Portable Media Centers: Damp Squibs?

How big are Portable Media Centers going to be?

Not very, says The Diffusion Group, a Dallas-based research consultancy. In a report it says both Microsoft-based and non-MS-based media players with video, audio and photo capabilities will “face stiff competition from less-expensive application-specific alternatives such as MP3 players, portable DVD players, and new portable photo storage technologies”.

Partly it’s price: “while PMCs offer consumers an ‘all-in-one’ package, its $500 price tag will make single application devices much more attractive to consumers,” Diffusion says. The other limitation is: Do people really want all this stuff? Given the main attraction of a PMC is storing and playing back video, and given that most folk still don’t use handheld video recorders (I’m guessing PVR here means portable or personal video recorders) as much as expected, “demand for a portable PVR is likely to remain very low for the next several years.” Then, says Diffusion, there are alternatives: Portable TVs are cheap, and the more fancy high end stuff, like Sony’s new LF-X5 with its live digital TV viewing with integrated Wi-Fi connectivity and a 7-inch viewing screen, are going to get cheaper.

I respectfully disagree. I don’t think everyone who has an iPod is going to get a PMC. But you only need to sit on a Virgin Atlantic flight and watch people tap into their fully independent video-on-demand (select programs, stop and start, fast forward and rewind) screens to see the power of portable video. Just because people aren’t using their PVRs as much as we expected, doesn’t mean they don’t want to watch video everywhere they go. And while personal TVs may satisfy some of this market, what is that compared to being able to store a few episodes of Seinfeld to watch on the train to work? If we’ve learned nothing else from MP3 players, we’ve realised that people want to design and personalise their portable entertainment. If not, everyone would still be carrying around portable radios. As prices drop — even Diffusion anticipates that the price of portable media centers will decline by more than 50% to below $250 in a couple of years — I think there’ll be more and more people packing these things.

16. October 2004 by jeremy
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