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Computer-Oriented Christmas Gifts Popular Among US Consumers - 2003-12-20


It's the holiday season and all over America, consumers are flocking to shops like this one in downtown Manhattan, hoping to find gifts that are unique, touching or just totally cool. This year, computer-oriented presents are selling extremely well, due both to competition in the gadgets industry and high demand. VOA's Adam Phillips met with Michel Marriott, who covers the computer and entertainment industries for the New York Times newspaper, and asked him what's hot, and what's not.

Michel Marriott: "What's going on now is there is a great deal of diversity. It's like the consumer really has a choice. In the beginning, when this stuff comes out, it's really sort of a niche technology for the early adopters. But this is now a mass-market phenomenon. So now you have all sorts of computers that differentiate now to laptops and notebooks and pocket PCs [personal computers], [and] all sorts of digital cameras and MP3 players. It's everywhere. It's everything."

Adam Phillips: What are some features that you think have a lot of 'gee whiz potential' [power to impress]?

Michel Marriott: "I think audio players right now and audio visual players. What the Walkman was to music, making music really portable, making it really personal, you're going to see that happen with visuals, so that people will be walking round not just with music, but with music videos on tiny LCD [liquid crystal display] screens.

We're starting to see some early breakthrough stuff like 'Tapwaves.' Tapwaves is a new company and they have a device that is called 'Zodiac.' It's their first product and Tapwaves actually has the capacity to play 28 frames a second video. Which is now the quality of television, even film. So you're gonna see that. That's a real 'gee whiz' thing."

Adam Phillips: So you see it in vans and that kind of thing, right?

Michel Marriott: "[Yes.] LCD pull-down screens that are 'rugged-ized' - so-called - so they can take the bumps and so forth. And you actually don't even touch the DVD anymore. The DVD device is under the seat and that's all remote control. And wireless speakers so that the people in the back can be listening to the DVD while the driver is not disturbed. And that's what I mean by consumer choice. It's broken down in so many ways, there is a flavor for just about every choice."

Adam Phillips: Cell phones now are around a lot. They are everywhere in New York and a lot of cities around the county and the world. What are some really cool features that mobile phones can do?

Michel Marriott: "Well, there is a new phone that just came out. It will take not just photographs, which is now commonplace, but it will take 15-second video clips with sound that not only do you have that in your phone, you can email that to anyone on the internet from the phone! No intermediary technology, just the phone itself will do that for you."

Adam Phillips: What about computing power itself?

Michel Marriott: "The big thing now is that computers are for more than computing. It's entertainment, so now your computer has these longer sort of 'tentacles.' It's connected to the Internet. It's doing productivity stuff. It's sorting your photographs. You can put your digital videos on them. But now, it's connected to your television. So it's moving to a place really where pretty soon the computer will be like our furnace. You will always know it's there, but you don't necessarily see it. It's just doing it's work quietly in the background."

Adam Phillips: What about games? Are you a 'games person?'

Michel Marriott: "Yeah. Big games guy."

Adam Phillips: Is there one particular game that is really cool?

Michel Marriott: "Hmm. Wow! There are just so many right now. Well, 'HALO' is a really good game I really love. It's sort of a combat game. Its fanciful, futuristic, it's not violent in terms of blood.

There is an upcoming game called Unreal Tournament 2004, and it's going to be really hot [popular]. And what is really hot about that game is that it gives you the means to redesign the game. Which is a whole new aspect. We call it a level editor. There are just so many things.

This is the one I should let you mention actually: Sony Play station has a game called 'Eye-Toy.' But it's more than a game, and I actually believe it's a sort of threshold breakthrough device. The barrier of entry for a lot of game players is actually the game pad. It's not an intuitive device which you hold in your hand. All the buttons, where they are, it's difficult for a lot of people. So they are trying to free people from the game pad.

So this is a game that is basically built around a camera, a video camera. You plug it into a play station, put the game disk in the machine. And what happens is, it photographs you in real time, in video, and you are in the game. And to control it, it's tracking your movements.

So there might be four or five karate guys coming at you, and they are coming at you, and you see yourself in the game and they are jumping at you, and you swat them, you hit them, and they fly and you get points. You could actually work up a sweat in this game. I think that's really a breakthrough. You're going to see more and more games like that, that are controlled by movement, by voice.

There is a game that is being developed right now that when you talk to the game and it recognizes something like 10,000 phrases. And you don't pick up the game pad really, not very much. You just talk to it. That's pretty hot stuff in the game world."

Adam Phillips: You have a lot of fun don't you?

Michel Marriott: "Oh, I love it. It's a great job. I get to do what I really love to do. The things that come across my desk. It's really a great time to be involved in technology."

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