Computeractive's editorial team casts an eye into 2005 and offers opinions on the technologies that will emerge or make a difference to your life in the coming year
One of the things that makes writing about technology so interesting for us at Computeractive is the rate at which it changes. Today's cutting-edge device is often tomorrow's commodity item.
Many of the devices we take for granted today, such as handheld computers, digital cameras and colour printers, were once in the realm of science fiction. Indeed, many owe their presence in your pocket to advances made to further medicine and interstellar research.
So our editorial team thought it would be fun to gaze into the future and predict the technologies that will begin to emerge as consumer issues or products in 2005. Keep an eye on the news, reviews and features pages of Computeractive in the coming year to see if we were right.
Tim Smith: BTX
Over the past nine years we have seen almost every aspect of PC design change except for the case and motherboard. New ideas have appeared but failed to catch on, while the old-style case is starting to show its age especially when it comes to dealing with the tremendous amount of heat produced by modern processors.
Intel has started again from scratch and designed a new format called BTX (Balanced Technology Extended) to take the heat out of faster computing. The components have all been rearranged so that air can cool them more efficiently, eliminating the areas in ATX cases where there is no airflow. This will also make them operate more quietly.
BTX is also designed to support a variety of different case sizes from ultra-slim computers to entertainment computers that will not look out of place in the living room. Components such as hard disks and DVD writers will still be compatible so it's possible to upgrade.
As Intel created the BTX case and motherboard design there is no obligation for its rival AMD to adopt it, so BTX still has some way to go. But with some products already available we think it is here to stay. Overheating is a major cause of damage and general unreliability in PCs, so anything designed to combat it has to be a good thing.
Dinah Greek: Mirror displays
Philips has long been at the forefront of display technology and one of its most intriguing developments of late is Miravision. First announced about 18 months ago, the gizmo has some intriguing implications for the future. When turned off, this device looks like a normal mirror. One click of a switch and everything changes. The integrated screen allows you to watch television either over the entire 'mirror' or just a section of it.
I'm keen on the idea that if I don't like what I see when I look in my mirror, I can replace my mug in an instant with a more aesthetic vision of loveliness from the internet. Connect this device to a PC, and you can access song lyrics for your bath-time singalong.
There are more sensible possibilities too. Manufacturers are promoting computers that look like the devices we have become accustomed to in the living room, such as videos, to sell the digital home concept. Miravision could provide the monitor that doesn't look like a monitor.
You can expect to pay around £1,800 for a 23in Miravision today. The price is a drawback, as is the fact that it can't be connected wirelessly at the moment. But this is something Philips is reflecting on.
Anthony Dhanendran: Media Center
Nobody really likes video tapes; they're large and clunky, they degrade each time you watch them, and they have a nasty habit of wrapping their tape around the innards of your video recorder. But what's the alternative? DVD recorders are still on the expensive side but, if you have a PC with a TV tuner card, you can put it to good use as a video recorder.
Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition is designed to do just that, and we will see more of it in 2005 as more manufacturers design PCs to be the answer to your home entertainment problems. The challenge for the technology is to make it as simple to use as a television, and far simpler than setting the timer on a video cassette recorder.
Even if you don't have Media Center Edition, you can still add a TV tuner card to your PC (look for one with a built-in MPEG-2 encoder, which will compress files to save space) and, with a good-sized hard disk, record all the TV you want. Add a DVD recorder and you can archive it, too.
One day, our radios and televisions will be obsolete, and we'll use computers for all our media. In 2005, you should ask yourself just how many boxes you want in your living room, and get a head start on the technology.
Emilie Martin: 3G
Mobile phones have come a long way since their brick-like beginnings two decades ago. We have come to expect great network coverage, compact handset design and features such as web browsing and text, picture and video messaging from our mobile phone services as standard.
The development of 3G (third generation) communications technology marks the next stage in the evolution of mobile phone services and will shape the way we use our phones in the next few years.
In a very basic sense, 3G is to older mobile communication technologies what broadband internet access is to dial-up access in terms of what it enables you to do with your phone. With Vodafone's recently announced 3G content services, for instance, you can download films to your mobile and watch streamed football highlights and film trailers on your handset.
Admittedly, 3G technology has been around for a while already and a few service providers, such as 3 in the UK, have been offering these services for some time. However, it is only recently that 3G services have started to become more affordable for the average phone user.
As this trend continues and more of us start downloading content such as video clips and music to our smarter mobile phones, 3G services will ultimately turn the way in which we access multimedia entertainment on its head.
Anna Lagerkvist: Barcode scanners
How many times have you seen a poster advertising an event and wanted more information about it? This ability could soon be in the palm of your hand as emerging mobile phone camera technology makes it possible to access data by scanning a barcode.
The barcodes could be printed at the entrance to a place of interest, or on posters advertising an event. After you scanned the barcode with your camera phone, the data would be transmitted using the phone network to be interpreted. Information about the place or event would then be sent back to your phone within seconds.
Information would always be up to date, unlike posters, which are yesterday's news as soon as they leave the printing press. The codes could also give special offers to customers of specific phone networks. The immediacy of this technology opens many doors of opportunity for consumers.
BT has already shown interest in the technology and we could see the first services emerging in 2005. We may never have to root around for a pen and paper to write down the contact details for an event again.
Paul Allen: Biometrics
Biometrics, or the measurement of unique characteristics for the purposes of identification, has been bubbling under the national consciousness for a while because of the debate over identity cards. I think 2005 will be a year when opinions about the technology, as opposed to its use, will start to soften.
I see two biometric technologies: the first is a handy way of managing personal data, while the second has the potential to become one of the most dangerous abuses of science we are likely to see in our lifetime.
The reason I say this is because the clamour among certain politicians and law enforcers to introduce biometric identification is based on a fundamentally flawed argument and a fearsome lie.
The flaw is that biometrics offers a foolproof method of identity. Good science and technology must be based in scepticism. A state that tells you it can safely collect, store and process the biometric data of millions of individuals, with no risk that it would ever fall into the wrong hands, is a state lost in arrogance.
The lie is that only those with something to hide have anything to fear. In an age when identity theft, and the frauds committed because of it, are rising, rating people according to one overarching and unmistakable identity is, frankly, terrifying.
But the technology is not the villain, and I think we'll be reviewing more products that use fingerprint and even iris scanners next year to finally give poor users a respite from multiple passwords. Just don't use them to protect confidential passwords yet.
Luke Peters: Extender boxes
Windows Media Center hasn't yet revolutionised the home entertainment market as much as Bill Gates hoped, but Extender technology (due for a UK release next year) could change all that.
Extender does exactly what its name suggests, extending the Media Center experience to televisions. The box receives signals from your PC over a wireless network and connects to the TV using a normal cable. This means that you don't need to put an unsightly PC in your living room to benefit from Media Center.
We caught a sneak preview of these gadgets at Microsoft HQ in Seattle earlier this year and witnessed multiple Extenders accessing music, photos and video content from the same computer. Each Extender box could pause, time-shift and record live television. Microsoft has also developed Extender for the Xbox, which suggests that its gaming console could become an integral part of Microsoft's home entertainment roadmap for the future.
I predict problems, though, such as slow Wi-Fi speeds, which could hamper how quickly media is streamed. Price could also dissuade some users and you can't buy Media Center as an upgrade to your operating system, meaning that most users won't bother until they next buy a PC.
Some PC vendors I have spoken to will include Windows Media Center as standard on new PCs soon. Whether you're interested in its features or not, you might soon have a copy if you buy a PC. Besides, Microsoft insists that Media Center is its best and most up-to-date software. The concept sounds fantastic and, if done properly, could transform your view of Windows.
Close, but no cigar
All technologies have a shelf life, while some never make it to market at all and what sounded like a great idea yesterday looks as much use as hatful of jam today.
VHS video recorders are not about to disappear off the face of the Earth, but their days are certainly numbered. Dixons recently announced that it is to stop selling the devices, as consumers simply aren't buying them anymore. DVD seems to have claimed its crown.
The music cassette is now more likely to be found skulking in the bargain buckets in music stores, while CDs preen themselves on the display stands. But for how long? Digital music formats, moving silently and invisibly through the internet, could depose the shiny discs one day.
Talking of discs, the magnetic masters of yesterday, such as Zip, are beginning to make way for the new breed of optical discs. CDs blazed the path, but dual-layer DVDs could prove the final nail in their coffin.
Place your bets
Experts we may be, but prophets we are not. So what do you think will be the big technology breakthrough for consumers in 2005? Perhaps you disagree with our choices. If so, let us know what you as a consumer would like to see emerge or change in the world of technology next year. We'd love to hear about the technologies that you want to send packing too.
Send your predictions, suggestions and dismissals to us at email@example.com, or write to Computeractive, 32-34 Broadwick Street, London, W1A 2HG.
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