Rich Warren: Some predictions heading into 2018

Rich Warren: Some predictions heading into 2018

What better time to power up the crystal ball than New Year's Eve? That crystal ball used to be the size of a beach ball, weighed 100 pounds and took five minutes to power on. Now, it's the size of a baseball, weighs 4 ounces and comes to life in an instant. Soon, it will be the size of a pea and embedded in the frame of my eyeglasses.

Against all efforts by manufacturers, the prices of big-screen TVs will continue plummeting, while the price of premium smartphones will continue rising. Apple broke the $1,000 barrier with the iPhone X, and even the multitude of wanna-be flagship Chinese Android phones that once sold for about $350 now cost $500. Conversely, the price of my LG 55-inch OLED TV decreased by almost $400 since I bought it in September. While OLED technology will not totally supplant conventional LED illuminated LCD TVs, it will become affordable for those who demand the best.

In order to make a profit, in 2018, consumer versions of 8K TVs will become available at exorbitant prices, and the cycle will begin anew. I will admit to questioning the benefits of a 4K TV, and now I own one and appreciate the picture, even though I have scant native 4K video sources. The set upscales standard 1080p to 4K. One of the big box stores recently advertised a Blu-Ray 4K player for only $99. Those probably will be $50 by the end of next year. Once again, I'll claim that 8K mainly will benefit those viewing 80-inch or larger screens or projection TVs. Of course, initially, the 8K sets will be ridiculously expensive, but in three years, they'll be selling for affordable premium prices.

My crystal ball develops blocking and other digital artifacts when trying to view the internet future. Those folks living in rural areas relying on slow, wired DSL, microwave or satellite internet, or using the cellular system will have to wait another two or three years for a solution to lack of true broadband.

It's just too expensive to wire farms for high-speed internet. Longtime farmers recall the days of party line telephones. As late as the 1980s, ordering a second phone line for a rural location required forceful negotiations with General Telephone and the threat of invoking a state law.

The next generation of cellular technology, true 5G, will deliver fast broadband to rural areas. Capacity and speed of 5G service dramatically exceeds current 4G LTE. The successor to General Telephone, Verizon, experimentally offers it in a few cities. Certainly the iPhone XII will incorporate it. One wonders if iPhone naming now will parallel the Super Bowl.

No one can truly predict the direction of the non-net neutrality internet. There will be few substantial changes during 2018 for legal, technical and public relations reasons. As soon as the courts and/or Congress settle the subject, the internet service providers (ISPs) will start exploring what changes they can make without huge public outcry. In other words, they'll calculate what they can get away with. I maintain that once changes begin, no future Congress or president will be able to roll them back.

The resurgence of vinyl LPs will diminish over the next few years. Just as there are drivers proud to tool down the street in their antique cars, there always will be a small market for LPs and turntables. Most music lovers will enjoy their tunes from the internet stored on the cloud or in smartphones with huge memory capacity, if in fact anyone downloads albums or individual songs.

Once the streaming services and record labels perfect a mutually beneficial financial model, nearly all music will be "rented," not owned. Once the Baby Boomers and older Gen X'ers die off, CDs will become as quaint as LPs and cassettes.

If you’d like to join me celebrating New Year's Eve, just browse over to wfmt.com at 10 p.m.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@mchsi.com.