2008 CES: More Tech Than You Can Handle

Las Vegas this week becomes the tech capital of the world as the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show and an estimated 140,000 conventioneers take over Sin City.

This giant tech confab features an estimated 27,000 gadgets that range from a cell-phone-sized projector from Microvision and sleek OLED displays from Samsung, to dueling wireless technologies (WirelessHD and Wireless USB) that aim to eliminate all those wires behind your HDTV.

Pre-show events start tomorrow. The show floor opens Monday.

What's new this year? For one this year's CES is billed as the greenest ever with vendors touting power-saving hard-disk drives to other gadget firms showing off green-designed gear built with a reduced amount of nasty toxins like lead.

Also new will be a strong showing of in-car gadgets that go beyond GPS navigation systems. CES representatives say this year's show will have 250,000 square feet of in-car gadgets.

It will also be the last time Microsoft's Bill Gates delivers his annual CES keynote addresses. But don't get to teary-eyed. There will be plenty of cool technologies on display to distract anyone from worrying about what Gates' post-CES plans are.

This year's CES will cover nearly 1.85 million square feet of exhibition space that spans across the huge Las Vegas Convention Center, as well as the Sands Expo and Convention Center, as well as the Las Vegas Hilton and Venetian hotels.

There's going to be lots to see at CES. For one, we are interested in  Pinnacle Systems' Pinnacle Transfer Video gizmo and whether it lives up to its promise of allowing you to record analog video onto your iPod sans the need for a PC. Pinnacle announced its video capture device early and will be showing it for the first time at CES.

Another pre-announced CES gadget we're interested in seeing in Vegas is Sling Media's SlingPlayer Mobile software for the BlackBerry. The software is supposed to allow you to watch live TV streamed from any Slingbox model to a 3G wireless or Wi-Fi enabled BlackBerry smartphone.

Motorola also pre-announced one of its CES gadgets as well. It will show its Motorola DH01 portable television that allows you to watch broadcast TV on a 4.3-inch screen and also functions as a digital video recorder. Eat your heart out TiVo.  

CES will feature laptops with more pizzazz and entertainment features. Bill Gates at his Sunday night keynote kicking off CES will reportedly be holding a PC "fashion show" with celebrity judge Nigel Barker of "America's Next Top Model" to see which notebook maker has the snazziest design.

Expect to see a slew of other notebooks featured at CES outfitted with high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) ports. These ports help turn notebooks into quasi-home theater components allowing you to connect say a notebook's Blu-ray disc drive to a HDTV.

On the other end of the notebook spectrum, look for ultraportables and UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs) to have a significant presence CES as well. Vendors will show off tiny new notebooks that are faster and cheaper, and able to eke out better battery life.



Keep Cell Phone Expectations Low

Where are the wireless handsets at CES? Phone vendors don't go wild at CES--many hold off for the giant 3GSM exposition a month later in Barcelona, Spain. But Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Nokia will all have booths at CES, and probably a few new handsets as well.

Qualcomm, the huge wireless chipmaker, will also have a major presence. And expect also to see a slew of iPod and iPhone accessories, from cases to car adapters. (For any new iPhone or iPod announcements, though, you'll have to wait another week for MacWorld in San Francisco.)

GPS vendors who will show off their wares include Garmin, Mio, and TomTom. Expect to see all sorts of new features that enhance basic navigation: Garmin's new Nuvi 800, for example, adds speech recognition to enable hands-free operation of the popular car navigation system. Garmin is also introducing a new series of Nuvis, the 5000 series, with oversize 5.2-inch touchscreen displays.

Mapping software veteran DeLorme, meanwhile, will show off the ability to enhance geocaching with photographs using a digital camera with its Topo USA 7.0 topographical mapping software and its Earthmate PN-20 handheld GPS device.

When it comes to set-top boxes at CES, we've heard the same promise for years. This year, we expect to hear more from set-top box makers beyond the standard pledge of bringing Internet video and other content to the TV. Expect the same promise, but this time (fingers crossed), maybe we'll see some real progress.

We'll be anxious to see a just-announced set-top box from Netflix and LG capable of delivering on-demand movies to Netflix subscriber homes. The device will become available to the company's 7 million consumers in the second half of 2008.

Other set-top box makers at CES will be talking about high-definition (HD) content this year. HD is nothing new, but companies are constantly working on delivering higher quality video using less bandwidth. Well be hunting down Motorola's just announced set-top boxes that use the very efficient video compression standard MPEG-4.

For the first time, we're seeing more than a few set-top box makers adding audio capability to their equipment with some even offering support for surround-sound speaker systems. This year's models will include a lot move video storage space on their on-board digital video recorders (DVRs), so we'll be able to store whole seasons of shows without having to erase old episodes or movies to make room.

Hewlett-Packard will be showing off its MediaSmart Receiver x280N, which can stream a wide variety of audio (MP3, WMA, WMA-Pro, WAV, AAC/m4a) from a PC to your home entertainment center via its wireless 802.11a/b/g/n connection. The HP box also streams video (MPEG-2, DivX, WMV, WMV-HD, and H.264/MP4 files) and can display images (JPEG, BMP, GIF, and PNG photos).

In short, you're not likely to see genre-busting announcements (remember Apple TV?) at CES this year, but you will see a bunch of new boxes that do more with the Internet, use less bandwidth, sound better, and store more content for viewing on-demand.



CES Serves Up Home Servers

Home servers should have a breakthrough year at CES. Microsoft released its own home server platform last year and other companies are expected to follow suit. Networking company 2Wire, for instance, is touting its "intelligent home server" (because after all, you wouldn't want a stupid one). The idea is to collect all of your different media--music, photos and video--and then serve it out to devices like PCs, video game consoles and TVs in your home and mobile phones while you're on the go--all without forcing you to think about file formats and codecs.  It'll be great if they can make it work.

In terms of HDTV technology showcased at CES we don't expect to be wowed. It's just the standard progression of technology. More ports, smaller components, and cheaper price. However we are excited about LCD monitors to be shown at CES. Dell has announced a sexy Crystal LCD display featuring the new DisplayPort connection.

The Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD camps typically use CES as a battleground to sway opinion and sling propaganda. At the last minute, this year took a new twist.

In light of Warner's bombshell announcement of Blu-ray exclusivity, the promotion group for rival format HD DVD has canceled its press briefings at the show; HD DVD backers are now reassesing their strategy.

We expect the Blu-ray camp to tout players with a new feature called BD Live Internet-connected functionality. Expect to see studios demonstrate how future BD Live titles connect your Blu-ray DVD player to the Internet for content related to the DVD title.

The show will also be used as a promotion tool for competing wireless technologies such as Bluetooth and Wireless USB. This year, a new wireless technology called WirelessHD, backed by Sony and Toshiba, will also enter the wireless fray. Each of these competing technologies are vying to reduce or eliminate the need for cords snaking behind your HDTV or home entertainment center.

Here are some facts about the show from the show's sponsor, the Consumer Electronics Association:

  • CES is the largest trade show in North America.
  • An estimated 27,000 new gadgets will be shown.
  • 140,000 people are expected to attend.
  • 2,700 exhibitors from across the world will be showing lthe atest tech.
  • There are 1.85 million square feet of exhibition space.
  • New focus on autos results in 250,000 square feet of in-car gadgets.
  • 4,500 journalists from around the world are registered to cover the show.
  • CES leaves a 20,000-ton carbon footprint.

For more CES coverage, check out the constantly updated PC World CES Info Center.