CES 2010: Convergence

One thing that struck me as I walked through the displays of gadgets and gizmos at the International Consumer Electronics Show was how CES 2010 had made good on a word that was often used in the last decade, but hadn’t seen much mention recently: “convergence”.

The idea of living room convergence, where multiple technologies come together in the comfort of one room, used to be an often mentioned dream of technology innovators who wanted to accomplish the tasks performed by TVs, VCRs, computers, telephones and more via a single box that could live on a shelf in your house.

The use of the term died out at CES over the years, but recently we’ve begun to see the dream become reality. Last year saw the rise of Netflix streaming movies coming via the Internet to XBox 360s, PS3 and Internet-enabled Blu-ray players. This year, it arrives in the form of HDTVs with built-in app stores that can run games, get weather updates or stream movies directly from multiple network sources.

One of the apps that I saw that I think will make a huge change over time was the Skype app on a few Panasonic and LG HDTVs shown at CES. The technology that allows video conferencing using a webcam and Internet connection isn’t new, but the ease at which it can be performed with an app built into the TV will make adoption and use explode. Could Skype-enabled HDTVs kill home telephone lines more so than mobile phones have?

Another example of convergence is the ease at which Blue Label 2.0 laptops from Toshiba, Dell and Sony can connect wirelessly to an HDTV using Intel’s new Wireless Display technology. A Netgear HDMI wireless receiver connects to the HDMI port on your TV, and setup consists of a clicks on the laptop. Computing from the couch will be easier than ever.

So what’s the future of convergence? Well, check out the video predictions of the Geek Squad Chief Inspector for our guess. Hint: It may involve bionic eyes.

The Statistics of Social Media

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The most surprising thing for me when it comes to stats about social media is just how quickly it’s becoming popular with the traditionally non-tech orientated non-teen population.

Hulu a Better Deal for Advertisers?

There’s some talk in online communities about the state of Hulu and whether they’re limited number of advertisers is a bad sign for the company.

My personal opinion is that advertising on Hulu has some serious advantages over regular broadcast television, at least if you discount the difference in the number of viewers.

As a viewer, I’m far more likely to sit through the shorter commercials on Hulu, even if they’re unskippable, simply because the interruptions aren’t long and frequent. Also, I’m noticing that I’m paying far more attention to the commercials simply because there’s less of them. There isn’t a “wall of advertising” that ends up blurring the messages into noise.

I don’t think Hulu will entirely kill broadcast or even cable television, at least not for the current generation of viewers who have grown used to it, but it’s certainly another sign that digital distribution channels like iTunes, Xbox Marketplace and Netflix streaming video are here for the duration.

Virtual Allowances for Kids in the Real World

Allowances have long been a tool used by parents to teach their children fiscal responsibility, but life in the virtual world of the Internet has created the opportunity for a number of digital offerings.

Paypal, for example, is now beta testing their Student account program, that will allow parents with a Paypal account to create a sub-account to be used by children 13 years or older to spend at websites that support Paypal services.

There’s also an option to get a MasterCard debit card to allow kids to use their digital allowance in real-world stores. Of course, Paypal has even updated the way kids can ask for raises in their allowance, with the ability for kids to send text messages through the system that allows parents to approve or deny additional funds remotely.

Of course, your kids have likely already encountered other forms of digital money in their day to day lives, such as Microsoft Points that can be added to the Xbox Live accounts to purchase games and other downloads. Nintendo offers a similar system for their popular Wii video game console.

While some parents may scoff at the idea of a virtual allowance, I think it’s a good idea to teach kids how to be responsible with digital money, at least when I consider how rarely I carry cash these days, instead opting to use a debit card for nearly all of my real world transactions.

Christmas Music Remix

SomaFM.com, one of my favorite streaming Internet radio sites, now has a new channel available called “Christmas Lounge“.

They describe the channel as “Chilled holiday grooves and classic winter lounge tracks. (Kid and Parent safe!)” and so far it’s been an interesting mix of remixed Christmas music with a dance and electronic feel, interspersed with old holiday music that I haven’t come across being played on the regular radio stations.