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Three Breakout Tech Trends Changing Work and Play


The prime-time Web. Game consoles for grownups. The Internet security freak-out. They've all hit the mainstream, finally.

Some ideas have to simmer for a long time before they're ready for mass consumption. All three of these have been around for a long time now, but there are signs that 2013 is their time to shine.

1. World Premieres on the Web

Last weekend, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) entered the original entertainment programming business with House of Cards, a made-for-streaming-video series starring Kevin Spacey as a deliciously villainous politician.

In a cool quirk that reflects its Web-centric world, Netflix made all 13 one-hour episodes of the first season available at once to its subscribers.

According to Variety, "extreme binge viewing" has ensued.

The New Yorker declared that House of Cards is "in the same league as the best shows" on cable, not to mention "about five times better than the average Hollywood film."

It had better be. Netflix reportedly paid $100 million for two seasons of the show.

Meanwhile, Netflix's extremely deep-pocketed competitor Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) just won exclusive rights to stream the popular PBS costume soap opera Downton Abbey, all the way through season five, if it happens. According to a company statement, Amazon is selling the first three British seasons as a package now-meaning Americans can get the final three episodes of the current season before they air on US television.

That's one in the eye for Netflix, which has only got season one of Downton Abbey, and even that is expected to be yanked soon, thanks to the Amazon deal.

This battle for subscriber share is going to get very expensive for Netflix and Amazon, and very entertaining for consumers.

The clear losers are the cable television service companies. If consumers were already thinking of cutting the cord to Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) or Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), the knowledge that some of the best stuff is available only in their Netflix or Amazon Prime subscriptions could push them over the edge.

2. Game Consoles for Grown-Ups

The invitation from Sony (NYSE:SNE) to its next "press event" is cryptic, but it sounds an awful lot like the company is going to launch a new and more powerful version of the PlayStation home game console on Feb. 20 in New York.

Industry watchers tell Bloomberg News that the new Playstation 4 will have hyper-realistic images, allowing for much uglier monsters to be blown to smithereens in many more creative ways.

Sony's Feb. 20 event gets in ahead of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which is expected to introduce an updated version of its Xbox 360 game console in June at a video game conference in Los Angeles. The Xbox, and its Xbox Live online gaming service, have for years been the lone bright spots of sales growth and critical raves for Microsoft.

Oddly, the Xbox has for years contained powers that have gone unrecognized by anyone past adolescence. It is capable of serving as an "entertainment hub" for delivering television programming, movies, music, and more.
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