Connectivity is the aim of this team

Goal: Two young entrepreneurs hope that their Laurel company can become a player in the world of electronics.

Howard Business

January 20, 2003|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The future of electronics may look something like this: Alarm clocks and cars will talk to computers, cellular telephones will communicate with camcorders, and we'll all be much more likely to send instant messages and download videos onto our televisions than our PCs.

Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp., which have spent billions to create this world of connectivity, are banking on it. And so are the Columbia natives who run SonicFusion Corp.

Brendan Iribe and Mike Antonov, both 24, are also betting that their company -- which has created the framework to add pop-up menu boxes similar to Windows to anything from video games and television consoles to camcorders and cameras -- will be able attract attention from the major players who are part of the industry rush to connect devices with television at the center.

They plan to debut a test version of their software at the Game Developers Conference in March. They also are hoping to raise about $5 million, preferably from one or more of those major players, to begin building applications such as video and photo editing programs to be used with their system.

The Laurel company likely will have many hurdles, one analyst said, but the men may have a good shot at turning SonicFusion into a multimillion-dollar venture.

"It's really a case of having the right idea at the right time," said Laura DiDio, senior analyst of software and applications with the Yankee Group in Boston. "Now they've got to get the traction and visibility and have this resonate around the industry. If they can get an in where one of the original-equipment manufacturers picks [the software] up and bundles it, boy they're off."

SonicFusion GFC, the company's primary product, is software that can help users navigate the new features that will become available on televisions and in almost every electronic device. For example, video-gamers wanting to switch from gaming to instant messaging could use a menu box without leaving the game environment.

The software can be used on a digital video recorder set-top box or a camcorder as easily as on a game console. It is aimed primarily at video-game developers and the companies behind the gaming consoles that are anxious to sell consumers more than games and become a much bigger source for home entertainment.

"We're looking at fitting into the picture for the user interface -- how to make the interactive television work," Iribe said. "If TVs were addictive before, nobody has any idea what it's going to become."

With GFC, developers will be able to create slick-looking menu boxes with all the functions that most people have on their personal computers, but with the special effects and high-end graphics to make the boxes look and feel as though they belong in a game, in a camera or on television, Iribe said.

But most consumers would never know of SonicFusion's existence, if the founders have their way. The company's goal is to license its technology so that it is included in the manufacturing of the next generation game consoles, video games and other electronic equipment.

With a $5 million investment, Iribe said they would hire 10 to 15 engineers and begin creating applications to use on their systems -- editing programs, for example, that a user could download from television and e-mail to a friend's computer or personal digital assistant -- that will help the company generate other revenue.

Their success hinges on a lot of factors -- that the public will adopt interactive television, that a major game developer or manufacturer will pick up their technology, that the industry adopts its menu-box system as a standard -- but DiDio said that having a system in hand will help them get started.

"Once you can get that traction, the adoption feeds on itself," she said. "I'm not saying they won't face some daunting challenges. [But] this could very easily take off. If they ink a nice deal with Sony, this could be big."

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