Cheap Selections, New Connections at CES

New devices pursue inexpensive niches and the Internet's value.

January 29, 2009, 11:54 AM

— -- On the heels of a holiday season that saw a 5.7 percent year-over-year drop in holiday revenue, no electronics company came forth to proclaim the title of world's largest flat-panel television at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, earlier this month.

As several consumer electronics powerhouses stood on the verge of announcing huge losses, the tone of consumption was far less conspicuous. Perhaps reflecting the lean times of the industry, thin was in as the most visible TV advance.

New options were announced for Blu-ray players as well, including a sleek model from Samsung and a portable player from Panasonic, which also introduced a combination Blu-ray/VHS player for videophiles who simply can't let go of their old tapes.

But there were also plenty of products catering to those looking for a down-market companion product, including inexpensive flash-based camcorders from Sony, Kodak, and RCA designed to compete with Pure Digital Tech's pocket camcorder, Flip minoHD. Dell and Sony introduced small and relatively inexpensive notebooks that some have been calling netbooks.

Indeed, Microsoft was promoting Windows 7, which promises to provide better performance on less powerful computers. And you couldn't swing a PowerPoint presentation at CES without hitting a dim portable projector selling for well under $500.

The free resources of the Internet played the most prominent role in consumer electronics that CES has ever seen.

In addition to the Internet connectivity embedded into televisions for both information access and movie rental, Palm announced its forthcoming Pre smartphone, which integrates data from popular Web sites directly into its applications.

Cisco finally broke into the consumer device space with a networked home stereo that competes with an offering from Sonos. And Digeo introduced a TiVo competitor called the Moxi HD Video Recorder that can resolve recording conflicts initiated from the Web.

A startup called PogoPlug unveiled a $99 device that lets you share practically any hard drive easily over the Internet. And Netgear played into both the downloading and down-market trends by announcing Internet TV, a simply named $99 box that brings free Web video to nearly any TV set.

3D Technology Expected to Bring Major Changes

There were also announcements made on broad industry consortia that aim to improve the flexibility of media usage around the home. LiquidHD, brought to you by the same company that developed the easy-to-use HDMI cable, wants to make it just as easy to send high-definition video to other rooms around the house. The catch is that it will require new TVs and video sources.

And a who's who of PC, electronics, cable, and content companies are banding together under an initiative called DECE that aims to ease rights management for digital copies of movies and other content purchased online. Don't expect your iPod to take advantage of it, though, as Apple doesn't seem interested in signing up.

But perhaps the one technological leap in the living room that could make the biggest change to how we enjoy home entertainment is 3D. Several companies were showing off prototype sets. The bad news is that they still require the goofy glasses.

But consumer electronics companies are determined to work on new broadcast and disc standards that support the technology that could someday deliver audiences to another world – one in which they can again afford leading-edge electronics.

Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at The NPD Group.

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