As the year 2000 has finally arrived (I can't say the new millennium because, as my 15-year-old reminds me, the new millennium doesn't start until January 2001), here are a few predictions regarding AV products and usage in the next few years.

First, technological innovations with computers and Web-based e-commerce will escalate. Anyone not doing initial site searches on the Web or using electronic RFPs will be overwhelmed, as planners will be expected to do more with fewer staffers. Planners will give incentive programs their own Web sites, and will put registration online.

In photography and videography, digital is big. Still cameras and video cameras are getting better and less expensive. There is also a merging of capabilities. Still cameras often are able to shoot short segments of video--some of the newest ones up to 60 seconds in duration. And many video cameras can now download still images. One new Sony videocam can store up to 300 still images. Battery life, storage capacity, and download speed are all improving as well. A year ago, a megapixel still digital camera was state-of-the-art. Now, a two-megapixel camera is the standard. It used to be that image-stabilization capability was a special feature; now it's becoming the norm.

Both the optical and digital zoom capabilities have gotten much greater. If you need to shoot video in the dark--before, almost impossible to do--Sony has a new Night-Shot technology that bathes anything within 10 feet of the camera in infrared light, letting the camera see objects invisible to the human eye. If transferring your video to a VCR is too inconvenient, Sony has also developed Laser Link technology that allows some camcorders to transmit their video via infrared signal directly to a nearby TV equipped with a Laser Link receiver. Photographers and designers alike are becoming more comfortable working in the digital medium.

Digital is the key word in audio as well. Until recently, meeting sessions were recorded with a cassette (analog) recorder, and then put on high-speed duplicate cassettes for distribution or sale. Now the mini-disk format recorder is becoming more common. There's no loss of quality with additional duplications, and you don't lose the sentence or two that you used to lose when the cassette hit the end leader and reversed the recording. (You will probably still need to make a master analog cassette for duplication, which must be done in real time; however, you can edit the digital easily and end up with better copies.) I also predict more distribution of audio material in the compact disk format. MP-3 (music downloadable over the Internet) is all the rage right now. MP-3 players are small, come in a number of different colors, and are often combined with an FM receiver as well.

Expect more use of wireless microphones with better audio quality and reliability. The 900Mhz frequency range works well. The costs of buying (and renting) these should go down a bit. Surround-sound and noise reduction systems will continue to improve, and decrease in price.

We will see more use of "intelligent" lighting, such as Intellibeams. We will also see more white sets that will be "painted" and changed with different colors of lights.

Digital scores another hit in projection. Data projectors are getting lighter (and more portable), brighter, and have better image quality. And the prices are decreasing, which should mean lower rental fees--or a chance for you to buy your own. There will be more use of "video presenters," which look like space-age overheads. They can actually project overheads, slides, flat art (magazines, etc.), and usually have a built-in RS 232C and USB interface that allows communication with a remote-control system or a Windows PC.

It's an exciting time to be involved with all these new technological advances. But remember that new technology must be used to help our clients meet their communications objectives. If it doesn't help, don't use it. (Remember the laser-pointer craze!) Well, it's time for me to go read the owner's manual on my new electronic handheld organizer. Happy 2000!