Special Report on Multimedia: Technology seeks the right partner for marriage: Integration in the industry is opening up a host of possibilities. Steve Homer reports

ONCE upon a time telephone companies made telephones, television companies made televisions and computer companies made computers. Today this is changing and a lot of interesting products and a lot of money will be made by marrying the right technologies together.

These new multimedia hybrids are emerging fast in a process known as convergence. It is not new; convergence was much in vogue in the 1980s when the computer and the telephone were supposed to join seamlessly together and provide enhanced profits for all concerned. It did not happen, but it could have done.

It is easy to imagine the world today with every PC having a modem, a device that allows computer data to be transmitted down telephone lines, built in. If modems were built in as standard, they would add no more than a few pounds to the price of a PC. This would have given birth to information services and 'user-friendly' communications software would have developed, allowing us to ask our computer 'how do you make a Christmas cake?' or 'how many dollars are there to the pound?' and have the computer automatically dial into the relevant database.

This level of integration may still come about but by a slightly different route - via the convergence of the consumer electronics, entertainment and communications industries with the computing industry. Already the coming together of these sectors is bearing fruit. Philips' CD-I essentially uses sophisticated computer technology to manipulate information stored on a disc and show the results on a TV screen.

It is not the storage of information on a CD-type disc that is new; it is the control and the type of information that is different. But CD-I will be genuinely innovative when it gets its video ability at the end of this year.

Because of the limitations of the hardware, taking moving images off a CD type disc requires some very clever tricks - which are turning up in other areas.

For example, delivering movies 'on demand' is the holy grail of the cable television industry and it is just becoming technically and economically possible. Here the user dials up a central facility and orders a movie. A matter of minutes later he or she will be able to watch it on TV.

The key technology to allow this to happen is video compression - the same technology used to get images off a CD-I disc. What is essentially happening is that your film and dozens of others are being sent over a single TV channel but the equipment in your home is de-scrambling the signal and picking out the signal you want.

Video compression technology was developed by the computer industry to solve its problems of sending one picture over a narrow information channel. The cable TV industry created a business opportunity by using compression to send dozens of pictures over a much wider channel.

But the convergence of computing and the other sectors will go much wider. Apple plans a range of products that will take computer power out of the office and make it easy for everyone to use. Some of these products will be able to communicate using mobile telephone techniques wherever they are. Since the system knows where you are, finding a local Chinese restaurant will be as easy as asking a local policeman.

Film companies are looking at ways of creating interactive movies, in which you make choices during the film that change the way the plot develops.

The possibilities are endless; the problem is sorting out the potentially lucrative marriages and making them work. Keeping the different industries moving in the same direction will be essential because one thing has been shown time and again in convergent markets: if the various players all decide to go their own way it will be very difficult for anyone to bring interesting and profitable products to the market. Today's modem-less PC is a lesson to all.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Programmer & IT Systems Technician

    £8000 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity ...

    Recruitment Genius: 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity is now ...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you familiar with the sayin...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water