Consumer Electronics Show blowout in Vegas: CES 2005 kicks off

Comdex is dead, long live CES: Las Vegas will be packed this week with products ranging from humungous TVs to home entertainment servers, smart cars, portable music and video players, and wireless devices. The 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show will draw over 120,000 attendees and more than 2400 exhibitors. Only the massive CeBIT show in Germany exceeds the sheer volume of attendees, exhibitors, and announcements expected at the 2005 CES show, which opens Thursday and runs through Sunday.

All the names you'd expect will be at CES - computer giants Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., and Hewlett Packard Co. - exhibiting side-by-side with such major names in consumer electronics as Sony Corp., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic), and Pioneer Corp. Those companies and hundreds more will vie for the attention -- and compete to capture the imagination -- of the attendees in hopes of securing some of the consumer electronics industry's US$101 billion in expected revenue.

To help attendees navigate the massive exhibition space, more than a dozen specialty TechZones will show off new products in such areas as digital video recording, in-car digital systems, portable power, storage compression, and home networking.

Despite the massive number of exhibitors, attendance is actually down a bit from last year, when some 130,000 people went to the trade show, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, which produces CES. That's because the CEA spent more time qualifying attendees this year to make sure everyone in attendance has a legitimate attachment to the consumer electronics industry, said Kristen Peiffer, a CEA spokeswoman. The show is not open to the general public, and the CEA does not allow the blogging community or other independent observers to attend.

Really big TVs

With the transition to digital TV looming ever closer, the flat-panel HDTV boom continues apace, with everyone from CE giants Panasonic, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., and Thomson's RCA unit to newcomers Syntax and Westinghouse Digital Electronics LLC unveiling new high-definition LCD and/or plasma TVs. Generally speaking, the sets are getting larger, and prices are coming down. Look for at least a couple of announcements of sets supporting the 1080p ATSC format -- up to now, sets have maxed out at 768 rows of pixels.

LG Electronics Inc. will be showing off its line of TFT-LCDs for use as TVs, monitors, and notebook displays, including a huge 55-inch high-def screen. The company will also be demonstrating a prototype Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode 20.1-inch screen that uses low-temperature polysilicon technology. Intended for future TVs, this technology improves on the response time, color saturation, and power consumption of today's screens -- all with no backlight.

Also look for more new microdisplay sets using either DLP or the dark-horse LCoS technology. These sets are affordable big-screen alternatives to plasma and LCD.

Vidikron Inc.'s $29995 Vision Model 100Projectors for home theaters will also be present and accounted for, ranging from affordable sub-$1000 models to aspirational deluxe models, such as Vidikron's $29,995 flagship Vision Model 100. The new projector produces 3500 ANSI lumens of light output and its 16:9 wide-aspect ratio makes it great for movie viewing. The company says the unit has been designed to provide a high-quality, high-resolution picture even in rooms with plenty of light.

Let's get portable

Audio lovers won't be left out. Along with yards and yards of new receivers, speakers, and stereos will be lots of new portable audio players. Stores couldn't keep Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod in stock over the holidays, demonstrating the huge appetite for the devices, which let you carry around anywhere from a couple of dozen songs to your entire album collection. Apple clearly owns the lion's share of this market, and as a result you'll see plenty of iPod accessories unveiled at the show. One such item is Nyko Technologies Inc.'s MoviePlayer, which lets the iPod transfer and play movies, videos, and photos on a 3.5-inch 65000 color screen. Also on offer from Nyko is its Universal Car Mount, which holds your iPod as you cruise down the highway.

Watch for vendors like Digital Networks North America's Rio division and IRiver America Inc. to show off new players designed to lure buyers away from Apple's popular creations.

You'll also see lots of multimedia portable players, many based on Microsoft's recently released Portable Media Center platform. Advanced Micro Devices Inc. has announced availability of a new processor designed for this or similar portable entertainment devices, its Alchemy Au1200, which promises low-power consumption with high performance. It integrates media acceleration hardware and media player software, and does not require a separate digital signal processor; consumers can expect easier-to-use devices and direct transfer of video content from digital video recorders. AMD will demonstrate reference designs based on this CPU at the show.

Got batteries?

Battery power is an essential component in keeping your mobile devices available -- whether it's to grab a once-in-a-lifetime shot with your digital camera or just to ease your boredom with some tunes from your MP3 player. Good news: New technologies and products being announced at CES should help you recharge quickly and stay running longer.

Sakar International Inc. touts its new 8.5-Minute Supersonic Charger as the world's fastest battery charger. The company says its patent-pending RD4 technology can speed charging by allowing batteries to withstand high current levels. Using the company's own AA cells, you should be able to get a complete charge in 8.5 minutes, and Sakar says its batteries will provide power for 10 times longer in typical use. The batteries are expected to take up to 1000 recharges, and Sakar claims no memory effect -- so you should not have to worry about topping off the battery without fully discharging it first.

If you use the charger with standard NiMH rechargeables, you can expect a full charge in about an hour. The product should be available this month and will be sold with the charger and two AAs at an MSRP of $60. Additional batteries will be sold in two-packs and four-packs for $10 and $20, respectively.

Big guy opens big show

Microsoft's Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will open the show Wednesday evening. In the past, Gates has unveiled concepts such as smart watches and Tablet PCs to CES attendees. Last year, he discussed the Portable Media Center, a handheld video device.

HP's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina will also address conference attendees in a keynote speech. HP rolled out several digital cameras, printers, and media-oriented products over the past year to introduce consumers to the concept of managing their media files on a PC.

Fiorina is expected to introduce new PCs and new partners during her speech. Last year, she surprised conference attendees with news of a partnership with Apple Computer to distribute the HP iPod and bundle the iTunes music store software with HP PCs. Intel's Craig Barrett will also make a keynote speech.

Smart homes, connected products

In home networking, companies are looking to extend the range of Wi-Fi networks and add new capabilities to network devices. More networking companies are expected to follow the lead of Belkin's Pre-N products and introduce routers and adapters that use MIMO technology. MIMO uses multiple antennas and signals to deliver faster data transfer and greater range.

You can also expect to hear about more -- and more versatile -- devices for streaming media around the house. D-Link Systems Inc., for instance, expects to announce an intriguing cross between a handheld media player and a streaming device. The portable unit will have a small screen and be able to store music and video on its 20GB hard drive, but it will also be able to stream music from a PC on your network or from the Internet if you have a wireless connection, according to D-Link spokesperson Darek Connole.

D-Link will also show off its new MediaLounge Wireless Media Player with DVD and Flash Card Reader (DSM-320RD). The unit connects to your TV, stereo, and other such equipment via standard A/V connectors and hooks up to your home network either wirelessly or via Ethernet, letting you organize and stream your digital entertainment from your PC to your living room. The company claims this is the first digital media player that supports Microsoft's Windows Connect Now software, which promises to ease installation and configuration of connected home entertainment devices. The unit comes with a DVD player and flash card reader, letting it play back movies, MP3s, video CDs, photos stored on flash cards, and more.

ADS Technologies Inc. will have a similar device (sans DVD drive and flash card reader) for connecting your entertainment system to your home network and PC to stream content to the living room. The Media-Link works either via an Ethernet or 802.11g network and should retail for $249.

For those eager for a smart home, the place to be will be the NextGen05 Demonstration House exhibit being hosted by Microsoft and Intel. This networked home of the future, powered by Windows, is being set up in the parking lot of the convention center.

Expect to see new controls for connected homes, such as Home Automation Inc.'s Home Control for Windows Media Center. The software is designed to work with Media Center PCs and lets you control such items as lighting, temperature, and security for your home from a single remote.

You'll also see new PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition at CES (such systems have been growing in popularity). Dell Inc. even plans to make Media Center Edition its standard operating system. But that's not the only way to create a media center: Less well-known vendors such as SnapStream Media, CyberLink Corp., and KWorld Computer Co. Ltd. will offer media enhancements to PCs that do not require Microsoft's Media Center Edition.

If you want another networking fix, check out the Innovations Plus pavilion. There, Silex will demo its recently announced device servers, which connect different appliances, for example, to a network. The company will be showing its USB device servers, and demonstrate its wireless device server by connecting a sewing machine to a wireless network via the device, enabling the download of patterns and software to the sewing machine. Also on display will be a combination fingerprint reader and device server for secure printing.

Security will also be a focus at Fellowes Inc.'s booth; the company's newest PowerShred shredder promises to destroy information stored on CDs and credit cards, and to gobble up paper clips.

DVDs, and cell phones, and printers, oh my

Once again at CES, we'll be seeing a shootout between optical storage standards -- this time, for the successor to today's wildly popular DVD. The warring factions in this case are two blue-laser based-technologies: Blu-ray Disc, the consortium backed by Sony, Pioneer, HP, and others, and HD-DVD, backed by Toshiba Corp. and NEC Corp. Blue-laser technologies pack over 20GB per disc, which we'll need to store high-def programs in all their glory. Each camp will draw lines in the sand, providing their respective timelines for product releases late next year. Already some movie studios have announced support for one format or the other: Universal Studios Inc., Paramount Pictures Corp., New Line Cinema Corp., and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. are in the HD-DVD camp, while Fox and Sony back Blu-ray.

As with TVs, expect new red-laser DVD recorders to incorporate support for the broadcast flag. The flag must be recognized by TVs, recorders, and other such products by July of this year; it tells compatible devices whether and how often a digital broadcast can be copied or transferred. In some cases, you'll need to buy different blank media depending on whether your device recognizes the flag or not; the DVD+ Alliance (one of two main competing format camps for standard DVD recording) boasts that their new broadcast-flag-compliant media will work on existing products.

If you want to walk and watch DVDs, Eyeneo SAS's Eyetop division has a product for you: its new Eyetop DVD, which combines video "glasses" with a portable DVD player in a custom bag. The glasses feature a mini LCD screen attached to the right lens so you can see the movie and avoid people and objects around you.

For more traditional walking and talking with cell phones, look for announcements of better camera phones (2-megapixel resolution) and more support for high-speed data -- for example, EV-DO (Verizon Communications Inc.'s 3G technology). The show will also feature new cell phones that integrate GPS systems, possibly letting you know where another another cell phone user is, or the location of a nearby store or gas station. Such services will be add-ons to your cell phone plan, and your provider may work with companies such as Televigation Inc., which will demonstrate a $9.99-per-month and up TeleNav service that provides digital maps and information on local services right from your cell phone.

Cameras, printers, and other such peripherals will also make their presence known at CES. For example, Brother International Corp. has introduced its new ultra-compact laser printer, the $150 HL-2040, which succeeds the HL-1440. The new unit is faster (up to 20 pages per minute, according to Brother) and about 40 percent smaller than its predecessor. For $80 more, you can get Ethernet connectivity in the HL-2070, which has the same print speed and small footprint as the HL-2040, and can function as a print server.

And in the camera world, Konica Minolta Holdings Inc. adds a high-end model to its Dimage line: the $800 DiMAGE A200. The unit is an 8-megapixel SLR digital camera and features the company's antishake technology that helps correct for minor movements when you snap off a shot. The unit joins other low-cost SLRs like Canon USA Inc.'s pioneering EOS Rebel, Nikon Corp.'s D70, and new models from Olympus Corp. and Pentax Corp.

PC World Editors Ed Albro, Yardena Arar, Eric Butterfield, Tracey Capen, Rex Farrance, Tom Mainelli, and Melissa Perenson, and Dan Sommer and Tom Krazit of the IDG News Service, contributed to this report.

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