The year home cinema gets connected?

It's a fact of life (in technology terms, at least) that trends in the US ultimately make their way to the UK. And they take their own sweet time about it, arriving maybe one or two years later. The US had high-definition before us, they had a fully-fledged iTunes before us, and they had the Xbox 360 and

PlayStation 3

before us.

Nowhere was this tech-lag more evident this year than at CES which, with keynote speeches from Microsoft, Intel, GM and Comcast, had a more obvious American bias to it than its 'International CES' tag usually suggests. Watching the US tech industry from the UK is like having a friend who's an early adopter. And who doesn't invite you round much.

David Berman is the executive director of Home Theater Specialists of America (HTSA), an association of 63 entertainment technology retailers, designers and installers. He's uniquely placed to give an independent verdict on this year's CES, how it affects home entertainment and what the dominant themes of 2008 are likely to be in the US.

Because let's face it: if the UK doesn't get to see things like faster Wi-Fi, digital movie downloads and connected TVs in 2008, we'll still be hoping to see them in 2009...

Do you think that CES was lacking in real 'innovation' this year? Some say it was 'dull'.

Many have said that CES left something to be desired this year, which is in some ways true. Flatter flat screens and more sustainable solutions for consumer electronics weren't a huge shock. But nonetheless, the fact that these kinds of technology continue to advance is exciting. We are seeing automation, control, wireless technology, and content storage and delivery all become more popular and more affordable.

Beyond the headline grabbers at CES ( , for example) what do you think were the dominant themes of the 2008 show?

The biggest themes for me this year were: (1) wireless technology becoming more robust and affordable, allowing you to access almost anything from anywhere; (2) more media servers with greater affordability and unique interfaces that store and deliver all your content; and (3) 'Connected TV' that brings content like the internet, email, audio, video, HD, telephony and more to you through your television.

Not only were these big at CES, but I project that these are the themes that will continue to pop up in 2008.

The reason why this show was perceived to be less than normal in regards to cutting edge innovation is that companies are feeling pressure to bring the technologies they have been investing in and showing over the last several years to the consumer in a faster and more affordable manner. This will help recoup some of the investment dollars on an accelerated timeline and allow the companies, in a slower economy, to invest in future projects and take leadership positions in the technologies they can ship.

With recent talk of digital downloads into the home (and Apple's recent announcement) how could this change today's home cinema setups?

More digital downloads will require more storage for this type of media, bringing me back to the media servers I mentioned already. They are already common in high-end home theatres but will be incorporated more and more frequently into designs to handle the volume of digital information people have accumulated and want to store.

The most significant advancements in this area will deal with how these companies handle the volatile pricing of drives and storage, as well as how they empower the customer to interface with these large volumes of data.

And what sort of impact will digital downloads have on the HD disc formats?

Significant. Those companies that can deliver HD level performance from centralised drives with no additional required media will have a superior advantage in the market.

Does the 'digital home' (aka 'connected home') still have a future?

I think the long time dream of "convergence" has become a reality. This industry has been watching the gradual development of technology that can handle the integration of many technologies via a common, easy-to-use operating system. And this year I saw the most promising developments as far as bringing this to the mainstream. Companies like XStream HD and Slingbox were showing a significant number of wireless technologies that could make the "digital home" a real possibility.

ASOKA is a company that showed an inexpensive power strip that will take HD Video transmitted across powerline and convert it to be distributed on Ethernet in the home. Devices like this can eliminate the high cost and requirements of structured wiring making even inexpensive retro jobs easier and more affordable. They even boast speeds of up to 200Mbit/s, more than enough for HD Audio and Video.

More powerful broadband coverage and faster speeds of data transfer all contribute to wireless technology working seamlessly in our lives and giving us the remote management capabilities we are looking for.

[But] the user interface is a huge high ground that many companies are trying to capture because as we all know, the one you can use will be the one you do use!