Gadget Gab Talk Back
The 2005 Consumer Electronics Show
Saturday, January 8, 2005; 10:00 AM
People warned me that CES would be a madhouse. They told me to allow for 30 minutes to an hour to get from booth to booth. And it's true, traffic was so bad everywhere in Las Vegas that it made Washington DC gridlock look smooth. (Tune into the Robert Pepper audio blog for more on that subject.) Anyway, the sheer size of the floor greatly reduces the number of booths one can see, and people one can flag down. Hopefully, my esteemed colleagues Rob and Leslie tracked down some answers in their blog entries and columns. But apologies to you all who feel you're left hanging.
Thanks for all the questions.
I heard your report about the SX66 and the integration of WLAN into the phone with interest. The question is wether or not this is trend is going to cannibalize some of the proposed benefits of the UMTS standard which had been extremely costly and which might need to be written down as the ROI for UMTS is moving further out.
Any thoughts regarding WLAN, Hotspots, citynets versus UMTS?
But who knows? Maybe with some combination of all these things, VoIP, WiFi, ultrawideband, eventually we will all be able to make free calls off of our cell phones and leave the cell companies holding the bag...
Since I can't go to the CES show, we will have to live vicariously through you. This is probably the most basic question, but would you please share with us what has the biggest "WOW!;" factor and the also the biggest "HUH?" rating that you stumble upon each day?
This is one of my favorite questions, and one I hope to answer regularly throughout the show.
So I know you want to know about the bizarre TECHNOLOGIES, but that ski-slope I mentioned Motorola seting up the other day? Today it had fake snow on it, and three snowboarders doing flips off of a ramp on it. Does that qualify?
Here's one I thought I could get into: A bluetooth headset that links up to your iPod. So instead of snagging the earpiece on doorknobs and whatnot, you just keep iPod in your backpack or pocket, then you just wear the headset. Christopher Libertelli, senior legal advisor for FCC chairman Powell noted, however, that the big headset wasn't a great fashion accessory in and of itself (maybe he just meant ON ME). Maybe next year they'll have something even sleeker so you can't tell I am listening to anything at all!
This is precisely the type of question I probably won't be able to answer. It's not a bad question at all, and one very apropos for this show. For starters, I don't know much about specific DTVs, and there are roughly a kabillion of them out on the show floor that probably meet your description.
That said, here is what I am hearing. There is a lot of buzz around LG's new HDTVs, which include ones that do away with the set-top box and use a cable card instead. I am told this makes it easier and cheaper to link up your TV with your PC, camera, and everything else. One guy I was with from the Powell entourage said he's seen a dozen like it at the show. LG also had a TV that, according to Powell, is better at registering color in the human retina, so the pictures appear clearer. Sounds great to me, although I really couldn't explain the technology behind it.
Again, not an answer to your specific question, but the best stab at it I can give for now. I will try to get more info in the next day or two from people much, much more knowledgeable than me.
To talk to the show floor folk, you'd think it all feasible. But at the same time, there are exhibitors here who aren't even able to get a good Internet connection to their booths (because of high demand), and so they're resorting to playing video demos of their Internet-based product...That's telling, isn't it?
Anyway, today was a little big phone-focused, because I was talking to some cell phone makers, and to the FCC chairman, who also likes phones. But Motorola has this thing called Ojo that's coming out soon--it shows a pretty high resolution video chat. The thing that's cool about it, and others like it, are that it doesn't have those Charlie Chaplin-esque pauses in the image. And it's also very sleek. I will try to get the editors of Gadget Gab to find an online photo and post it to the blog.
The thing that I think will be useful, and is available now on limited models: WiFi phones. These are phones that can make calls over a WiFi hotspot, but more importantly, can also access a faster Internet connection off of it. This way, you can actually use the phone to get work done. (See my blog about how luxurious it would be to be able to ditch the laptop.)
The thing FCC chairman Powell seemed to like a lot, and had never seen before, was a high-definition television that is connected to the Internet, which runs over a powerline. That's hard to follow, so let me explain that again: There is technology in a couple of areas around the country (I know of Cincinnati; Manassas, Va.; Potomac, Va. to name a few) that have power companies offering high-speed Internet over your power lines. So you can plug in your computer into your electrical socket, basically, and--voila!--Internet. So this HDTV is cool because it takes that Internet connection, and gets TV programming on it. Why did the FCC chairman dig it? Well, because he seems to like TVs in general, but also because it means that consumers could get an alternative to cable and satellite TV--although not any time soon, just because powerline broadband is in very few areas still.
Thanks very much for the question, and I will answer that in a couple of different ways in later postings.
I didn't get your question in time to put it to the chairman, but I asked him about broadcast flag. [For those who aren't wonky, this is the technology that limits your ability to, say, buy a song online then send it out to all your friends so they can upload it on their iPods. Same technology used to limit video transmission].
I asked the question because here at the show we're seeing prototypes of things that will allow you to connect your digital camera to a color printer using a wireless, superfast ultrawideband connection. Tons of things like that--the ability to record TV programming using TiVo or some other technology, then send it to another TV in the house, or your computer (this is TiVo-to-Go, which is Powell's latest plaything).
So that raises the question: What does that mean for these technologies imbedded in our consumer devices that block content that shouldn't be shared?
His response--and I'm sorry, the audio situation was terrible, so there is no audio blog--was that "broadcast flag is the most misunderstood" regulatory issue. He basically said he didn't feel that it was too limiting for most situations. He said his buys songs off of a digital music provider, and send the song up to about 5 people--including him, which he can then upload onto his iPod. That doesn't answer your question directly, but I think he was disagreeing that broadcast flag copyright-protection limits are not "the most anti-tech" measures.
I just got back from touring part of the show floor with FCC chairman Michael Powell who said he read that on my blog last night and is in total agreement with all of us. He is, in his own words, "on a rant" about this one-powercord issue.
He says it's his "dream" to rid the consumer world of cords. Anyway, more on that later. Thanks for the advice. In case I don't get to iGo! maybe you can explain how it works...
Also, I am slated to roam the show floor with Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell today at 5 p.m. EST, after which I will post a few audio blogs. No doubt he will offer his insights into the latest TiVo (and whether he owns it), how soon our TVs and computers will become indistinguishable from each other...so tune into the blog for some of those answers as well.
No question TVs are a big part of this show, and hopefully I will be able to give you more detail when I get there.
For now, here's what I can tell you: Much of the TV talk at CES will focus on wider screen TVs that what you're looking at--like in the 37 inch to 42 inch range or bigger. Why? Because most people upgrading to high-definition also tend to step up the size as well, at least according to Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research. The average cost of an HDTV was about $1400 last year, falling at a rate of 20 percent a year on average. But that's just half the story; TV chip technology is getting sleeker, lighter and bigger all at the same time, which means manufacturers are still more excited about developing high-end plasma TVs that cost $6000. "The more realistic question is when [37 inch to 42 inch] TVs reach the $2000 mark," Ernst said.
To most people (including you and me), that's still too much for a TV. So here's the upshot: You may be able to get your 30-inch, $1000 in a year or two, but don't expect it to be nearly as cool as anything on the CES show floor.