Friday, January 09, 2004

CES Overview

I spent a day wandering the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show. There are a variety of other sites and blogs that go into all sorts of detail about the show, and with over 2,000 exhibitors and 100,000 attendees, it would take a lot of web pages to cover, so I will just post some quick impressions here.

Coolest New Product - For me, it was the new "Multimedia Players" that were introduced from Creative Labs and Archos. These are going to be the Next Big Thing for consumers, essentially adding video and pictures to MP3 players.

These products essentially add an LCD screen to an Apple iPod (Apple, where is yours?), so you can download movies, pictures and the like to enjoy with your music. The Creative guy in the booth claimed if you download movies using the Windows standard, you could get three full-length movies on the 80GB drive, so this could become THE thing to have for long-distance travelers. When queried about battery life, he admitted that it would be a little weak, so you would want an extra. Estimated retail price is ~$600-700. These products are not yet ready, but are being slated for mass production in the middle of the year.

These products must have the Motion Picture industry sweating. I believe swapping/downloading of movies hasn't been a big deal since most people don't watch movies on their PC, but with the introduction of a small portable device with a small, low-quality screen, I think on-line movie swapping will take off.

Most Unique Products

TV Mirror - It's a TV! It's a Mirror! It's Two Things in One! If turned off, an ordinary mirror is displayed by the LCD display (you can't tell it's an LCD), but if turned on, it becomes a TV. The main market is going to be hotel rooms and the like, although it will probably make it into a small share of people's homes.

3D, No Glasses - Sharp's 3D displays were also pretty neat (no pics). You get a 3D view without the need for special glasses, although, for me, it only worked with still pictures and not video. The main market seems to be technical and scientific, although Sharp hopes to get it into consumers' hands with PC games and the like.

A Real, Virtual Keyboard - I had the chance to play with a virtual keyboard in the Panasonic booth. It is REALLY neat. The "feedback" I wondered about in this post is provided by a soft "clicking" noise. Typing on the countertop, I found I could type nearly as fast as on a keyboard. No commitment to when this will be on the market.

Man's New Best Friend - Sony's QRIO robot is only a demo for trade shows (they call him their "ambassador"), but it is quite impressive. He walks on two feet and has very fluid motion of his arms and legs, thanks to the help of 38 motors (he's about 18" high). Obviously this could eventually become a product, but with their AIBO robot dogs currently $1500, I don't think we will see the QRIO on the market any time soon since it is much more advanced (meaning MUCH more expensive).


The main overlying themes I noticed at the show could be grouped as follows:

The Usual: More Capacity, Smaller, Cheaper, Faster - This is the main drive of this industry and a part of my Immutable Laws of Consumer Electronics. One specific item I will point out is the move to replace the red laser in your CD and DVD players with a blue laser. Several of the major OEMs are getting their Blue Light products out of the lab, and these will hold 4x-10x the capacity of existing CDs and DVDs. Expect these to hit the market in the next year.

Flat Panel - EVERYTHING was flat panel. The tubed TV will be going the way of the black-and-white TV in the next decade. LCD's still haven't made it to the size of Plasma, but hopefully will get there soon.

Digital Broadcasting and HDTV - There was a big push by both cable and satellite providers for direct digital broadcast. And if you do that, you will need a (flat panel) High Definition TV (HDTV). And if you do that, your DVD will need to be upgraded to a High Definition DVD (HD-DVD). And if you do that, you might as well upgrade your camcorder to HD format as well. So this whole movement goes with the strategy of changing format so consumers will need to upgrade everything they have (similar things happened with tapes to CD, VHS to DVD, etc.).

Wireless Connectivity - WIFI for your PC is old news. Connecting your TV set-top box and stereo wirelessly to your PC is relatively new. I thought this would be a big push of this year's show, and while present, it was not as big as I thought it would be, so wireless consumer products are going get a slow roll-out rather than a big one.

Automotive Electronics - I am sure there were some new items in this area, but this area of the show had other man-made silicon silicone items on display. (There were about 8 automotive "models" signing posters all around this area, so it was a bit distracting).

Update: Master of None has a link to a video of the QRIO robot dancing, giving a good idea of its capabilities.

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