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31, 1999 Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST (2100 GMT) (CNN) -- As we reach the year

2000 and the next phase of the Information Age, it's easy to forget that just 10

years ago, the Information Age was stuck on its launching pad. The Internet was

unknown to nearly everyone except university researchers; TV was still patting

itself on the back over cable success; films were searching for the next big

thing; music was sold at record stores. Now, television and computers are

colliding and millions of channels are on the horizon; films are bigger, clearer

and cheaper to make; and music, more than any other industry, is using the

Internet to market itself HDTV will soon be rolling into homes, delivering a

wider screen and digital picture Lucy, where are you? Television is on the brink

of major changes that may forever alter the way we live. It should all happen

with the inevitable switch from analog to digital technology. Right now, most

homes are equipped with analog, the design of which has remained largely

unchanged since the invention of television. The new kid on the block is HD, or

high-definition television, with more than three times the resolution of a

standard analog set. Unfortunately, you can't see HDTV's higher quality on

regular TV. And for now, HDTV does come with high price tags and scarce

programming. But there's little doubt that television signals are going digital.

"I think the world of television and entertainment is poised for explosion,

and that explosion comes about because television becomes digital," says

Andy Lippman, associate director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's

(MIT) Media Lab. It's one of the premiere technology think tanks in the world.

"When television becomes digital, it becomes a lot more like the Internet,

and that means that instead of a hundred or 500 or 1,000 channels, you have to

think of television in terms of 243 million channels and accessing channels from

all around the world." With a laser-pointer-like device, users can click on

images on a interactive TV to purchase clothing and objects used by the actors

on screen That new type of TV becomes interactive, too. For instance, you should

be able to watch a favorite sitcom, and shop at the same time. This, through

innovations like "hypersoap." With underwriting by the JCPenney

company, MIT professor Michael Bove along with a team of MIT students created

the idea. Using a clicker like a remote control, "hypersoap" viewers

can shop by highlighting any clothing or objects they see on the screen,

allowing viewers of to buy the outfits worn by their favorite actors -- if not

quite the shirts off their "Friends'" backs. And shopping is just one

possibility. Interactive TV is also expected to allow viewers to gather

additional relevant information on programs. For example, if you're watching a

cooking program featuring chicken, you'll be able to click one part of the

screen and get the recipe. If you're watching a newscast on a Balkan uprising,

you can click the remote and learn the history of the conflict, along with

latest headlines and video. Your favorite TV show may soon follow you... from

your living room, to your car radio, to your office computer Save that VCR There

are also ideas in the works that can keep us from missing TV, even without using

the VCR. "It's always annoying when one is watching a television

program," says Bove, "and the telephone rings or one has to get into

the car and go drive to work. And it would be possible, using almost the

infrastructure we have right now, to make a television program that when I'm

watching, if I go out in the car, maybe it follows me by means of my pager and

then my car, and when I get to work, it follows me up the steps and on to the

screen of my PC. In fact, it would be very nice to be able to follow your

program that way." And save that VCR. It'll be like the phonograph one day.

Your grandkids will laugh at it as they flip on their DVD players -- if DVD

players aren't outdated by then. George Lucas helped usher in the digital

projection film with "Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" Big

changes on big screen Movie makers are riding the digital wave, too. George

Lucas says he plans to lead the charge of high-budget filmmaking into digital

land, shooting the next "Star Wars" installment digitally on video,

not film. As a way of spurring the development of digital projectors, he had a

month-long showing of a special digital version of 1999's "Star Wars,

Episode I: The Phantom Menace." Along with better quality, films are

getting bigger, too. IMAX and its grand-scale films that make the viewer feel a

part of the action could foreshadow a day when moviegoers enjoy a truly virtual

experience. And filmmakers are relying more on not just digital film, but also

digital animation to fill their screens. "Titanic" and "The

Phantom Menace" are two recent blockbusters that implemented this with

tremendous results. Although Jar-Jar Binks, in all his digital green glory,

wasn't the most popular character, there's talk that one day many films will

include digital actors, presumably because they won't ask for $20 million per

picture. "Edna McCoy's Festival" was an all-digitally produced film

that was shown at the 1999 Austin Film Festival Low-budget filmmakers are

feeling the effects of all this technology, too. Digital tapes are much cheaper

than traditional film stock, but yield better quality and can be edited on a

home computer. It's an independent filmmaker's dream come true. At the 1999

Austin Film Festival, in fact, a group of low-budget auteurs shot a short film

using digital tapes in the span of a week on a $200 budget. Perhaps even more

alluring for independent filmmakers is the idea that they'll always have a place

to screen their films, thanks to the Internet. Some say they foresee a day when

filmmakers will simply e-mail their work to theaters with digital projectors, at

least for a time probably throwing the economy of film distribution into

disarray. The new music Music, of course, has enjoyed the most change so far in

these digital times. MP3, the technology that allows Web surfers to download

CD-quality music, has been written up in most major publications and has caused

old-guard record companies to at once curse and embrace the technology. MP3

audio will help change the way we buy and listen to music But new musicians,

like young filmmakers, see the digital technology as a way to sidestep

traditional avenues to success and use the Internet to distribute their art. The

future of music content should be interesting to monitor, too. The last decade

of the century has seen a broad mix of styles flooding radio stations, including

early-century jazz and swing, Latin pop, folk, rap, folk-rap, hip-hop, dance,

Celtic, new world music, and that old-fashioned, guitar-driven rock 'n' roll. It

seems music artists are continually searching for new ways to communicate, so

perhaps the 2000s will witness the invention of a new instrument -- like the

origination of the electric guitar in the mid-1900s -- that will sail us to new

sound horizons. 'Faster and bigger' Another force that can no longer be ignored

is the electronic $6.3 million gaming industry. It keeps millions of Americans,

mostly teens, entertained. Eye-popping graphics and battling heroes have pushed

sales of electronic games past what's spent by moviegoers every year. "Ultima"

has evolved as video game technology has been improved And what will games you

play in 10 years be like? "The interaction you will have will be much more

like interacting with real people versus what it is right now," says

Richard Garriot, who created the highly popular "Ultima" adventure

games. "You're going to see some very compelling experiences that are

presented in ways which are, you know, well beyond today's movies and

television." Or course, all this is merely educated speculation, and it's

likely that many predictions will miss their mark. But it's safe to say the

Internet and its technologies should have vast effects on all that's

entertainment. "We will see a billion users of the Internet before the end

of the year 2000," says Nicholas Negroponte, founder and director of MIT's

Media Lab. "That is basically 20 percent of the planet. "And what's

really frightening, or interesting, depending on your perspective, is that the

change from now will even be faster and bigger than we're expecting." NOTE

----MP3's The only problem with MP3, however, is that it is a "lossy"

compression scheme -- that is, one that must throw out musical data from the

high and low ends of our hearing in order to achieve its small size. When you

expand those files to put on an audio CD, they will not sound as good as the

original tracks, because the information just isn't there. Enter SHN, a file

format gaining popularity with fans of live music. SHN (or shortened) files only

offer about 2:1 compression (unlike the 10:1 ratio common with MP3), but SHN

files are lossless -- in every way the same as the source files from which they

were made. Of course, with less compression, the files are also much larger -- a

full shortened disc can take up about 400MB -- so they're not exactly quick

downloads. But with high-speed DSL and cable modems at home (and those blessed

high-speed lines we've got at work), waiting several hours for a download while

you sleep is much quicker -- and often more reliable -- than setting up and

completing a CD trade by mail. It's also a great way for a single source (or

"seed") to get out to hundreds of people in a hurry. Often, a show

will be transferred from DAT and encoding in SHN format just days after taking

place -- perfect for us music junkies who can't wait to hear Phish's **

latest version of "Chalkdust Torture" or "You Enjoy Myself."

As any music collector knows, you can never have too much of the same thing. The

software you'll need to take advantage of this great-sounding technology is

called Shorten for Macintosh, which can expand SHN files to either AIFF or WAV

formats, but only compresses WAV files. The free download is still in an early

stage of development, but is very stable--not to mention that it's currently the

only choice for Mac users when it comes to SHN. Remember, however, that you

can't play an SHN file like you would an MP3 -- it must be expanded for

listening or recording onto a CD.