The Big Picture
Gigantic TVs, high-capacity DVDs, and hi-def video at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show.
The Gigabeat costs the same as an iPod—$300 for a 30-gigabyte model or $400 for 60 gigabytes. What makes it a bargain is the all-you-can-watch movie service. For $9.99 a month, you can download and watch as many titles as you want from Vongo. They'll keep playing as long as your subscription is active, or until an expiration date that comes anywhere from six months to a few years down the line. *
But the biggest change unveiled at CES isn't all of this gear we'll need for watching videos. It's the way we'll find and buy them. Google's new video download store offers higher resolution than iTunes, and it's not limited to Windows users like Vongo. The company offers instant-loading online previews. You can watch the vids in your browser or download a Windows-only player to use your PC as a TV console. Google's system is not yet as simple to use as, say, a TiVo, but it's more flexible in terms of what you can find and watch.
More important, this new download store Googlizes the video distribution chain. Instead of limiting content to a list of marquee providers like the broadcast networks, Google lets any video producer (even you) offer their goods for sale or rent and lets them set their own price—anywhere from a penny to a million zillion dollars.
Big-league ballgames appear next to amateur clips like "Old Lady Pwnz Mercedes Guy." For 50 cents, you can score 1896 footage of the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. The Google Video Store is still under construction—you can buy videos only if you've got a recent Windows system—but it already looks more like a typical Web search than your local DVD shop. By next year's CES, you'll probably take it for granted that you can Google for television and movies as easily as flipping channels.
Correction, Jan. 17, 2006: This piece originally implied that the subscription service Vongo allows users to play downloaded movies for as long as their subscription is active. The movies expire anywhere from six months to a few years after they're downloaded. (Return to corrected sentence.)
Paul Boutin is a writer living in San Francisco.
Photographs of: TiVo by MegaZone, image courtesy TiVoLovers.com; Pioneer courtesy Pioneer; Panasonic courtesy Panasonic; Toshiba courtesy Engadget; Sony Vaio from Sony.