Technology '98: Prepare for the technological revolution

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Fifteen years ago IBM introduced its first PC with a 1000th the memory of today's version. Steve Homer looks forward to the latest developments likely to change all our futures.

This year promises to be quite a technological roller coaster. Digital television should hit our screens; DVD, the eventual replacement for the videotape, will hit the shops; digital cameras, the possible replacement for photography, will take off; and Windows 98 will clear up some of the problems of Windows 95 . And of course the Internet will get everywhere as will digital technology.

Fifteen years ago this month the personal computer revolution was launched when IBM introduced its first PC. But look how things have changed. The original IBM PC had 64 Kbytes of memory, that is about one 1,000th the size of the 64 Mbyte we may see at the end of the year in a typical PC. It had only a 64 Kbyte floppy drive for storage, that is getting on for a 100,000th of the storage capacity PCs are likely to have at the end of this year. And for that you paid pounds 2,000 in 1983 money. The message. Technology builds on technology and in the process gets more powerful and cheaper.

The products and services that will amaze us this year, in a couple of years will just be seen as the building block to something better. TV, radio, the telephone, air travel. All recent arrivals and all marvellous but all now commonplace.

Technologies can sometimes transform the present. Digital television is a case in point. One way the broadcasters are going to try to differentiate digital TV is by transmitting programmes in "widescreen" format. That is in a picture ratio of 16:9 instead of today's 4:3 - a third wider. This is expected to give a huge boost to sales of widescreen TVs.

Sharp is one manufacturer that has so far avoided this market. But it plans to launch its widescreen TV range in two weeks' time. Why? "The BBC has decided to have at least 25 per cent of its output in widescreen on its digital services so there will be something for people to enjoy," says Gary Pearson, head of product planning for Sharp Consumer Electronics.

"Until recently these sets were very expensive but now they are coming down in price. We can sell them as future proof for digital. But it is still a tiny portion of the market." Last year around 2.5 million TVs with screens over 17 inches were sold. Only 50,000 were wide screen, but that was up from 27,000 the year before.

With the launch of digital, the World Cup and other factors the industry expects to see 100,000 to 150,000 sold this year. Still chicken feed but a start.

And the move to better TVs will stimulate the demand for better picture quality. Once you start looking at large TVs, particularly if you are lucky enough to have a projection TV which throws a picture on to your sitting room wall, then you will soon see the deficiencies of VHS video.

Step forward another technology arriving this year, DVD. Fantastic pictures and good business. In one week before Christmas, a US video retailer clocked up $1 million worth of business - just in movies. Everyone has been amazed by the Internet. Its growth continues to defy belief, but what is truly amazing is its ability to reinvent itself. Internet telephony will this year radically change the way major telephone companies look at their future. With the ability to make a call to Australia for the cost of a local connection, upheavals are inevitable.

Video is coming too. And the Internet is moving into the home. 1998 should finally see the arrival of WebTV in the UK from Philips and Sony. This device allows you to access the Internet on your sitting room TV. It has its imitators but most are not really up to scratch.

Sharp has another tidy little Internet invention. A MiniDisc recorder that can download music from the Internet. More internet-connected devices will arrive this year. They will not be very nimble and flexible but they will do the tasks they are asked to do well. For example, look out for Internet phones that should arrive this year. Plug them into the wall socket at home and you are instantly connected to the Web with preset pages for local information.

And so it will go on. One technology will spill into another. Image stabilisation technology from video cameras has been married with conventional optics by Canon. This gives superb binoculars where the image does not judder. Here the technology may not be new but as it improves and prices drop, a new idea will move out to more and more people. It will be a slow process, but in 10 years' time there will be few binoculars on sale that do not incorporate this technology.

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