screen, and the keyboard your remote.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: nothing beats the in-home, high-definition TV and movie viewing experience, where you can view programming on a big-screen LCD or plasma TV in gorgeous clarity, and enjoy listening in pleasant surround sound. But when you're on-the-go, or just want to catch a quick news program or sitcom in between school or work reports, why not be able to tune in on your PC?

It's entirely possible that this wave toward online video will die out as quickly as it begins. But with consumers more often than not on the go, and becoming increasing frustrated with the lack of quality content on the tube, this shift could be more than just a passing fad.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Video Gaming Stronger Than Ever

What is it about video games that has such appeal among people of all ages? Is it the feeling of comraderie? The reported development and stimulation of hand/eye co-ordination? Or the aspect of competition, perhaps? Whatever it is, video gaming is a burgeoning industry, with The Retail BRIDGE reporting US$17.94 billion in sales for 2007, rising 43% from the year prior. According to figures cited from the NPD, the video game industry rose 28% during the month of December 2007 alone, reaching a record US$4.82 billion.

Of those people I know who actively engage in video game play, the majority are surprisingly not kids, but rather grown men. Some use it as a way to unwind after a hard day's work; while others enjoy a game or two in the company of friends. Others yet use video gaming as a way to keep in touch with friends and family who, due to the constraints of adult life and location, they can't catch up with face-to-face. With Internet connectivity available with the most advanced gaming platforms, someone in Canada can shoot, fight, and drive his way to virtual glory with a friend or family member somewhere across the world. And why talk by telephone or type an e-mail when you can race your buddy through curvy and dangerous roads on-screen, or work together to conquer aliens in a virtual world while chatting through a headset?

The Retail BRIDGE goes on to report that video game software sales rose 33% in 2007 to US$8.62 billion. This isn't hard to believe. I often see or hear about an avid game player buying an $80 video game one day, only to complete it by the next (after playing continuously for hours on end, no doubt). With a new game purchase every few weeks, well, you do the math.
Word of mouth works wonders as well, and with new and highly-anticipated titles coming out all the time, there's no surprise that gamer's wallets keep opening to jump on the newest and most exciting game train. Not to mention that with the appeal of the aforementioned Internet connectivity options, each friend and family member has to own the game in question in order to participate. This means that one gaming session can easily translate to 5x the sale.

We've heard the video game debate over and over when it comes to kids and teens, but here's an interesting question: what about adults? Are video games bad for the 30+ crowd? On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with engaging in fun activity every now and then, and it can actually help someone relax from a stressful day. Stereotypically, women shop and get their hair and nails done while men watch football and play video games, right? But on the other hand, too much of anything can wreak havoc in one's life.

The same rule applies to this past-time as does to any other: anything in moderation is a-ok. And with consoles like the Nintendo Wii becoming increasingly popular, gaming is more often than not a family activity rather than a solitary pleasure, meaning that it can even be used as a means to bring everyone together.

With that said, the video game industry is likely poised for further growth in 2008. Whatever this industry is feeding consumers, no doubt that it's working wonders.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Will Canadians Ever see the iPhone?

Believe it or not, I'm not one of those people sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for the Apple iPhone to arrive in Canada. But I do find the fact that it still isn't here a bit insulting. What's the deal?

When it comes to downloadable movies or TV shows through iTunes, I understand the reasons for the delay. Separate licensing agreements need to be worked out with Canadian broadcasters, CRTC regulations met, and so forth. But here, we're just talking about a phone. A mobile device just like any other mobile device that lets you make and receive phone calls, surf the web, compose e-mails, listen to music, and the like. Partner with a wireless carrier, and let's get going, already!

The iPhone has been available south of the border for about seven months, and yet we haven't even received a confirmed date as to when we'd see it here in Canada. Sure, the rumour mill has been going crazy as of late, with many reputable sources claiming that a Canadian launch announcement would be made during Apple's MacWorld conference earlier this week. Well, the conference has come and gone, and still no announcement.

Since the iPhone operates on the GSM standard, it's pretty safe to assume that it will be available through Rogers Wireless once it does arrive here. However, with the wireless spectrum set to open for auction for additional competition in May, is it possible that Apple is waiting to weigh its options and perhaps join with another partner? Or maybe the company is waiting for a next-generation model to finally let Canadians join in on the fun.

Whatever the reason for the delay, let's hurry it up. Or pretty soon, all the anxious Canadian mobile phone upgraders will get tired of waiting. The longer the iPhone takes to recognize the Canadian market, the more popular devices like the BlackBerry and HTC Touch will become.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Higher Shipping Costs Could Affect Canadian CE

Popular courier services in Canada, including FedEx, UPS, and DHL, have reportedly increased net average shipping rates for express services by 4.9 per cent, says ShipGooder, Inc. Sure, this might not sound like a big deal on the surface, but it could wreak havoc when it comes to the retail community.

Think about it: we often discuss important aspects of the retail business, like product pricing, inventory, and customer service. But there are important, back-end parts of the process that are just as important. Shipping is one good example. This process is what primarily determines when a retailer will receive his product to sell it, and when a customer who purchased said product will, in turn, possess it. This becomes an even bigger concern on the end-user side when we look at online companies, which rely, in large part, on their ability to ship products in a timely manner.

If shipping costs increase for the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer, this means they'll likely increase to the consumer, potentially through a higher sales price of the actual product. If not the product price, then the shipping and delivery charges a retailer offers could jump. "Free" delivery may be a thing of the past, turning into "affordable" delivery.

As for ShipGooder, the Toronto, ON-based company has a vested interest in reporting the price increase: it serves as a Web search engine that compares rates between national, regional, and local courier companies.

I tried out the site, at, and entered my office address as the "ship from", my home address as "ship to", and left the weight of the package at the default 10 lbs. A company called CDS Delivery had the best next-day rates, followed by UPS Expedited. When it came to 1-6 days ground service, FedEx was cheapest by far, beating out even Canada Post. The site certainly is convenient, especially when you're looking for a quick way to determine the most cost-effective method of shipping a package in your area.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rent Flicks with iTunes

As if the DVD rental and on-demand markets didn't have to deal with enough competition for consumer dollars, Apple has decided to enter the movie "rental" business through its popular iTunes digital download service. The service, now available in the U.S., will include more than 1,000 titles by the end of February, over 100 of which will be high-definition with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound for watching on a large-screen display via Apple TV. As per usual, there's no word on movie rentals in Canada just yet, since this would require separate distribution deals with each participating movie studio.

As it stands in the U.S., participating studios include 20th Century Fox, The Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Sony Pictures, MGM, Lionsgate, and New Line Cinema: pretty much all the majors. Movies can be "rented" for 24-hour periods, and watched any number of times during that slot. If you watch the flick immediately, no worries: you'll have 30-days before the rental expires, so to speak. And the movies are actually comparable in price to what you might pay in an actual rental store: US$3.99 for new releases, US$2.99 for library titles, and US$5 for new releases in HD. Not too shabby.

As mentioned in the previous post, these such announcements are great for technological innovation, but not so great for cable and satellite TV, which has been suffering a great deal due to the current Writer's Strike. The iTunes movie downloads just gives customers another reason to move toward another means of obtaining video entertainment. And with the availability of high-definition content, it might just give Blu-ray and HD DVDs a run for their money as well. Hopefully similar distribution deals will be inked in Canada in the near future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The TV is On, But is Anyone Watching? How the Writer's Strike Could Effect the CE Industry

As any avid TV watcher would know, the first Hollywood Writer's Guild strike in 20 years has been plaguing us for months. As writers of primetime TV sitcoms, daytime talk shows, and the like flex their pen-and-paper muscles, TV crew members of every kind are suffering the consequences. But at the same time, an arguably lesser, but potentially very important, effect of the strike is happening behind the scenes: consumers are getting frustrated and turning to other means of getting their video fix.

Sure, there are still those who are watching the "tube". But people who typically aren't channel surfers find themselves clicking away trying to find something that isn't a repeat of an old episode (often ending with the "power" button); while faithful sitcom fans are visiting network Websites, anxious to find out when a new episode will air. At the same time, networks are frantically working on ways to fill empty time slots (I recently heard that CBS acquired the rights to simulcast popular Showtime program Dexter); while the Writer's Guild is keeping tabs, doing things like refusing to let the Golden Globe awards air this past weekend.

Needless to say, the boxing gloves are definitely out, and it looks like neither side is willing to go down without a fight. Many journalists have expressed the opinion that this strike will change the face of TV forever. But how will it change the consumer electronics industry?

When it comes down to it, many of the biggest advances in consumer technology are involved with video of some kind: flat-panel TVs, DVD players (of both the high-def and standard kind), satellite and cable TV set-top boxes, and so on. Without valuable TV content to consume, will such devices become of less importance to the consumer? Or will we look more to alternative ways of enjoying moving images?

Already, we're seeing the popularity of obtaining video content from the Web and watching it on a high-def monitor, or even porting it to a large-screen TV or DVD disc for playback. Apple just announced at its MacWorld Conference in California that it would begin offering movie "rentals" through its iTunes online download service. Many of the latest camcorders can record in high-def (mainly 720p) then let you watch the content in its full resolution on a compatible flat-panel TV. In fact, Samsung announced a camcorder at CES that would allow customers to wirelessly transmit video they just shot to a flat-panel TV! And let's not forget video gaming, which has grown to a billion-dollar industry.

Therefore, the question the industry, and many of my colleagues, pose is: do we even need or desire TV anymore? Of course, even those who aren't couch potatoes have a program or two they enjoy, whether it be a reality show guilty pleasure, crime time drama, or even an educational show for the kids. If we were stripped of all the cable/satellite TV goodness, would we stop watching entirely, and see CE sales go down? Or would we just fill our 60" screens with our own content (home movies, movie studio films, and the like), watch sales of devices like high-def DVD players, DVD discs, Internet streaming devices, and camcorders skyrocket, and call it a day?

Personally, I watch TV every day, and the majority of my favourite programs tend to be on subscription networks like Showtime and HBO, which aren't affected by the strike. As for the programs that are, I've somehow managed to get by without them, as I'm sure many have. Needless to say, movies have become a weekly staple in my household: we've watched more DVDs and on-demand flicks over the past two months than in the past year!

One thing's for sure: whenever this strike ends (and hopefully, for the interest of all parties involved, it will be soon), we'll all feel the aftershock of the storm.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is an End to the High-Def DVD Format War in Sight?

Arguably one of the biggest announcements made at CES this year was Time-Warner and New Line Cinema's decision to back the Blu-ray high-definition DVD format exclusively. Does this spell an end to the high-def DVD format war? On the one hand, the HD DVD format has movie studio support only from Paramount and Universal, and many predict that it's only a matter of time before they jump ship as well. But on the other hand, HD DVD still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

For one, there's price. Historically, HD DVD players have been cheaper than Blu-ray. In fact, a press release I received this morning indicated that Toshiba dropped the price of its current models in the U.S. as of yesterday to US$149.99 for the HD-A3, US$199.99 for the 1080p HD-A30; and US$299.99 for the HD-A35.

Second is unique features, like twin discs that can be played back on HD DVD players and "regular" DVD players; Web-enabled network capabilities; and free movies offered with every HD DVD player purchase. Then, of course, there are other factors that come into play, like the popularity of Toshiba notebook PCs, some of which now incorporate HD DVD drives; and the growing Xbox 360 market, which offers a small HD DVD player as an optional accessory.

With that said, how many people will appreciate these features if they can't buy or watch the movies they want? When it comes down to it, content is the end goal of the game.

Nevertheless, even if the Blu-ray format emerges victorious, it still has another fight to win: the battle against the standard DVD format. The market might become convinced that Blu-ray is the way to go, but consumers would still need to be convinced that high-def in itself is worth the upgrade. This has been somewhat of a battle in the cable/satellite TV space, with so many consumers owning HDTVs, but not HDTV set-top boxes nor programming subscriptions. It's not a far cry to assume that a similar battle will continue with DVDs.

Whichever way the cookie crumbles, one thing is for sure: once one format remains, regardless of whether it's Blu-ray, HD DVD, or some sort of unified project, marketing will shift more toward getting consumers to upgrade period, rather than getting them to upgrade to one format over another. And really, shouldn't this have been the focus all along?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

CES 2008: Parting Shots

CES wraps up on Thursday, January 10, and exhibitors will likely be spending the day tearing down booths (many likely after having less than 2 hours sleep the night prior!) As I wrap things up from the show, I thought I'd provide some brief, parting shots.

When it comes to flat-panel, thin is in, if for no other reason than aesthetics. But so is black, both in bezel design and the ability to reproduce the colour (or rather lack there-of) as accurately as possible in a screen. What happens when we've achieved 100% perfect black, and go as thin as we can with flat-panel? The next wave of major excitement will likely generate when we see large-sized OLEDs in stores.

As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I'm floored by the number of portable GPS manufacturers exhibiting at the show, as well as major brand names that are actively enhancing their current navigation device lines and, in the case of Panasonic, entering the category for the first time.

Either there has been a significant increase in the number of navigation devices on the main show floor (which I consider South and Central Halls), or business has skyrocketed over the past year such that smaller companies can now afford larger booths that give them a more significant presence. In fact, I overheard one attendee muse to his colleague that it wasn't the consumer electronics show, it was the "GPS show".

If I were to estimate, the exhibit space dedicated to mobile phones and related accessories has probably increased by 50% over last year, proving how quickly the category is merging with consumer electronics. In terms of the accessories themselves, with mobile phones now employing so many additional multimedia-based features, what once served as add-ons for MP3 players, like portable sound systems, headphones, and the like, now fall into the category of cellular as well. Could it be that exhibitors are marketing the same products toward mobile phone customers now rather than dedicated portable audio player owners?

With that said, stay tuned to the February 2008 issue of Marketnews Magazine for further reportage on the show, and more detailed product information on everything from flat-panels, to audio, cellular, navigation, and hiddem gems in every category. For a sneak peek at some neat items ahead of time, visit the video section of our site at (Videos will continue to be added after the show, so keep checking back for additional content!)

[Photo: Although it's only at the concept stage and therefore not an actual, saleable product, this neat watch phone from LG lets you dial your desired telephone number via a sequence of button presses, or by voice with compatible mobile phones. It operates on the GSM standard.]

CES 2008: Canada Night a Success

With all the meetings and demonstrations, it's nice to have a night of fun and (hopefully) relaxation. Canada Night 2008, our gathering of Canada industry members (and their U.S. and international counterparts) was a great success last night. I must admit: with Vegas looking oddly quiet this year, I was expecting Canada Night attendance to be down. But judging from the packed Caesar's Palace ballroom and outer hall area, that certainly wasn't the case.

It is always great to see everyone from the Canadian industry get together for some food, fun, and entertainment. Many expressed their enjoyment of the band this year, as well as the atmosphere. It was packed, but not such that one was literally rubbing shoulders with another person at all times.

We enjoy seeing the faces of loyal attendees each year, but it's also nice to meet new faces that are coming to the event for the first time. This year, attendees included retailers, manufacturers and distributors in every area of technology, from home A/V to mobile phones.

Gatherings like Canada Night remind us just how small and tight-knit the Canadian consumer electronics industry is. Old friends and colleagues re-unite, competitors shake hands, and new business partnerships are made.
Thanks to all of our sponsors and everyone who came out for another great event. Canada Night simply wouldn't be what it is without you.

On that note, I'm sure many are anxious to see photos of the event, which we'll post online at later in the month.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

CES 2008: Gadgets Galore and Going Green

The Las Vegas Convention Center is packed with visitors from around the world that are here to see everything from computer products, to home theatre, wireless, imaging, and gadgets. Although the CES show floor (and hotels) seem a bit less crowded this year, there's still no question that there is an overwhelming amount of products to see at the show, and overwhelmingly little time to do it.

Really, what any journalist reports on is going to be based on the most significant product announcements, of course, but also on what he has time to see. It's often the case, however, that we come across a neat product by chance, sometimes just by being attracted to the booth from the mere sight of the item. This is exactly how I discovered Canadian-based Edifier, which is showcasing its sexy, triangular-shaped E3350 speakers in a selection of gorgeous and vibrant finishes. With the ability to connect to a PC or MP3 player via 3.5 mm jack, the E3350 consists of the main sub, plus a pair of two-way satellites, and a separate, circular volume piece that hides a second 3.5 mm jack for connecting an MP3 player, along with a headphone jack. On the show floor, it sounded smooth and pleasant. It is scheduled for availability at the end of February for approx. US$99.

Another interesting product announcement came from Bell ExpressVu, who showed us a concept that would allow its customers to use any, ol' external hard drive to extend the recording capacity of the company's new 9242 HD PVR. With large-capacity hard drives now available for affordable prices (remember my tale of the 1TB drive for $200 on Boxing Day?), a customer would be able to easily utilize a drive to store recordings he wants to archive, like movies or a favourite TV show; or even simply as a back-up. Multiple drives could also be used for various content. Recorded programming will be movable from the PVR to hard drive and vice versa; but you will not be able to transfer content to a PC. What makes this feature even more attractive is that you can resume watching TV while the content is being transferred. (To transfer a standard movie, it takes about 10-15 minutes). This is definitely a feature that Bell ExpressVu customers should be keeping an eye out for. Visit the Videos section on or this week to see a full run-down of some additional ways that Bell will be building on this feature, including a partnership with portable media player company Archos.

There were still a few press conferences yesterday, and one notable announcements was Hitachi's 1.5" ultra-thin plasma display. Measuring 50" in size, the attractive flat-panel is expected to be available in 2009. Meanwhile, the company also showed off its new wafer-thin 32" LCD that measures a mere 0.75".

Over at SanDisk, Dr. Eli Harary impressed attendees with his announcement of the company's new 12 GB microSD card for future use in compatible mobile phones. “The mobile phone market is the mother of all growth markets,” he emphasized.

There's certainly plenty of evidence of that on the show floor, with tons of cell phone manufacturers showing off their latest wares and focusing on memory-hungry applications like GPS navigation, and music, video, and photo playback. With all of these fancy, new features coming to the latest mobile phone incarnations, it's no wonder SanDisk sees a lucrative market for high-capacity microSD.

Finally, CES has really been pushing the "green" theme at this year's show, as has been many exhibitors. HP, for example, says its entire booth is "green", including carpeting made from corn! Even the company's pens are made from 100% recycled material, including a cardboard body, and popsicle stick=like handle. Throughout the show, I've seen everything from solar-powered devices, to "green" power-saving devices, and even bags made from recycled materials.

Today is the second official day of the show, and it looks much busier than it did yesterday. With a lot of ground to cover, it's unlikely I'll see every nook and cranny of the show. But from what I've seen thus far, consumer technology is on the way to even more exciting times in 2008.

Monday, January 7, 2008

CES 2008: A Whole Lotta Stuff

After the press conferences on Press Day have ended, we typically head over to a "pre-show" exhibit that pretty much serves as a mini-CES. In a massive hotel ballroom, hundreds of exhibitors set up shop for journalists to come by and get a glimpse of what they'll be launching the next day in their larger booths on the actual show floor.

This year, it appears there were a lot more participants on both the exhibitor and attendee side. What I thought might be a quiet, much more sub-dued environment turned out to be a smaller version of the loud and crowded show floor. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile event.

In terms of product, there was tons, from a slew of portable GPS navigation devices, to digital photo frames (yep, they're still hot), and other nifty gadgets and gizmos. One of my favourites: a digital photo frame from Smartparts that has a 4 x 6 printer attached to its back. Just select the desired image, press the "print" button on the included remote and the blue button on the back of the frame, and out comes your photo in less than two-minutes time. (Stay tuned to for a video demonstration of this product).

Another fave (also soon to be available via video demonstration) is Belkin's RockStar (shown above), which is likely to be very popular among the teenage crowd. The star-shaped hub has six standard 3.5 mm jacks (one of which is hard-wired for connecting MP3 players) and/or headphones, and sharing the music experience with friends. A second wire is included for connecting another MP3 player, while additional cords are available for purchase. Once connected, kids can share tunes with one another, listen to each other's tunes, or even mix tunes together. It's just US$19.99, which makes it even more attractive for parents!

The mini-show was open for a three-hour period, but that wasn't nearly enough time to chat with even 50% of the companies there. However, many told me they were showing off just a few, select products there, but have kept the main launches for today, the first official day of the show. Of course, how else are they going to get you to come to their booth, right? Needless to say, I will indeed be visiting a few people again to see what more they have to offer.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

2008 CES: Simply Beautiful

I'm not referring to CES itself when I say "simply beautiful", although Las Vegas is certainly a very bright and lively city. Rather, simplicity and beauty are underlying themes at the show, which is set to officially commence on Monday, January 7.

Today, Sunday, January 6, was deemed "press day" where major manufacturers gathered journalists of all kinds (including the new "blogger" designation, of which I noticed many) to learn about what's coming down the pike in 2008. The day is stressful, it's hot, you stand in line after line with fellow journalists bumping into you, stepping on your feet, and pushing you to get the best seats in the house or the free swag. But it's all worth it to see what's hot for the new year.

Before I get into all the goodies, I want to first address what's been the talk of the streets, so to speak, here at the show. Warner's decision to abandon the HD DVD high-definition DVD format and support Blu-ray exclusively has really put a thorn in HD DVD's side, and many are predicting that there will be an end to the format war earlier than we had anticipated. I must admit that the loss of Warner is quite a hefty blow, but we'll see how things pan out throughout the course of the show and the weeks that follow.

Now, back to press day. The design/lifestyle theme isn't really a "new" one: consumer electronics products have been looking sleek and sexy for ages. But we're seeing a revitalized emphasis in the flat-panel arena, specifically. I already discussed the expected trending toward thin-bezel designs, and new product announcements proved this to be true. Toshiba announced a new 52" model in its Super Narrow Bezel LCD line that's just 0.9" thin, and can fit in the spot typically occupied by a 46" model! Panasonic is taking the "thin" theme to Blu-ray with what it deems the "world's thinnest" Blu-ray disc drive; while Sharp displayed a 65" prototype LCD that is less than 1" thin and weighs 88 lbs. (and with a contrast of 100,000:1 to boot!)

But there are also other, aesthetically-pleasing enhancements being made in the category. Samsung is adding a "touch of colour" to its displays via a seamless cabinet that eliminates screws on the front, and adds, well, a touch of colour to the frame. Meanwhile, Sony is taking aesthetics to a whole new level with the launch of an 11" OLED TV that's actually available for purchase today! They say good things come in small packages, and they're right. Sure, it's a far stretch from a 60" TV in your home theatre, and lifespan issues persist. But with images so superbly gorgeous, you can't help but stare in awe.

Of course although a nice-looking TV is great, it's what's inside that counts, right? We all know about 1080p, 120 Hz refresh rate, and fast response times that are being incorporated into the latest and greatest flat-panels. But every manufacturer also demonstrated a specific focus on inter-connectivity, either involving the Web itself, and/or among various devices. Take Sharp's new AQUOS Net feature, for example, which provides access via an Ethernet port on the TV to a portal with neat items like sports, weather reports, traffic updates, and even entertainment through partnerships with companies like NBC. Just press a button on the remote, and up comes an interactive menu. J.W. Park, President of Samsung Electronics' Digital Media Group demonstrated a new feature that would allow a video captured on its new camcorder to be wirelessly streamed to a TV, along with its new Series 7 LCDs that would include a built-in Ethernet port and a side-mounted USB slot. Panasonic is focusing heavily on the flash memory card format, incorporating one in many new products scheduled for introduction, ranging from new high-def camcorders, to plasma and LCDs, GPS devices, and even an integrated home theatre system (which also includes a Blu-ray player and iPod dock). What's more, the company (which brands its own SD memory cards) will be launching a 32 GB (yes, you read that correctly!) later this month. Although a price point wasn't announced, we can expect it to be somewhat substantial.

Philips' most promising "integration" device is its BTM-630, which can play back CDs, has an iPod dock, SD card slot, USB port, and Bluetooth technology for connecting with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. It can also serve as a speakerphone for your phone, and even shows the caller information on its screen. When a call comes through, it will automatically pause music, then resume once it's been terminated.

Noteworthy is also Samsung's announcement of its first prototype products using A-VSB mobile TV, an open industry standard for broadcast TV. "It transforms the digital broadcast signal to be able to reach mobile devices,"explained John Godfrey. "Using the over-the-air spectrum, it can deliver things like news, weather, and sports. It turns local TV into mobile platforms."
Snagging the award for the most unusual integrated, connected device of the day, however, is Sony. The Rolly is an egg-shaped device that can play back music from its 2 GB of flash memory or streamed from a Walkman or other MP3 player, a PC, or the new PSP. What's odd about Rolly is that it also dances to that music, rolling and gyrating on the surface with which it sits. "We've created a new way to listen and enjoy music," explained the company's Senior V.P. Rick Clancy. Indeed they have.

That brings us to another theme: simplicity, which was explicitly expressed through taglines like Philips' "Sense and Simplicity" and Samsung's "Life made simple". The focus here is, well, simple. Create products that are easy to use. Sharp takes this philosophy one step further via an Advantage Live tech-support service that would allow the rep (with the customer's permission, of course) access his TV remotely to troubleshoot problems, check settings, etc.

Finally, the last stand-out theme at this show was, by far, environmental initiatives. Arguably the most significant announcement involves the formation of the Electronic Manufacturer's Recycling Management Company, LLC or "MRM", which consists of a partnership among Toshiba, Panasonic, and Sharp. The three companies have joined forces to manage the collection and recycling of electronics within the U.S. The organization has already made arrangements with Hitachi, JVC, Mitsubishi, Philips, Pioneer, Sanyo, and Olevia. Kudos to these guys for taking initiative on helping make the world greener!

So much was announced and discussed today that it would be impossible for me to cover it all here. However, judging from my observations, we can look forward to a lot of simple and beautiful products, enhanced connectivity among all product categories, and an increased focus on helping the environment.

Stay tuned for more information throughout the show.

[Photo: Sony's OLED is just 11" in size, but it packs a lot of punch in picture quality.]

Friday, January 4, 2008

Pre-CES: What to Look Forward to

The largest technology showcase in North America, the 2008 International CES, is fast-approaching. Although I can't sum up the event with one, stand-out theme just yet (unless I want to use the boring, all-encompassing term "technological innovation"), there are a few observations that can be made before our feet even step foot onto the overwhelming 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space.

Last year, the focus in flat-panels was on 1080p high-definition (yes, the "full" kind), and large screen sizes, as evidenced by announcements like Sharp's mammoth 108" LCD TV. This year, we can expect to see a shift in focus toward reduced depth rather than larger screen sizes. After all, can we really get much bigger than 108"? Needless to say, the term "thin is in" will be no stranger to many a company's exhibit. And don't forget OLED, which has also been garnering a lot of attention in the market as of late. We're certain to see some new and exciting innovations in that category.

Portable gadgets typically span every nook and cranny of the technology arena, and likewise, the CES show floor! In 2007, integrating features like video playback and GPS navigation into traditional MP3 players and smartphones were top-of-mind. This year, what we used to know as the portable audio player has since been enhanced to become the portable "media" player, as video playback has become almost an expected feature in the latest models. Given this, manufacturers are coming up with even more exciting ways to spice up the category, via abilities like WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity, and even fitness tracking. Ever since the iPhone hit the U.S. market, we've also seen an increased interest in creating a cell phone/multimedia player combo device that can serve as the true "jack of all trades" for the mobile consumer. The Sands Convention Center, as well as good ol' South and Central halls, will likely be the places to find hidden gems in the general gadgetry category.

It seems, then, that I can, in fact, pinpoint an overall, underlying theme of the show: entertainment. This year, CES is even attracting the attention of music and movie studio personalities that we often wouldn't find at a "technology" event (other than for publicity purposes, of course). These include, among celebrities like Yoko Ono, Natasha Bedingfield, from the Black Eyed Peas and Mary J. Blige, Comcast Corp. Chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts, who will join the esteemed group of keynote addresses; and long-time music industry veteran Quincy Jones III. Technology is certainly playing an ever important (and changing!) role in the distribution, consumption, and enjoyment of entertainment; and the entire industry will be on-hand to see just what's in store for 2008 and beyond.

Finally, one recurring theme across the show will be "going green", as companies demonstrate ways to do things like conserve energy, help eliminate e-waste, and promote more efficient living while still enjoying helpful and fun gadgetry and technologies.

All of these observations merely scratch the surface of what we can expect from the 2,700 exhibitors and almost 2 million square footage of space at the 2008 CES; not to mention the growing number of off-site suites that aim to provide some breathing-time away from the show (although they often require brutal travel time, but don't get me started...)

Despite the existence of several, more focused A/V, photo, and wireless trade events, CES still remains the major launchpad for the most influential technologies of the year, and is likely to be attended by many this year. Stay tuned next week for coverage from the show floor on this blog, and on our sister Websites, and, including video product demos and diaries, and reportage of the latest and greatest in the tech sector.

On a related note, although Apple-fanatics will likely get their fill of iPod docks, skins, cases, accessories, and the like at CES, there will no doubt be some big news coming from Apple's dedicated MacWorld event, which actually runs after CES this year (January 15-18) rather than concurrent with it. Finally.

Angry Xbox 360 Users Appeased

If you tried to curl up on the couch with a few Xbox 360 games over the holiday season, your day likely ended more in frustration than relaxation and excitement. The system was experiencing problems during the last week in December, resulting in many players who couldn't log online to the Live service for multi-player game play. However, Microsoft has been quick to appease its upset game-geeks by reportedly offering a free game download to all Xbox Live subscribers around the world, valued anywhere from US$5 to US$20. Further details will be available in the coming weeks.

Xbox Live General Manager Marc Whitten attributes the connectivity issues to a large number of new users trying to get online at the same time. I can believe it, given that video games, and likely Xbox Live service subscriptions, were hot gift items this year. What do you do after opening presents and stuffing your face with turkey? Kick back with some video games! Nevertheless, players I know were confused: why were routers, Internet connections, and PCs working, yet connection to Xbox Live wasn't?

I have to commend Microsoft on its quick response to the issue, and fully admitting its disappointment in having inconvenienced its customers. As for the upset gamers, I say as long as you didn't see a blue screen of console death, take the free game that's being offered and appreciate that these things can and will happen.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Facebook Takes the Cake in T.O.

According to a recent study conducted by ZINC Research, Canadians are flocking to social networking Website in droves. Not only are half of all online Canadians now members of the Facebook community, but Toronto has been awarded the honour of the first North American city to achieve over one-million subscribers to the service! Facebook currently has about seven-million Canadian subscribers in total, which means that Torontonians account for almost 15% of the total number of Canadian members

"2007 is the year that Facebook took Canada by storm," said Brian F. Singh, Managing Director at ZINC Research. "Canadians love the Facebook book platform for its simplicity and ability to connect with and stay in contact with friends and family."

Anecdotal reasons I've heard from fellow Canadians for jumping on the Facebook bandwagon are, indeed, to keep in touch with family and friends in different provinces (or even countries); and to stay in touch with long-lost friends whom they can't often visit in person. However, the site also serves as one of the easiest, and most attractive, photo sharing Websites I've ever used; not to mention the creation and distribution of event invitations. It is also successful at helping "friends" share interests in everything from the latest novels to movie ratings.

But for its recent Beacon advertising platform debacle, Facebook is likely on its way to becoming a very profitable venture; especially with financial backing from large corporations like Microsoft, and an increased focus on online advertising of a more favourable ilk.

"Facebook appears to be bridging the gap with our online and real lives," Singh added.

I'm not sure if I would go so far as to say that, but Facebook certainly adds a new flavour to the way we communicate and interact with one another on a day-to-day basis.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Wal-Mart Stops Offering Video Downloads

How lucrative is the online video download business? At the same time that Apple inks a deal with Twentieth Century Fox to offer downloadable movies via iTunes, major retail force Wal-Mart has discontinued its movie download service.

U.S. customers who have already purchased videos from Wal-Mart's now defunct download site will still be able to play them back on the same computer they were downloaded using Windows Media Player. Movies purchased in the "Portable Format" will also still be able to be transferred to up to three compatible devices (the list of which does not include the iPod).

So what do you do if you want a movie now? Wal-Mart logically states in its FAQ section: "...We continue to sell today's most popular movies on DVD and in Blu-Ray, HD DVD, and UMD for PSP formats. To shop our wide selection of movies, please visit" In other words: downloadable movies no more!

Although I do believe that online videos are great, is there really a market for downloadable movies? It's great to be able to view a product demonstration in a way you never could through words; and online video is an excellent medium for entertainment, illustrating humorous and fun stuff like you'd often find via sites like YouTube. But for what reason would I want to download an entire movie?

I can imagine being on a flight, train, or long subway ride and catching up on quick news bytes, sitcoms, or funny trailers while I wait. I can equally imagine doing so while in a boring waiting room, or even while camping. But an entire movie? If I'm on a long flight, the airline will probably provide a movie anyway. Some airlines, like WestJet, even offer access to satellite TV!

Of course, there's always the option to playback the movie on the computer. But if I'm at home, why wouldn't I just watch the movie via DVD or on TV through an on-demand service or TiVo?

Even so, I might be out in left field on this one, since a recent study found that almost 30% of U.S. consumers are more likely to use broadband for TV than cable or satellite. Price is one main reason, which is especially critical when you think of dorm-room students who would rather pay one bill for TV and Internet then two separate ones. Watching movies would follow the same line of thinking: why watch cable or satellite TV, or buy a DVD, when I can download the content right on my PC? Then there's content: 42% of the survey respondents said there's a "lack of international news and information" on "regular" TV. If you're not going to use cable or satellite for TV, why use it for movies?

It seems, then, that there's a growing market divide when it comes to downloadable video, between those who are content watching mediocre-quality movies on a widescreen PC monitor; and those who want the full, high-definition experience, and will head out to rent or buy the DVD and all the required equipment in order to get it (or actually step foot into a movie theatre!) It'll be interesting to see how this pans out in the long-run.

Nevertheless, Apple has moved forward with movie downloading in the U.S.; while Wal-Mart has nixed the idea of downloadable movies altogether. With that said, I wouldn't be surprised to see tons of people catching a flick on their tiny iPod Videos or iPhones on my next plane ride. Perhaps it isn't so much the content as it is who's providing it and who their core audience is; not to mention what restrictions are attached to the content itself. (iPod users likely aren't phased if they're told they can only play back the movie on their iPod).

As for TV vs. broadband, the ongoing Writer's Guild strike has resulted in nothing but reality shows and repeats on TV as of late; and this certainly isn't helping to convince consumers that TV has something more to offer than the Internet. Hopefully with some sort of resolution reached, we'll see both TV broadcast and online video content ramped up to even more exciting proportions.

Half of U.S. Consumers Now Have Digital TVs

If you have cable or satellite TV and watch any U.S. channels, you've likely seen those commercials urging customers to switch their old analog TVs to digital. The approx. one-minute commercial explains that that the Federal Communications Commission will stop all analog broadcasts by February 2009, and that as of that date, analog TVs will no longer work. Last week, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) noted that Americans are well on their way to this transition, with more than half of the population having made the switch to digital. The fact that mammoth retailer Best Buy stopped offering analog TVs in the U.S. in October 2007 might also have helped make the transition easier.

It's important to note that the 50% penetration of digital TVs shouldn't be confused with high-definition TV, for which penetration is likely lower. I'm not sure of the exact U.S. figures, to date but the Consumer Electronics Marketers of Canada (CEMC) projected in August 2007 that, by the end of the year, almost 48% of Canadian consumers would own an HD-capable TV.

However, as many studies and reports have noted over the past year or so, even consumers who own an HDTV-capable TV don't necessarily view high-definition programming, nor have the necessary cable or satellite TV equipment to make this possible.

With the increasingly attractive prices of flat-panel TVs today, it would make sense for customers to use those extra bucks saved on the TV itself to invest in a high-definition set-top box and channel package. If you're going to upgrade, go big, right? It looks like many U.S. consumers agree, as the CEA estimates that 79% of all digital TVs shipped in 2008 (in the U.S.)will boast high-definition resolution.

Hopefully as customers begin asking questions about digital TV, they'll also receive answers on how to fully enjoy the high-definition experience. If you aren't sure how to go about getting digital TV, take a peek at this "uninformed customer's guide" from a previous blog entry.

It's also worth noting that, the CRTC in Canada has not made a similar mandate for the transition to digital TV, and a spokesperson for Best Buy Canada told me back in October that the retailer would continue to sell analog products "as long as there is a demand for them".

Even my 60+ year-old parents have upgraded to flat-panel; and with third-tier digital TVs available at sub-$500 price points these days, it's likely that anyone upgrading at this point will opt for digital anyway.