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What's next in couch-potato tech?

One-minute movies on your Palm? A single, ten-button remote for all your consumer devices? These gizmos and more are in the pipeline

Quick: What's as collectable as a Pokemon card but can run on your Palm PDA or wearable computer? Answer: A PocketCinema movie.

If you've never heard of PocketCinema, don't feel bad. PocketCinema's creator, Los Angeles-based CinemaElectric, has been in stealth mode until recently. But at the eTV World conference in New York this week, CinemaElectric chief executive Jim Robinson opened the kimono on what he and his colleagues are hoping is an example of the new content that will drive enhanced/interactive TVs and next-generation cell phones and PDAs.

PocketCinema is the "movie of the future", in Robinson's words. It's an electronic file that downloads like an MP3 file -- kind of a customisable electronic greetings card meets Hollywood.

A PocketCinema clip, which intentionally blurs the boundary between advertising and entertainment content, can be displayed on a variety of forthcoming convergence devices -- and even on next-generation cell phones that will offer larger-screen real estate by displaying content horizontally.

"[PocketCinema is] emailable and viral. It's interactive, in that it can be explored screen by screen. It's optimised for wireless and handheld devices, but it's platform-agnostic," explained Robinson at an afternoon panel at the eTV conference on Tuesday.

"It's as if we're in the midst of 'the change from vaudeville to radio'," crowed Robinson. "This new generation of software must be designed from day one to be pirated."

Robinson claimed that by next year in Japan, consumers will be signing up for CinemaElectric's subscription service. Each week, the company will release five new clips, first in the fashion market, but soon also in golf, travel, education and other arenas.

Robinson wasn't the only one playing show-and-tell at the eTV World conference.

Patricia Bisant, director of home entertainment sales for Denver-based Interlink Electronics, talked up the company's forthcoming ten-button remote that is aimed at simplifying the remote-control coffee table clutter that's become the rule for many consumer-device-friendly households. Interlink has a working prototype of the next-gen remote now -- there's no word on when a commercially shipping version will hit the streets.

"The key to consumer adoption is that last 12 feet -- the distance between the couch and the TV set," said Bisant, whose company is in the business of developing advanced interface technologies for a variety of home and business devices.

Interlink is working on a "no-look" remote device that will marry pad-to-screen mapping technology with traditional remote-control devices. Viewers will be able to write a channel number with their fingers on a touch pad or swipe a finger across the touch pad once to play a video and twice to rewind it. The device will be able to control multiple consumer devices, handle voice input and accommodate digital signatures to further secure e-commerce transactions, Bisant said.

Another company touting its forthcoming convergence wares was Pennslyvania-based Ravisent Technologies, maker of software that is aimed at turning PC and consumer devices into true interactive entertainment systems.

In August, Ravisent was one of 14 companies to form the PC DTV Promoters Group, whose charter involves accelerating the development of digital TV on PCs.

At the conference, Ravisent director of technology Ren Egawa highlighted the appeal of add-in cards costing roughly $1,000 that can turn PCs into devices that approximate the performance of current high-definition TVs (HDTVs), which can cost thousands of dollars. He said Ravisent's browser-based software includes recording, manipulation, play and device interface capabilities, all of which "can provide users with experiences close to the HDTV experience".

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