CES - Preview: From tiny storage to giant TVs

Inflatable speakers. Batteries that recharge in 15 minutes. A wealth of electronic devices to use the batteries. A world of wireless technologies. The newest HDTVs, plasma screens, and LCD TVs--which, along with a world of products spinning out from DVD technology, converge to move digital entertainment from the PC to the living room.

All of this and much, much, much more is being packed into a record-breaking 1.2 million square feet of convention hall space in Las Vegas, where the 2003 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens Thursday. The world's largest consumer technology trade show runs through Sunday.

Preregistered attendance is a little ahead of the 2002 conference at about 100,000, says Brad Jones, CES events manager. Already, he sees some themes.

"This conference has a huge focus on wireless technologies, whether it's Bluetooth, 802.11, or USB," Jones says. "And the wireless technology is driving product convergence--that is, products that have multiple functions."

One section is dedicated to home entertainment technology, Jones says.

"This will feature MP3 and Internet audio, and DVD," he says. "Another huge hit is wireless gaming on cell phones and PDAs. Also, products at this show will tend to be smaller, slimmer, and more mobile. And people are starting to catch on to the whole HDTV experience."

Home networking automation and security is another trend. "People are now using PCs as the central brainchild to control the home's security features and lighting, the appliances, and home entertainment devices," Jones says.

CES has grown enormously since its start 36 years ago in New York, where it drew 17,500 visitors. With more than 2000 exhibitors, the gamut of products at this year's massive event literally runs from the ridiculous to the sublime. Here are some of the ideas, products and innovations that the PC World team is looking forward to evaluating.

Fast-Charging Batteries

Batteries are hot at this show. Most interesting is RayOVac Corp.'s I-C3 technology nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, which recharge in only 15 minutes.

"Rechargeables are the fastest-growing segment of our market over the past couple of years as more and more consumers have more devices that use batteries," says Jerry Albright, the company's divisional vice president of marketing. RayOVac is running a battery first-aid station for show-goers who need a charge.

Albright says older chargers control the speed that batteries recharge, but the I-C3 technology gives control to the battery itself, enabling a faster charge--good news for digital camera enthusiasts with spent batteries. NiMH batteries can last up to four times longer than regular single-use alkaline ones in certain applications and can be recharged up to 1000 times, he adds.

RayOVac isn't the only battery maker at CES 2003. Expect announcements from Lenmar Enterprises for its Mach 1 SpeedCharger line, which uses microprocessor control to deliver a rapid charge, without overcharging, by continuously monitoring and conditioning the battery. The company says this extends battery life by up to five times and substantially improves battery performance. It says its lithium ion camcorder and digital camera batteries will recharge in under 30 minutes, three times faster than with traditional chargers.

Tiny Cards, Big Storage

Speaking of digital cameras, look for announcements from Panasonic and others about the capability of Secure Digital memory cards to soar to 1GB on a card the size of a postage stamp. For a camera that creates digital image files of 1.74MB at its best setting, 2272 by 1704, that would be roughly 600 images, enough to really document that family reunion.

Also for camera lovers, Adobe Systems Inc. is showing its recently announced Adobe Photoshop Album. The Windows program allows digital camera enthusiasts to find, fix, share, and preserve photos accumulating on their PCs. The company says Photoshop Album uses an easy and sophisticated "tagging" system to organize and find images, and provides simple, high-quality one-click editing.

If you're thinking big, how about a really big display? LG Philips is showing what it calls the largest TFT-LCD ever for HDTVs, the 52W, a 52-inch Wide HDTV-4. It features 2.07 million pixels--more than seven times that of a standard-definition television and twice that in many HDTVs with a 1920 by 1080 resolution. The company says the 52W also features the world's widest viewing angle, at 176 degrees.

Attention, Audiophiles

On what appears to be the sillier side of CES, Ellula is introducing the $99 HotAir Subwoofer system, which features a subwoofer and inflatable satellite speakers that can hook to PCs, MP3 players, and gaming stations.

The company claims these blowup speakers, which stand 9 inches high when inflated and only 2 inches when deflated, are perfect for travel, for dorm rooms, or for use poolside--but it could be full of hot air.

The serious audiophiles at Dolby Laboratories are offering visitors to their CES 2003 booth a taste of their new Dolby Headphone technology, which lets consumers enjoy the dramatic surround effects of a 5.1-channel soundtrack through any ordinary set of headphones. The company says this technology virtually eliminates "listener fatigue"--a phenomenon commonly associated with headphone playback.

Producing digital movies at home is extremely popular, and a host of products at CES are intended to assist consumers in following their Spielberg instincts.

One example is CyberLink's PowerProducer software, which the company says offers complete digital video capabilities from video capture, editing, authoring, and burning to playing and streaming on PCs.

The program takes advantage of the rapidly growing CD- and DVD-burning market, and is intended to provide tools for novice users. PowerProducer is a completely wizard-based program that focuses on speed and ease of use.

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Anne B. McDonald

PC World
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