LAS VEGAS, Jan. 10, 2006 -- The tech industry rolled out of the Las Vegas desert after a week's worth of gadget gawking at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. What techies left behind may become a road map to consumers' wish lists for the rest of 2006.
The world's largest technology trade show welcomed 150,000 attendees from 110 countries and 2,500 exhibitors. That's a lot of bits and bytes for a four-day event. There were some huge announcements made in the hardware, software and content sectors.
Tech insiders made industry-shifting news. Bill Gates announced a partnership, dubbed URGE, with MTV to sell music content out of Microsoft's next-generation operating system, Vista. Intel unveiled a new PC platform, VIIV, that combined new chips and software for a faster multimedia experience. Sony's new CEO Howard Stringer let the community know his currently faltering company was back on course and would be using its unique position of creating content like movies, television, books and serving them on electronic devices like the anticipated PlayStation 3 and the new Sony Reader. And Google finished up by previewing an online video store that would sell copyrighted content and home videos side by side.
But most of the attendees were here to see the gadgets. Here are some of the highlights:
For the kid inside every techno geek, Oregon Scientific introduced the ATC-1000 helmet-mounted video camera and recorder. The high-resolution camera works off four AAA batteries and straps to a helmet, handlebar, arm or leg in order to document the weekend warrior's dismount off his mountain bike. Demo: www.atc1000.com.
If this was the year of high definition, it made its presence known in a big way. Samsung showed the world's first 102-inch plasma TV while at another side of the hall, LG Electronics called its 102-inch plasma screen the world's largest. But if those two were too small for you to enjoy your morning weather report, Panasonic showed its concept plasma measuring in at 103 inches. At a start up time of up to 30 minutes, these showpieces may not make it into your home this year. Makers like Pioneer presented more practical TV's with ultra-fine resolution 1080p models at 50 inches, expected in June for $10,000.
Look Ma, No Hands
Wireless technology has reached prime time, and Australian speaker maker Avega Systems showcased its Oyster Networked speaker system, which is expected to be released by June starting at under $500. You'll be able to feed any digital audio source from a networked PC.
SpotWave's Zen is an indoor cell phone repeater that boosts coverage in your home. Spot Wave has been selling its technology for years to large office structures and hospitals, but is ready to help you move one step closer to ditching the land line for good. It simply sucks in a signal as small as one bar from outside and pumps it through a home of up to 25,000 square feet. Expect to pay $350 for the unit when it's released in the second quarter of the year.
Belkin's CableFree USB hub allows users to connect all their USB devices up to this hub with no need for software-driver installs and then transmit wirelessly using Ultra Wide Band technology back to the computer. There is a release date of spring 2006, but no prices or specific product specs. Users may be better off waiting for true certified wireless USB devices before putting in their orders.
Epos, a digital positioning concern, unveiled a fantastic concept for those who remember the simpler days of pen and paper brainstorming. You simply connect the Digital USB Flash Drive to the top of a piece of paper, and you write or sketch with the bundled digital pen. When you are done, you transfer the data to your PC via USB and transform your written notes to text. The portability, low power consumption, and digital back up allow you to leave your bulky laptop at home. The device is expected to be ready for sale before school shopping next September at a price of under $100. Online Demo and photos of pen and USB drive - http://www.epos-ps.com/pressroom.asp?pid=1284&ppid=1290.
Motorola showed off the Rokr E2, the "Anti iTunes" phone. Moto took a lot of heat for its E1 release earlier this year. The E1 was the first cell phone that could play purchased music from Apple's iTunes music store, but users complained that restrictions on the number of songs (100), the slow transfer speeds of archaic USB 1.0, and the lack of ability to play music with wireless headsets made the phone a dud. The new Rokr E2 allows as many songs to be stored as can fit on the phone, faster USB 2 transfer speeds, ability to play music on Bluetooth wireless headsets, and it contains a much snazzier color screen. The phone will be compatible with Moto's upcoming music store that will allow users to download songs independently of any PC.
Sirius may have Howard Stern, but XM gets the nod for coolest receiver this year. The $400 Pioneer Inno is a super stylish handheld XM satellite radio player that can also play back previously stored MP3 files. It has a colorful LCD display, a cool brushed metal face, and can record 50 hours of programming. You'll have to stop walking around after 10 hours though, because that is all the battery can handle.
The Future, or Not
The format war for next-generation DVD technology heated up when Toshiba wowed the audience by putting forward a surprisingly inexpensive $500 HD DVD player. The images from the player and the competing Blue Ray editions were stunning, but the talk around town continued to be whether consumers would be willing to spend money on devices and content that might be obsolete before they got them home. This war seems to be heading toward the old battlefield of VHS and Betamax. Experts believe there is too much research and pride involved in the two formats for there to be a truce anytime soon.
What's Old is New Again
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century. In 2006, Sony unveiled the first major upgrade in more than 500 years with the release of the Sony Reader. A handheld digital repository that allows you to maintain a library of hundreds of books in a compact form and offers a realistic paperlike display and simple navigation buttons may be just what the portable ebook industry needs to move it forward.
The device should be ready for sale this spring and available for $300 to $400. The 6-inch display is crisp and clear, and avid readers who are able to adjust to the new form factor may have a new best friend. With a battery life of 7,500 page turns and content already available for purchase, this could be the device that makes the most impact in the publishing world in quite a while. Digital images: http://news.sel.sony.com/pressrelease/6394.
Start those wish lists now. There are only 348 days until Christmas.