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Here Comes the Four-Headed Beast

AV and IT have converged. HD is ubiquitous. So what then is the next big thing in audiovisual technology? Hint: It can fit in a user's pocket. InfoComm educator and PRO AV columnist Pete Putman has seen the future and wonders if AV pros are ready for it.

That year, Panasonic and ABC teamed up to broadcast Monday Night Football in the 720p HDTV format with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, setting off a flurry of antenna-raising parties around the country to capture the signal from those few ABC stations that could transmit it. Excitement was in the air. My first HDTV setup consisted of a bulky, military-gray Princeton AF3.0HD 30-inch CRT HD monitor (720p resolution) and a Panasonic DST-51W set-top receiver, connected to a Radio Shack UHF yagi antenna strapped to my rear deck. The antenna had to be aimed just so in order to lock up the temperamental DTV signal, but the results amazed my friends.

In 2000, I hosted my first Super Bowl HDTV Party, combining that Princeton monitor with a Sony VPL-VW10HT widescreen LCD projector, an Extron component video switcher, several hundred feet of component video cable, and a couple of analog 5.1-channel audio systems, set up to entertain the 40 or so wide-eyed, amazed guests who had never seen any kind of HDTV programming before, let alone a football game in HD.

Time changes everything. Today, HD programming is widely available through cable and satellite networks, as well as via terrestrial DTV stations (who now face an uncertain future). You can buy HD movies on Blu-ray disc for $25, or go to and download HD movies and TV shows to digital video recorders from companies like TiVo.

HD camcorders are a dime a dozen (the 720p Flip Ultra HD is just $199 now) and some digital SLR cameras made by Nikon and Canon can actually record HD video clips. HD and SD programs can also be streamed through high-speed wireless connections directly to TV sets. My point? Simply that HDTV is no big deal anymore. The technology had its moment in the sun, but now it's just another communications format we largely take for granted.

Even so, HD has had a tremendous impact on our industry, introducing such revolutionary concepts as widescreen imaging, multichannel audio, secure digital display interfaces, DVRs and HD servers, multicasting, ancillary program metadata, high-density optical storage media, and digital rights management-all to a market that still supports the decades-old composite video and 15-pin VGA analog signal formats. So what's next after HD? Is there another game-changing technology waiting in the wings, or is it already creeping in on little cat feet as you read this?

The Four-Headed Game-Changer

The new game-changer is not a single technology, nor does it supplant HDTV. Rather, the next big thing is a combination of four trends: Ubiquitous broadband connections, on-demand content delivery, fast wireless infrastructures, and do-everything mobile communications devices.

The difference between this next big thing and HDTV is that the latter fully embraces the concept of anywhere, anytime content. Consumers (and that includes our pro AV clients) are getting used to a world where video and audio are served up across myriad playback devices from laptops to iPhones. Content runs the gamut from feature films and TV shows to amateur YouTube videos and webinars.

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