Las Vegas transformed into a Techie Mecca last week, as the Consumer Electronics Show lured gadget hounds one and all. While I sat at home nursing my Wii arm after the endless holiday pursuit of retaining pro bowler status, so my Mii wouldnâ€™t lose those sparkly stars on her turquoise ball, nearly-retired Bill Gates launched a â€œnew digital decade.â€
The first time he headed up this trade show, Gates was trying to ease word-processing and e-mail use (and battling Apple Computer while doing it). This time around, even while more than a billion personal computers are in use globally and 40% of the worldâ€™s population has cellphones, making devices user-friendly remains elusive. The new decade will be more influenced by a â€œuser-centricâ€ trend, says Gates, in which users will no longer â€œhave to bridge between devicesâ€ and will be â€œmarked by â€˜natural user interfacesâ€™ such as touch screens and gesture controls.â€
PC World touts some of these gesture-controlled products Gates referred to: â€œJVCâ€™s â€˜snap and gestureâ€™ system for controlling a television, in which your hand is literally the remote controlâ€ and Sony Ericssonâ€™s Z555 cellphone with a â€œmotion sensor that will mute the handset when you make a gesture.â€ (Sounds a lot like Wii.)
Other best-in-shows, according to CNET.com, were the Philips Eco TV, a 42″ flat-panel LCD with 1080p resolution and power-saving features; Motorolaâ€™s Rokr E8, with ModeShift technology, featuring â€œa smooth â€˜glasslikeâ€™ surface with touch-pad controls that digitally â€˜morphâ€™ depending on how the handset is used.â€
Lenovo launched IdeaPad laptops, which include textured lids and â€œsleek â€˜framelessâ€™ screens,â€ CNET.com also reports. And the answer to the small iPod docks currently on the market is Logitechâ€™s Squeezebox Duet, a network digital audio streamer with a handheld remote with the power to navigate your music collection while listening to large home stereo speakers.
CNET.com also says the best in home video came in the form of the EchoStar TR-50, which takes features of DVRs for satellite and cable users and makes them possible for those still using rabbit ears.
Rabbit ears? Amazingly, there are still holdouts, and I call them my grandparents. Last week on Los Angeles radio station KROQ, Consumer Electronics Association spokesman Jim Barry asserted about 70% of the country has cable, while 20% has satellite. That leaves the rest to the trusty antennae (or nothing at all). However, Feb. 17, 2009, will be the last day for analog broadcasts. Anyone still watching TV via rabbit ears will need a converter box, priced at around $50 to $60.
About TVs, Barry said the space between 42″ and 50″ LCD plasma/flat panels is where â€œthe sweet spotâ€ lies, and last year, for the first time, flat panels outsold other TVs. The next-generation is the OLED, he added, with the â€œthickness of two credit cards.â€ Eventually, we will be able to â€œroll up or fold upâ€ our TVs.
The paper-thin trend also applies to computers. PC World reports Fujitsu rolled out a concept Fabric PC, which uses â€œe-paperâ€ as its display, making the design light and pliable.
The biggest news at the show, however, was the battle between Sonyâ€™s Blu-ray and Toshibaâ€™s HD DVD. Leading HD DVD movie studio Warner Bros. became the latest to opt for Blu-ray, cutting to two â€“ Paramount and Universal â€“ the number of large studios supporting HD DVD.
Sonyâ€™s announcement that Blu-ray movies will include portable PSP versions falls at a good time. Wired.com says, â€œBy inserting the disc into a PlayStation 3 and connecting the PSP, disc owners will be able to copy the special lower-resolution version â€¦ onto the memory stick in the PSP.â€
While Sony cheered Warner Bros.â€™ decision, others said itâ€™s a Pyrrhic victory. â€œNo side won this week,â€ said Krishna Chander, senior analyst, storage devices, at iSuppli. â€œEvery day the Blu-ray HD-DVD camps spend prosecuting this standards war represents a day lost in their race to remain relevant. Amid the rise of exciting new digital media offerings like YouTube, iTunes and On-Demand services, the window of lucrative opportunity is closing for both standards,â€ she said.
However, no one argued over who brought the largest TV to CES. Panasonic won that war easily, with its 150″ plasma, 46% larger than the previous record.
Here are a few other gems that showed up on the exhibit floor, as reported by Wired.com: Sandiskâ€™s tiny Sansa Clip MP3 player; Sony Ericssonâ€™s W350 cellphone; Gatewayâ€™s P-171XL FX; Samsungâ€™s SGH-i450 music phone and SGH-G800 5-megapixel camera phone. And LGâ€™s LG60 LCD 60″ flat panel that is a mere 45-mm thick, says PC World.
While flat panels get larger and slimmer, MP3 players get smaller and handier, and cellphones get sleeker and smarter, High-def video â€œwill be everywhereâ€ and 3-D virtual worlds will abound. â€œThe second digital decade will be more focused on connecting people,â€ Gates said in his final CES keynote. Maybe this time, weâ€™ll get there.