Start Saving If You Want to Keep Up With the Joneses

"Upgrade, upgrade!"

That's the battle cry at this year's Consumer Electronics Show as industry players both big and small push new HDTVs, next-generation DVD players, and computers outfitted with Microsoft's soon-to-be-released Vista operating system.

Think you have the latest high-definition television set? Not likely. With Sony, Samsung and others showing off new rear projection technologies that blow away previous models, and the industry as a whole shoving "full HDTV" down attendee's throats, it's enough to give a couch potato an inferiority complex.

"My personal opinion is that it's time to buy a new computer," said Adam Anderson, public relations manager for Windows marketing communications, as he gave a tour of the Vista.

Conveniently, the world's largest electronics show features too many new computer models to count.

Then of course, there's the next-generation DVD war. What looked like a clear-cut battle between the forces of Blu-Ray and HD DVD has now been confused by a hybrid disc from Warner Bros. that will play in both players and LG's announcement of a new hybrid Blu-Ray/HD DVD player that plays both types of discs.

The bottom line: Whether you're watching TV, playing with your computer, or sitting down to watch a movie, whatever you have isn't good enough. But do you need all this extra, upgraded stuff?

What's New Is Old Again

As the estimated 200,000 people in Las Vegas for CES walk the show floor and mingle at extravagant parties, the buzz is all about what's next. That's not so unusual for electronics manufacturers, but it's almost as if what was just catching on this year is already outdated.

"We don't make plasma TVs anymore," said Marcy Cohen, a senior public relations manager for Sony Electronics.

It's no wonder the company is using much of the massive real estate it occupies at the convention to show off new HDTV technologies.

You haven't seen a flat-screen TV until you've gawked at one of Sony's new OLED displays -- organic light-emitting diode, if you must to know. With an 11-inch model that's just 3 millimeters thick and a 27-inch version only 10 millimeters deep, you can use one as a bookmark when there's nothing on the tube.

Of course, clarity is key, but size gets attention and Sony's 70-inch Bravia LCD TV certainly draws crowds. At $33,000 though, it's hardly a bargain.

"These aren't going to be mass-produced," Cohen said, "but who knows? A couple of years ago, we were showing off TVs that most people couldn't afford, and now the prices have come down so much, they're common."

Time to Upgrade Your Computer … Again

With the release of Windows Vista at the end of this month, Microsoft isn't just enticing consumers to upgrade their software on their computer, but the computer itself.

You can use Vista as long as your computer meets the basic requirements, Microsoft representatives have explained -- but it will need upgrading to take full advantage of some of Vista's features.

To that end, Microsoft has partnered with the likes of Hewlett-Packard and others to make sure the next generation of computers that will be equipped with Vista are powerful and attractive.

A self-contained monitor/computer/DVD burner called the Touchsmart features a touch screen -- hence the name -- but is built to take full advantage of many of Vista's improvements for digital photography enthusiasts.

Even video game rival Sony has a new Vaio computer built with Vista in mind. The $1,600 TP1 is round and small, and meant to live in the consumer's TV room, bringing all of the functions of a computer to the TV and combining them with traditional television programming.

A War Within a War

From the looks of it, the next-generation DVD war is just getting started, with new technologies already being presented while the battle rages.

There's even talk of yet another format made in China called EVD -- Enhanced Versatile Disc -- that could make things even more complicated.

LG's $1,200 hybrid HD DVD/Blu-Ray disc player may be the answer for those who can't wait but don't want to commit.

On the other hand, when Warner Bros. releases its hybrid disc, which can run in both types of machines, that may give consumers the ability to commit to a player without having to commit to a format.

Of course, even an LG spokesperson who did not want to be identified said that with players averaging more than $1,000 currently, it's that device that represents the biggest purchase in the move to next-generation DVD.

Keeping Up With the Joneses

There's always new technology on the horizon.

Even at CES, attendees aren't just seeing products that are days, weeks or months away from market, but products that are years away.

Anyone who's ever purchased a computer can tell you how frustrating it can be to get that shiny, new machine home, only to see a television commercial advertising a newer and better model.

This year's offerings, though, seem to suggest that technology is moving so quickly that those purchasing hangovers are no longer limited to computers.

If you want to keep up with the Joneses these days, you better start saving.