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Computer technology: That's entertainment, 2000

 VIDEO
CNN NewsStand's James Hattori finds out what entertainment might look like in the year 2010
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December 31, 1999
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST (2100 GMT)

(CNN) -- As we reach the year 2000 and the next phase of the Information Age, it's easy to forget that just 10 years ago, the Information Age was stuck on its launching pad.

The Internet was unknown to nearly everyone except university researchers; TV was still patting itself on the back over cable success; films were searching for the next big thing; music was sold at record stores.

Now, television and computers are colliding and millions of channels are on the horizon; films are bigger, clearer and cheaper to make; and music, more than any other industry, is using the Internet to market itself.

HDTV will soon be rolling into homes, delivering a wider screen and digital picture  

Lucy, where are you?

Television is on the brink of major changes that may forever alter the way we live.

It should all happen with the inevitable switch from analog to digital technology. Right now, most homes are equipped with analog, the design of which has remained largely unchanged since the invention of television. The new kid on the block is HD, or high-definition television, with more than three times the resolution of a standard analog set.

Unfortunately, you can't see HDTV's higher quality on regular TV. And for now, HDTV does come with high price tags and scarce programming. But there's little doubt that television signals are going digital.

"I think the world of television and entertainment is poised for explosion, and that explosion comes about because television becomes digital," says Andy Lippman, associate director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Media Lab. It's one of the premiere technology think tanks in the world. "When television becomes digital, it becomes a lot more like the Internet, and that means that instead of a hundred or 500 or 1,000 channels, you have to think of television in terms of 243 million channels and accessing channels from all around the world."

With a laser-pointer-like device, users can click on images on a interactive TV to purchase clothing and objects used by the actors on screen  

That new type of TV becomes interactive, too. For instance, you should be able to watch a favorite sitcom, and shop at the same time. This, through innovations like "hypersoap."

With underwriting by the JCPenney company, MIT professor Michael Bove along with a team of MIT students created the idea. Using a clicker like a remote control, "hypersoap" viewers can shop by highlighting any clothing or objects they see on the screen, allowing viewers of to buy the outfits worn by their favorite actors -- if not quite the shirts off their "Friends'" backs.

And shopping is just one possibility. Interactive TV is also expected to allow viewers to gather additional relevant information on programs. For example, if you're watching a cooking program featuring chicken, you'll be able to click one part of the screen and get the recipe. If you're watching a newscast on a Balkan uprising, you can click the remote and learn the history of the conflict, along with latest headlines and video.

Your favorite TV show may soon follow you... from your living room, to your car radio, to your office computer  

Save that VCR

There are also ideas in the works that can keep us from missing TV, even without using the VCR.

"It's always annoying when one is watching a television program," says Bove, "and the telephone rings or one has to get into the car and go drive to work. And it would be possible, using almost the infrastructure we have right now, to make a television program that when I'm watching, if I go out in the car, maybe it follows me by means of my pager and then my car, and when I get to work, it follows me up the steps and on to the screen of my PC. In fact, it would be very nice to be able to follow your program that way."

And save that VCR. It'll be like the phonograph one day. Your grandkids will laugh at it as they flip on their DVD players -- if DVD players aren't outdated by then.

George Lucas helped usher in the digital projection film with "Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"  

Big changes on big screen

Movie makers are riding the digital wave, too. George Lucas says he plans to lead the charge of high-budget filmmaking into digital land, shooting the next "Star Wars" installment digitally on video, not film. As a way of spurring the development of digital projectors, he had a month-long showing of a special digital version of 1999's "Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

Along with better quality, films are getting bigger, too. IMAX and its grand-scale films that make the viewer feel a part of the action could foreshadow a day when moviegoers enjoy a truly virtual experience.

And filmmakers are relying more on not just digital film, but also digital animation to fill their screens. "Titanic" and "The Phantom Menace" are two recent blockbusters that implemented this with tremendous results. Although Jar-Jar Binks, in all his digital green glory, wasn't the most popular character, there's talk that one day many films will include digital actors, presumably because they won't ask for $20 million per picture.

"Edna McCoy's Festival" was an all-digitally produced film that was shown at the 1999 Austin Film Festival  

Low-budget filmmakers are feeling the effects of all this technology, too. Digital tapes are much cheaper than traditional film stock, but yield better quality and can be edited on a home computer. It's an independent filmmaker's dream come true. At the 1999 Austin Film Festival, in fact, a group of low-budget auteurs shot a short film using digital tapes in the span of a week on a $200 budget.

Perhaps even more alluring for independent filmmakers is the idea that they'll always have a place to screen their films, thanks to the Internet. Some say they foresee a day when filmmakers will simply e-mail their work to theaters with digital projectors, at least for a time probably throwing the economy of film distribution into disarray.

The new music

Music, of course, has enjoyed the most change so far in these digital times. MP3, the technology that allows Web surfers to download CD-quality music, has been written up in most major publications and has caused old-guard record companies to at once curse and embrace the technology.

MP3 audio will help change the way we buy and listen to music  

But new musicians, like young filmmakers, see the digital technology as a way to sidestep traditional avenues to success and use the Internet to distribute their art.

The future of music content should be interesting to monitor, too. The last decade of the century has seen a broad mix of styles flooding radio stations, including early-century jazz and swing, Latin pop, folk, rap, folk-rap, hip-hop, dance, Celtic, new world music, and that old-fashioned, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll.

It seems music artists are continually searching for new ways to communicate, so perhaps the 2000s will witness the invention of a new instrument -- like the origination of the electric guitar in the mid-1900s -- that will sail us to new sound horizons.

'Faster and bigger'

Another force that can no longer be ignored is the electronic $6.3 million gaming industry. It keeps millions of Americans, mostly teens, entertained. Eye-popping graphics and battling heroes have pushed sales of electronic games past what's spent by moviegoers every year.

"Ultima" has evolved as video game technology has been improved  

And what will games you play in 10 years be like?

"The interaction you will have will be much more like interacting with real people versus what it is right now," says Richard Garriot, who created the highly popular "Ultima" adventure games. "You're going to see some very compelling experiences that are presented in ways which are, you know, well beyond today's movies and television."

Or course, all this is merely educated speculation, and it's likely that many predictions will miss their mark. But it's safe to say the Internet and its technologies should have vast effects on all that's entertainment.

"We will see a billion users of the Internet before the end of the year 2000," says Nicholas Negroponte, founder and director of MIT's Media Lab. "That is basically 20 percent of the planet.

"And what's really frightening, or interesting, depending on your perspective, is that the change from now will even be faster and bigger than we're expecting."

  ALSO
For more ITN millennium coverage, visit ITN on line. logo
 

CNN NewsStand Correspondent James Hattori, producer Bob Melisso and CNN Interactive Senior Writer Jamie Allen contributed to this report.



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