The growing competition in digital entertainment will be more evident than ever at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show (search) in Las Vegas, where 2,400 exhibitors will vie for attention as they showcase the year's hot products and technologies.
With billions of dollars in sales at stake, telecommunications companies are joining the intensifying battle already begun by computing stalwarts and consumer electronics giants to push digital music, photos and television deeper into homes in 2005.
The chief executive of SBC Communications Inc. (SBC) will be among the highlighted speakers at the annual event that begins Thursday, next to a keynote lineup that includes executives from Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Intel Corp. (INTC) and Hewlett-Packard Inc (HPQ).
Other pipeline providers, such as Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Time Warner Cable (TWC), are also expected to announce their latest strategies or partnerships to better position them in the delivery of all things digital — music, photos, videos, television.
"Everyone wants to get into the living room, whether it's Microsoft or the telcos," said Ted Schadler, an industry analyst with Forrester Research.
Not to be eclipsed by the computing and communications titans making new forays into consumer electronics, traditional electronics companies such as Sony Corp (SNE), LG Electronics SA, Thomson SA, and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd.'s Panasonic, will still hold a dizzying presence at CES, the nation's largest technology trade show.
Samsung Electronics Co. boasts the largest booth of all, commanding 25,000 square feet, or nearly 2 percent of the 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space. Samsung looks to bear the crown for the world's biggest flat-panel TV with a 102-inch plasma screen.
Returning to the show are the latest iterations of slim high-definition TVs, wireless technologies and media servers that store and play back digital content. But this time, more Americans will find the gizmos compelling as they grow their digital collections of songs and images, adopt high-speed Internet connections and embrace ever-fancier cell phones and portable gadgets.
"We've all been trained now to not sit still. If we're not on a BlackBerry, we're on a laptop or on a cell phone," said Peter Weedfald, a senior vice president of marketing at Samsung. "The devices consumers are looking for have faster access with brighter screen capabilities to gather all types of digital content, whether it's business, pleasure or personal content."
Among the items the consumer electronics industry will promote at the expo as ways of taking digital content and making it work anytime, anywhere:
— Digital video recording provider TiVo Inc. (TIVO) will highlight TiVoToGo (search), a new service feature that lets users transfer their recorded television shows onto laptops, and soon also to blank DVDs and other portable media players.
— Orb Networks Inc. will show off a new streaming service that lets subscribers remotely access their digital media files from their home PCs — and even watch live television — on gadgets with Internet connections.
— Sling Media Inc. will display the SlingBox Personal Broadcaster, a device that lets users watch regular TV on any Internet-connected gadget, including laptops, handheld devices and video-enabled mobile phones.
— Cell phone maker Motorola Inc., which will soon let people play on cell phones the songs they buy through Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iTunes Music Store, will highlight new products that will work with a motorcycle helmet and a ski jacket, so users can chat easily while on the road or the ski slopes.
— Samsung will display its newest cell phones to be available in the United States later this year, including ones featuring a 5-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi support for easy Internet access and use of next-generation, high-speed cellular networks known as EVDO.
— Microsoft Corp. will tout media extender devices that can pipe to various rooms in a house the photos, TV shows and music from HP's new Digital Entertainment Center and other Windows-based media servers sitting in the living room.
The consumer electronics industry generated an estimated $108 billion in sales in the United States last year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. And that was just for hardware products like televisions, DVD players, music players and accessories.
Companies are eyeing the millions more that can be made from subscriptions, video downloading fees, or, as in the case for telecommunications companies, premium charges for faster or improved access to all the digital content.