January 22, 2010 - 11:22 am
Joel Gurin | Chief, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=70]]My first visit to the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month was an eye-opening and eye-popping experience. You can read about the recent show at www.cesweb.org or in a multitude of news reports. The 2500 exhibits included 3D television, sophisticated voice-activated technology, clever handheld devices, “slate” laptops that function as ultra-portable computers and e-book readers, and a new gaming system that lets you move your whole body as the game controller. It’s clear that we’re not in the 20th century any more.

But the overwhelming theme, for me, was the actualization of a word I’ve heard for years: Convergence. Ever since I became involved in website development in the late 1990s, people have talked about the convergence of the internet, voice communications, television, and other forms of entertainment and applications in an integrated form. For years, this was going to happen any day now – but while progress has been made, many efforts at integration have been more kludgy than seamless. At CES, it looked like “any day” is now finally here. Exhibit after exhibit, and session after session, gave evidence that different communications services are now becoming integrated in truly seamless ways.

By the end of 2010, most HDTVs are expected to be Internet-ready, allowing you to connect them to the Web without having to go through a laptop to do it. This makes it possible to access all kinds of Web applications easily on a large-screen TV. One major application for TV may be Skype, which is partnering with several TV manufacturers to turn your television into a large-scale video conference unit with an add-on high-definition camera and microphone system.

At the other end of the scale, handheld devices are becoming even more versatile, full-service units. Google’s Android gives service providers and device manufacturers a new platform to bring together phone and texting, Web access, GPS, and a host of applications. And new companies are finding ways to bring TV to your handheld – by downloading programs from your DVR, setting up portable Wi-Fi hotspots, or using the Web to connect your home TV and all its functionality to any device you own.

The industry is now talking about “three screens” – handheld, desktop or laptop, and TV – that will all have the same functionality and will be able to supply the same content. This seamless convergence will offer new benefits to consumers – and will also heighten concerns about the use of spectrum and other issues involving our work at FCC. We’d like to hear about your experiences with these different products and services and any questions or suggestions you have.

The Consumer Electronics Show also made it clear that a fourth screen is emerging – the screen, or screens, that we have in our cars. That’s a screen that raises both opportunities and serious issues, as I’ll discuss in my next post.