A First-Timer's View of CES

They told me over and over again that no matter how much I mentally prepared, I'd be shocked by the sheer size of CES. They were right.

Having only worked for Capable Networks for a matter of days, I flew to Vegas in early January with the company to attend the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show -- one of the largest conventions of its kind in the world. It took about a dozen convention halls to house this behemoth of a conference, with giants in the industry like Microsoft, Intel, Sony and others having booths big enough to take up a sizable portion of a football field. Amazing.

I wandered for days through the laborinth of booths, doing business of course, but also just taking in the unbelievable number of gadgets and people who love gadgets and people who report on / write about gadgets and people who want to be able to say they know people who report on / write about gadgets and people who ... You get the idea.

So, having had the blister-inducing experience of pounding the pavement at the show, I thought I'd come back and report on what I saw... The eight or nine things of note I saw at CES (both good and bad)...

Before I get into the list, I have to say that it was clear to me that the giant everything-distant-second theme of 2006 for CE is getting your content to follow you around. Whatever room I'm in... Whether I'm at home or work or school or Starbucks... I want my TV show with me. I want my music with me. Podcasts. Photos. Games. You name it. And everybody had their take on how to get it done. Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft ... have all made big announcements in this arena. So, 2006 should be an exciting year.

That being said, here's my list...

1) The Slingbox. Even though we host their community for them (check out http://www.slingcommunity.com), I have to tell you that the slingbox was one of the coolest things I saw at CES. With everyone and their brother making a beeline for video on-demand over the Internet (read more about this in a great article by Steven Jones), the slingbox is really ahead of the curve. Watch your TV anywhere? That's what I'm talking about! They gave a presentation every half hour that really drew a crowd and pumped people up. And even when the presenter didn't (which was rare), their showing people how to watch their TiVos on their smartphones definitely did the trick.

2) Windows Vista. Yeah, I know. A lot of people have issues with Microsoft, but you can't deny that they're always right in the middle of all things technology. They debuted their new OS (called Windows Vista), the next version of Office, media center, media player, and on and on. They even announced a partnership with MTV called Urge, designed to deliver your content to you on-demand -- the theme this year. Read more about what they're up to here.

3) Control4. This really caught my eye -- what seemed to be a fantastic, and fantastically thorough, approach to home automation. I have some basic X10 in my house, and the Control4 stuff was definitely had a leg up on it. But for all their focus on making it affordable, it would definitely take a chunck ouf of the average wallet. But I have to say it's appealing to imagine laying down in bed, touching one button, and having the blinds all close, the doors lock, the inside lights go off, the outside lights go on, the thermostat turn down, and the security system arm itself. All this, plus great control mechanisms. Great software. Great touchpad remote, which I tried out. Obvious downsides: cost, and I don't get why you'd want to layer their software on top of something as cool as Microsoft's Media Center.

4) Intel Viiv. Custom Intel hardware. Custom version of MS Media Center. Small form factor. Touted as an awesome media experience. Good stuff, but nothing incredible. The most compelling aspect of it was totally optimized hardware -- from the dual-core chip to the chipset to the board to the audio/video hardware. Everything optimized for your media experience. Well, we'll see.

5) Next, a bad thing. Endless plasma TVs. By the third day, I was pretty tired and things were really starting to blur together. We finally made it over to the center hall, where I thought I'd see all manner of cool things. Yes, there were a few things there, but mostly it was just endless aisles of HDTVs. Plama TVs that were an inch bigger. DLP TVs that had sharper coolors and images that stayed clearer in high-action. New SED TVs -- every pixel is its very own little CRT. On and on and on and on... And each company had its own version of each. It didn't take me long to just check out. "Who cares!" I say. Yes, each is an incremental improvement, but won't they all have the same basic upgrades, like the smooth movement features, etc. At the end of the day, the average person already can't tell the difference between LCD, DLP, Plasma, etc.

6) Logitec's harmony remotes. I have to say I was pretty impressed here too. Having failed to accomplish my goal of "even my parents can use it" with my last universal remote purchase (read about my experience here, I was a bit gunshy on this at first. But I let the Logitech folks walk me through the spiel, and I warmed up to the idea of giving the 880 a try. Of course the ~$250 pricetag makes me even more gunshy, so we'll see. But if I try it out, you'll be the ... one of the people who knows.

7) Wow Wee. Sounds weird. Many of you might not even be too familiar with them. They build robots. Have you seen the black and white Roboraptor at your friendly neighborhood Frys? That's them. They're really doing cool things with their robots, and it sounds like even more interesting stuff is on the horizon. I just think robots will become more and more significant, and that WowWee has a good start in play for how to make them work.

8) The infamous segway. I saw these little wonders several times at the show. Not their least interesting use was that Yahoo! had people out near the monorail station giving people rides back and forth to their tent and the central hall in segway chariots. Now that's cool! Steven Jones is the segway fanatic, but that doesn't mean I wasn't a bit more impressed with them after the conference than I was before.

It's open season in terms of discussion to talk about any of these. Help yourself! What would you like to know?


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