Personal Tech: Live From CES

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Personal Technology Columnist
Wednesday, January 10, 2007; 11:00 AM

The Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro was online from Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 10 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss this year's Consumer Electronic Show and Macworld conference where Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone.

To keep updated on all the latest news out of the shows, read Post I.T..

The transcript follows.

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Rob Pegoraro: Greetings from the Consumer Electronics Show, one of Las Vegas' largest conventions, the most important annual event in the electronics business and one of the hardest places in the world to find a healthy lunch or get across town in a hurry.

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Dallas, Tex.: Reaction at CES, please, to the introduction of the iPhone. Suddenly, all other phone/PDA's, including ones being introduced at CES, look obsolete.

Rob Pegoraro: There are a lot of questions about Apple's new iPhone, which is pretty funny--Apple isn't at CES at all. Its own annual gathering, Macworld Expo, is taking place a few hundred miles to the west of here in San Francisco. So I can't tell you much about the iPhone except that it does look pretty amazing in photos, and that at $499 and $599 it had better be pretty amazing.

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Columbia, Md.: I hope you are having fun at the CES. But this is a question about old stuff. When I got my new HGTV TV a few months ago the salesman told me I would need to have a progressive scan DVD player. I have seen progressive scan and Up Convert ones. Which would give the better picture on an HD TV? Are the Up Convert ones also progressive scan? Have not seen that on their boxes. My DVD player is about 5 years old and I just want one to tide me over until the HD DVD war is over. I don't know which to pick. Thanks

Rob Pegoraro: Progressive scan--the ability to send the DVD's video to a TV at its full original resolution, part of which gets lost on an analog set--has been a near-standard feature on DVD players for years. And upconversion--where the DVD player electronically enhances the image to near-HD quality--is becoming standard as well. With an HDTV, you do want both features.

Thing is, you can now get not just a DVD player, but a DVD *recorder* that handles upconversion. And you won't pay more than $200 and change for it.

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Alexandria, Va.: In your Tech Gift Guide in the Post on November 26, you had a very helpful article on purchasing LCD or Plasma TVs. You suggested that we should not pay anything extra for 1080p resolution. I have been researching HD TVs and was ready to buy one has 720p resolution. I have seen some nice sets with 1080p but I was not going to spend the extra money for that.

I then checked with the only cable carrier in my area - Cox Cable - and learned that Cox says on its web site and its technical people indicate that Cox will not support any resolution other than 1080p. I am not happy about the option of Dish Network. Do yo know of any solution that will allow me to use a 720 resolution HD TV with Cox Cable? Thank you very much for your help. Dave

Rob Pegoraro: If you've got a 720p HDTV, it will automatically convert the incoming signal to that "native" resolution. You won't notice the difference.

But: How can Cox say it will only send out 1080p when no network does 1080p? It would have to upconvert every single program, which seems kinda expensive considering how few 1080p sets there are. You sure Cox didn't say 1080i?

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Washington, D.C.: What do you think of the mobile TV system that Verizon Wireless announced? It sounds very cool.

Rob Pegoraro: I got a quick demo of this in the press room Monday, and it does look neat. Verizon will be selling a pair of LG phones that come with their own TV antennas--you're not just watching TV streamed over Verizon's network, but broadcasts sent over the regular airwaves (but not actual TV, as VzW sends out a separate, proprietary signal that includes such non-broadcast channels as ESPN).

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Providence, R.I.: Are there any new digital photo items at CES? I am mainly interested in new functional equipment cases. My current camera cases are worn and hold moisture! Yuck!

Rob Pegoraro: I'm sure somebody is selling just the thing you're looking for... but I haven't seen them yet. Although I've been here since Sunday, I haven't had time yet to set foot in two entire exhibit halls (LVCC North Hall, the Sands). That's my job for today, when I've cleared my schedule of appointments so I can walk around the floor and see what I've missed.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Pegoraro, How many people in Vegas now wish they had gone to San Fran instead? What's the buzz on the CES floor in regard to the iPhone? What's your take on it?

Rob Pegoraro: Not as much as the buzz in this chat, apparently :) I know some of y'all are curious about the iPhone and Apple TV, the media-receiver Apple introduced yesterday--but I only know them from photos, so I'm not the best source on that.

(That said: Yeah, I'm curious too, especially about Apple TV. Somebody's gotta be able to build a PC-to-TV bridge that makes it simple to get your computer's photos and music over to your home theater, and Apple's got better odds of doing this right than most.)

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Houston, Tex.: Rob, Have you seen the new thin DLP TVs from Samsung? What do you think?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes, when I toured Samsung's booth yesterday. If I remember correctly... it's about 10 inches thick, or something close to half the depth of the older model. Other makers of "microdisplay" rear-projection sets (DLP, rear-projection LCD and LCoS) are making similar changes. They need to--flat-panel plasma and LCD sets are getting cheaper all the time, and a lot of people would rather get the TV that "really" is flat over one that's sort of flat (and which also will have more serious viewing-angle issues).

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Washington, D.C.: I saw that at CES, Bill Gates stated Microsoft would always be a software company and not a hardware company. Now, yesterday, Steve Jobs quoted Alan Key as saying that if you truly care about software, you make your own hardware. Do you think that Bill Gates was sincere--looking at Xbox and Zune makes it hard to believe MS is a "software company and not a hardware company." do you see MS ever competing with Apple in the cellular phone field?

Rob Pegoraro: It already does--Microsoft has been doing very well with the Smartphone edition of Windows Mobile, which many of the most interesting new phones, like the T-Mobile Dash and the Samsung Blackjack, run on.

(Microsoft doesn't make those phones, but many of the hardware specs for Windows Mobile phones are decided by Microsoft... it's almost the next best thing.)

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Fairfax, Va.: So, do you ever wander from CES to the other big trade show taking place in Vegas?

Rob Pegoraro: Not yet :)

(Ffx is referring to the Adult Entertainment Expo, which fills part of the Sands every year. It's one of the more... interesting coincidences of CES.)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Rob, Hope it's not all work and no play for you in Sin City! I think the first question you took was referring to the reaction of CES attendees and exhibitors to the iPhone announcement. It seems like Apple would be the elephant in the room even though it isn't there in LV.

Rob Pegoraro: I'd say that's kinda the case every year--but this time around, Macworld and CES are happening at the same time, instead of one following or preceding the other. So tech reporters have had to pick one show or the other or grossly cut short their CES coverage to run over to Macworld in time for the keynote.

I'm told that next year, CES and Macworld will take place on consecutive weeks. That'd make my life a lot simpler!

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Central Pennsylvania: Any suggestions on DVD recorders that would also allow you to convert old VHS tapes to DVDs?

Rob Pegoraro: Easily found--pretty much everybody that's showed off a DVD recorder (off hand, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, LG) will also sell one that includes a VCR and some way to dupe the tape onto disc.

BTW, this year the DVD recorders almost all include "ATSC" digital tuner needed to receive free over-the-air digital broadcasts. That's a big development, considering how fantastic over-the-air digital TV looks.

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Riehen, Switzerland: The post reported yesterday that Microsoft collaborated with the National Security Agency on the security issues of Vista. Should I now feel safer or more exposed to their prying into my private matters?

Rob Pegoraro: The NSA also worked on security issues in Linux--see http://www.nsa.gov/selinux/--so I guess it's only fair that they work with Microsoft. (Has anybody from Apple talked to the folks in Fort Meade yet?)

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Arlington, Va.: What was the biggest surprise at CES?

Rob Pegoraro: The combination HD DVD/Blu-Ray drive LG unveiled. Not that it exists; nobody's ever said it would be an impossible thing to build. But the surprise it that it's supposed to ship next month.

Pricing is another matter, though. The cheapest Blu-Ray player, outside of the heavily subsidized and still-unobtainable PS3, goes for $799, while the cheapest HD DVD player has a list price of $499. LG says its combo device will sell for $1199... not much less than the price of two separate players.

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DC: Planning on buying a computer soon once vista is out. Considering the Intel Core 2 Duo processor or the AMD Athlon 64x2 dual-core processor. Are you biased towards either one of them?

Rob Pegoraro: No. Both manufacturers make good hardware. If I had to choose between the two, I'd probably make that decision on which processor uses less electricity, not which one's faster--as I've spent this whole week relying on my laptop, battery life is pretty important to me a the moment.

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Wendell, Minn.: When trying to remove AOL from my computer - I have moved into an area not served by them - all I can get is a "cannot be uninstalled" message. Am I doing something wrong or have they locked themselves into my computer 'til death do us part?

Rob Pegoraro: That's not AOL being greedy, it's just Windows being its usual bumbling self. You might have to use a commercial uninstaller, like Norton Utilities, to extract its software. (I've seen the same thing happen with other programs, and it's kinda pathetic that we're still dealing with this 11 years after Win 95 supposedly dealt with the problem for good.)

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Centennial, Colo.: What is going on with Remote Home Control? This means a homeowner can check and control their homes while away from any part of the world over the Internet or Mobile Phone? Control of security, lights, home temperature, video, appliances, etc.

Rob Pegoraro: The home-automation market has been a significant, if small, part of CES for years. There are a couple of newer, wireless technologies (Zigbee, Z-wave, I think) that supposedly ease the job setting up all these controls and monitors, but I've only run into a couple of exhibitors dealing in this area so far. Something to keep an eye out for today...

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Alexandria, Va.: What kind of data costs/usage restrictions will Cingular put on the Apple Phone? And, seriously, $600? There's a guy in my office who bought the IPod photo when it first came out (at a premium) and he STILL feels like he was taken.

Rob Pegoraro: Maybe the price/storage ratio of the iPhone will make him feel like he got a good deal after all? :)

Yeah, $600 seems like a lot, especially if the iPhone comes locked so you can't pop in another GSM carrier's SIM card when you travel. But I've been looking at TVs that sell for $3,499 and are considered bargains (like a 63-inch plasma from Philips--remember when its first "Flat TV" cost $15,000 or so?)... I can assure you that there's a market for such a thing.

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Lorton, Va.: I have a three year old projection HDTV capable of 1080i display. But no inbuilt HDTV tuner. I want to get over the air HDTV signals. The stand alone tuners cost more than $200 and are difficult to find. Any suggestions for a cheaper way to do this? Thanks. Mona

Rob Pegoraro: You might have to wait a while, Lorton. The market for standalone DTV tuners seems to have dried up temporarily, as all new HDTVs come with these tuners built-in--but it's still two years before the analog signals are supposed to go off the air, the event that will overnight turn DTV tuners back into a mass-market product.

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Washington, DC: Hi Rob: Will prices on the 2006 models of electronics such as plasma TVs fall in March/April when the Japanese fiscal year ends?

Rob Pegoraro: Can't give you an exact no., but I can all but promise that they will fall. After talking to a few execs at major manufacturers, it looks like you'll probably see the biggest price drops in the 40-46-inch range, where a lot of new capacity is coming online. 50-inch and larger sets may not see the steepest price drops until later in the year, while it seems like much of the profit has already been pounded out of 36-inch and smaller sets.

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Washington, D.C.: Had a serious problem this weekend trying to get a new phone from Verizon. all I want to do is be able to customize my phone--wallpapers from jpegs on my computers, ringtones from MIDIs. they were happy to give me software that would let me do this...but it ONLY runs on a windows PC with XP. and I have a mac. am I totally screwed, or is there a way around this? it seems to me that a bluetooth phone should be able to manage something...

Rob Pegoraro: Run Boot Camp or Parallels and put XP on that?

There's probably some third-party phone-customization app out there for the Mac, but I just haven't looked into it.

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Washington, D.C.: Rob, Is anyone coming out with a HD HDV or Blu-ray recorder?

Rob Pegoraro: Only in personal computers at the moment. The companies behind these formats don't seem to have noticed that people like to record TV programs for later viewing in the U.S. (there are a few HD DVD and Blu-Ray recorders sold in Japan, but none are scheduled to show up in the U.S. soon).

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Beachwood, Ohio: Thoughts on the new kodak digitals???

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't seen Kodak's new cameras yet, but I did get a good look at the digital picture frames it just introduced. The high-end model has a really interesting feature: It comes with WiFi and can automatically download photos shared on Kodak's EasyShare Gallery Web site.

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Washington, D.C.: What the heck are you doing at CES? Get your butt to Macworld and steal us all some iphones! There's no consumer electronic in the world I want so badly!

Rob Pegoraro: Here's one perspective on the iPhone, about which I'm still getting many questions:

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Washington, D.C.: It's funny seeing people fawn over the new iPhone. This thing isn't really all that amazing. It's just a glorified iPod which can make phone calls. And it's about 3 years late to the market. It's lacking in many areas. For example, it doesn't offer 3G technology, so no fast data transfers. It also apparently doesn't allow for 3rd party software. This thing is not a PDA, so I don't understand why people are even comparing it with the Treo, the Blackberry, or the Q. Those are in a different class altogether. The iPhone is just a neat media tool, its not a PDA!

Rob Pegoraro: And here's another.

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Renton, Wash.: I recently bought a JVC 40 inch HDTV. The JVC website says that it upconverts standard definition, 720 i/p and 1080i to 1080p. Am I correct to conclude that a DVD with upconversion feature would offer no improvement over a standard DVD player?

Rob Pegoraro: That's a good question: If your TV upconverts everything, do you need that feature on a DVD player? I asked a guy at Mitsubishi about that the other night, and he said that while in theory, you'd rather do the upconversion in the source device, in practice it depends on the quality of the hardware in the player and the TV.

So do you like how your DVDs look on your new set? That's the question to ask.

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Hattiesburg, Miss.: What was the reaction to Bill Gates keynote on MS Live and home connectivity? It may be a while before these types of tech and bandwidth make it into rural areas.

Rob Pegoraro: The most interesting thing demoed at the Gates keynote (in terms of being something you'll be able to buy this year) was the Windows Home Server, which collects all your digital media and makes it available throughout your home. And that doesn't require any kind of fast bandwidth into the home, just a rapid home network *in* the home.

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Rob Pegoraro: Gimme a sec while I shovel some pancakes down my gullet.

(After all the cholesterol-laden food I've eaten this week, maybe I should see if anybody's selling a home angioplasty kit here :)

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Rockville, Md.: Now that Apple has a TV box and I am waiting to get started with my ATI HD recorder - on my computer - what is the best way to get the signal to my television? Which cable should I use? Or is there a wireless solution? I have a Linksys box.

Rob Pegoraro: You can buy internal or external TV adapters that'll plug right into a desktop or laptop. Some of them are quite small...it's amazing how much they've miniaturized the circuitry in a few short years.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: First, Happy New Year Rob. I tried to install in my laptop a program that I purchased at a know office supply chain. Well, my laptop began to act up so I cancelled the installation. However, the icons and files began to flicker and move around the screen out of control. What happened, Rob? Thanks in advance for you response.

Rob Pegoraro: Don't know what happened, but I do know that the drill with that kind of weirdness is to use System Restore to back XP out of the condition and back to the time when it last functioned normally.

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Crozet, Va.: After doing all the shows for many years, I learned to look for the next breakthru products...not evolutionary but revolutionary. What do you see there that's the next BIG thing?

Rob Pegoraro: The next big thing ought to be high-definition home movies, but the industry has pretty much wrecked the launch of that by getting into a format war. There hasn't been a groundbreaking product launch this year to compare to prior introductions of things like satellite radio or WiFi; instead, I'm seeing much more evolutionary stuff. Everybody wants to talk about how much better their LCDs work than last year's, or how many more formats their media player can handle.

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Oklahoma City, Okla.:2 part question. This is a reply to the up convert dvd player. From personal experiences I bought a samsung upconvert dvd player and could not tell the difference between it and my progressive scan dvd player on my 35 inch widescreen HDTV. I ended up returning the up convert and keeping my old one. Also any news about the Laser TV HDTV's which are coming out this christmas? Thanks

Rob Pegoraro:1) On a 35-incher, a lot of people might have a hard time telling the difference between prog-scan and upconverted DVD. There are all sorts of equations about viewing distances and perceived detail that can tell you what sort of resolution you'll actually notice--that's why, for instance, I keep saying that nobody should invest in a 1080p set unless you're buying a very large screen.

2) Mitsubishi will make a rear-projection set that uses a laser backlight instead of the usual lamp; the advantage this supposedly provides is far longer life for the light (with current technology, you've gotta swap out bulbs every few years) and better contrast and color. Sony is demonstrating a set with this technology, but it has no product plans announced yet. Bottom line, nothing to worry about unless you're already in the market for a microdisplay set.

(As a reminder: "microdisplay" sets are those sorta-flat TVs with very large screens that typically are from 10 to 20 inches deep, against a few feet for traditional tube-based projection TVs. They come in three basic flavors; LCD, DLP [digital light processing] and LCoS [liquid crystal on silicon])

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Re: Alexandria, Va.: Cox cable supports 1080i, not 1080 p.

Rob Pegoraro: That makes more sense. Thanks...

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Washington, D.C.: How does the new 108" LCD TV from Sharp look? Any price on it? Thanks.

Rob Pegoraro: It looks about the size of a wall or a king-sized bed. It's not something you can buy just yet; Sharp has only made four, and apparently they're all on the show floor. For now, the biggest shipping TV is Panasonic's 103-incher.

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Baltimore, Md.: You mentioned the combo hd/bluray player, but have you also seen the combo discs that will play on either?

Rob Pegoraro: That's a format that Warner announced at the show called Total Hi Def, which somehow puts a Blu-Ray and an HD DVD copy on a single disc. It's going to start selling these in the second half of 2007, according to its press release. No word on pricing, or if other studios will join Warner in this.

I'm sure retailers are happy about it--they won't have to devote shelf space to two high-def copies of the same flick.

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Washington, D.C.: But I NEEEEEEED 108 inches!! 103 just WON'T do!!

Rob Pegoraro: Like the Who once sang: You caaaaaaaan't have it!

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to Washington, D.C.: Buy an unlocked CDMA phone and look into a free program called BitPIM. The pair should let you manipulate your phone, legally, in every possible way. It's a shame that Verizon sells you a service really. They have locked down their phones' functionality to the n-th degree.

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't tried this program before, but sounds interesting. Thanks!

(Disclosure: The Washington Post is not responsible if the use of this software incinerates your phone, your car or your house.)

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Richmond, Va.: I'm inventing a TV that runs on biodiesel. It's going to be awesome!

Rob Pegoraro: Dude, everybody's using cellulosic ethanol for their TVs now :)

(Actually, I did see a display about a methanol-powered fuel cell in Toshiba's booth. I wonder if you can use any biofuels in that... )

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Chesapeake Beach, Md.: In Vegas there are 300,000 people, 10,000 companies and tons of new products, but all we read about today (and all anyone wants to talk about) is the iPhone introduced in San Francisco by Apple. Is it that revolutionary, or is just some really good marketing going on there that trumps over the voices from Vegas?

Rob Pegoraro: This is a good question to close out on. With CES, there isn't any one focus to the show once the Gates keynote--which rarely breaks any major news--concludes. With Macworld, everybody's focused on the two hours of the Jobs keynote, which almost always has a big surprise that none of the rumor sites predicted. And Apple's new products often involve major leaps forward compared to its prior efforts and those of competitors; think of any other cell phone with an interface like the iPhone, for instance. Finally, Jobs is one of the best salesmen in the industry.

Throw in the fact that over the next 12 months, you'll probably see a lot of other companies tripping over their shoelaces to catch up with each new Apple offering, and that's why Apple gets so much ink this time of year.

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Madrid, Spain: I have been told that Sharp currently has the best technology on LCD TVs. Are other manufacturers like Sony presenting new generations of LCD TVs?

Rob Pegoraro: Alright, one more before I have to shave and jump on the monorail. Sharp has an excellent reputation in LCDs, but so do other manufacturers; Samsung and Sony, for instance.

I'm seeing a lot of these firms roll out the same basic improvements. For instance, many of them are switching to LED backlights on their high-end models, which should improve contrast dramatically; a lot of new LCDs also feature faster response times, aided by "120 Hz" scanning, in which the TV redraws the screen at double the usual 60 times/second frequency by electronically inserting extra frames.

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Rob Pegoraro: Thanks, folks! I'll be blogging throughout the day before heading home tomorrow, and if I can ever get an Internet connection to stay up for more than 10 minutes I'll be uploading some video as well.

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