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Rob Pegoraro
Rob Pegoraro
Dispatch From the Show Floor: All Tangled Up (Post, Jan. 12)
International Consumer Electronics Show
Personal Technology section
Recent columns by Rob Pegoraro
E-letter Archive

Fast Forward: What I Saw at CES
With Personal Technology columnist Rob Pegoraro
Monday, Jan. 13, 2003; 2 p.m. ET

Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro journeyed out to Las Vegas for the annual International Consumer Electronics Show and reported on it yesterday in his column, Dispatch From the Show Floor: All Tangled Up (Post, Jan. 12).

Pegoraro was online on Monday, Jan. 13 at 2 p.m ET to discuss some of the hot trends and gadgets unveiled at the gathering.

Video From CES: washingtonpost.com videographer John Poole also attended CES and filed two video reports: "Wooing Women With Gadgets" and "Scene From the Show Floor."

And don't miss Rob's Fast Forward On Demand video, in which he looks at five of the hottest PDAs on the market this year.

Fast Forward E-letter:

Want to know what upcoming topics are being covered? Sign up for Fast Forward e-letter -- get updated information on personal technology news and product demos.

Below is the transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Rob Pegoraro: Good afternoon! I just got back from my annual tech-tour of the West Coast -- two days in San Francisco for Macworld Expo, then four days in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. So if you've got a burning question about new Mac software or hardware or the latest electronic gadgets, you've come to the right place. Let's get started...

Reston, Va.: Rob, you write that DVD recorders are about "to become radically cheaper -- expect prices below $500 by midyear -- without the industry having settled a messy, three-sided format war between the DVD-RW, DVD+RW and DVD-RAM camps." What's it gonna take to get this standards matter resolved?

washingtonpost.com: Dispatch From the Show Floor: All Tangled Up (Post, Jan. 12)

Rob Pegoraro: One or two of these standards will have to lose. Unfortunately, this means that consumers who placed the wrong bet will get hosed.

Herndon, Va.: Did you see anything really spectacular in the digital camera category at CES?

Rob Pegoraro: There are some *really* tiny digicams coming soon. Casio's latest Exilim is no thicker than a new wallet (check out the breathtakingly... classy ad at exilim.casio.com), and Pentax has the Optio S, advertised as being able to fit inside a box of Altoids.

College Park, Md.: Rob, I'm not sure I understand why they keep coming up with gadgets that do so many things, but not very well. I think cell phones have gotten to be silly toys! I just don't see the usefulness of so much they are coming out with nowadays. I guess some will buy them, which is probably the reason after all.

Rob Pegoraro: Your comment reminds me of the Sprint phone I tested over the week. It's an amazing gadget--full-color screen, polyphonic ring tones, a Web browser that's actually usable, and even a built-in digital camera -- but for one crippling defect. That is, you can't actually hear anybody over the phone unless you have it pressed against your ear at just the right angle.

Falls Church, Va: Hey Rob- I'm posting early since I have to work Mon ( wish I was in Vegas). While you are there see if anyone has any spiffy ideas for an easy upgrade to USB 2. I went to the "big box" store today and found to upgrade my 6 mos old Dell to the new USB standard I have to open the case, do stuff inside, pray, close the case! Yikes! Surely someone has some new fangled technology to do this with a free standing unit or something. I'm not inclined to open the case for anything and I sure won't let them open it either. I covet a free standing hard drive to keep my games and stuff. The units I saw are USB 2 with backwards compatability but USB 2 is sooooooo much faster... I want it. Any ideas? Thanks, Tina

Rob Pegoraro: Nope, Tina, the only way you can add faster ports to an old computer is to crack the case and add a PCI card. The USB, serial and parallel ports on your Dell are all way too slow to support USB 2.0 speeds. The good news, such as it is, is that you do'nt have to give up a drive bay, and that adding a PCI card really isn't that hard. The wires inside won't bite, I promise :)

Alexandria, Va.: Did CES contract any more this year compared to last year, or is the show holding its own in terms of size, number of displays etc.?

Rob Pegoraro: It seemed every bit as humongous as last year, if the 45-minute bus line at the convention center Friday night was any guide. Exhibit space also seems just as sprawling as ever, if not more so. This may well be one of only a few tech trade shows -- Macworld Expo being another -- that's holding its own, while such once-huge competitors as Comdex, PC Expo and Internet World are shriveling up.

Oxford, OH: A question not related to this week's topic but on computers. I have been trying to figure this out but does the software industry run the hardware industry or is it the other way around? Intel releases newer processors quickly while Microsoft designs OS's that require hefty configurations to run. Are the processors designed to run high end applications or are high end applications created so that newer processors can come into the market quickly?

Rob Pegoraro: Over the last few years, the processor industry has gotten itself into the curious position of building ever-faster processors -- that's the one thing it knows how to do really, really well -- without a clear idea of what anybody's supposed to do with it. It's the build-it-and-they-will-come theory. Microsoft is certainly trying to do its part by developing new software that can use all this processing power, but it's really a futile question for now; a 3 GHz chip adds nothing to the everyday workings of Windows or Office.

So it's genuinely interesting to see Intel's announcement of a new line of processors -- Centrino -- designed for use only in laptops. They run at much slower clock speeds than its other portable processors, but they should also offer considerable improvements in battery life and heat output, which are things that -- unlike clock speed alone -- are actually relevant to consumers' needs these days.

Alexandria, VA: I couldn't help laughing when I read your column on Sunday. I was thinking about the proliferation of cables, equipment and remotes, when installing the DVD player I got this Christmas. If I ever turned on all of the stereo and video equipment at once, I'd be lucky to get away with just a blown circuit breaker!

So, how are these new hot-to-trot options at blending with older technologies? For instance, a home theater receiver that can handle an AM/FM radio, a turntable, cassette player, 5 disk CD player, AND all the various bits of video equipment? (Yes, I know I can combine the CD player and the DVD player - but the CD player still works fine.)

And have you noticed that you can't quite get rid of any of the remotes because they all operate programing or setup functions that you just can't access any other way?

Rob Pegoraro: The one thing that audio/video hardware makers seem to be good at is ensuring that you've got enough connections for all your possible gear. Every single TV I saw had a backside thoroughly perforated by a full set of jacks -- composite, S-Video, component, RCA audio, optical digital audio, DVI, blah blah blah.

The latest connector, BTW, is something called HDMI, which -- revolutionary concept! -- actually combines digital audio and video signals in one cable. It's as if you could plug a keyboard into a computer with just one cable!

Oh, wait, you *can* do that.

Silver Spring, Md.: Hands down, what was your favorite gadget at CES?

Rob Pegoraro: Hmm... if we're going to limit this category to things I can actually buy in the next few months, I'd offer a few nominations:

* A thumb-sized MP3 player from Philips, worn around your neck from a lanyard -- and with controls built into that fabric.

* The Sony RoomLink, which--despite its Sony-only design -- offers the right kind of function, letting you view whatever's on your Vaio PC from any TV in the house over a wireless link. SonicBlue's D2730 networked DVD player uses a slower wireless connection, but it also works with any newer PC.

* RCA's Lyra Jukebox -- 20 gigabytes of video, audio and photo storage in a paperback sized container, with the ability to digitize whatever audio and video source you plug in.

Washington, D.C.: Were any companies at CES pitching better ways to block spam? What's the next step in the war on spam?

Rob Pegoraro: Not at CES -- this show is all about hardware, and in particular of the non-computer kind. Anti-spam software is something we all need, but this wasn't the show for it.

Next step? Since server-side filters only work so well, I think it has to be software that runs on your own PC and tries to learn from your own particular use of e-mail what's spam and what's not. Apple's Mail is one example of this; POPfile, a program we'll be reviewing in the next week or two, is another.

Fairfax, Va.: I saw the video about wooing women to technology. Is there still a gender divide when it comes to consumers? What were some gender specific gadgets for women at the show?

Rob Pegoraro: There is a gender gap in the consumer-electronics industry, but I think it's a subset of a broader gap--that between gearheads who *like* fine-tuning their TV picture can debate the best kind of cable to buy, and "normal" people who just want to watch TV.

(There's also the rampant sexism of a lot of CES exhibits, but that's another thing entirely.)

Arlington, Va.: What was the mood at Macworld, and what do you think about Apple's future? How can this company break through when it's latest product is a 17" screen laptop that costs almost 4000 bucks?

Rob Pegoraro: The mood at Macworld was much more upbeat than I would have expected. People seem really excited about the new software, especially Keynote and Safari, which show Apple willing to bankroll its own software to reduce its dependency on Microsoft. (This even though Safari still feels very underdone as a Web browser in its current beta state, IMHO.)

Yes, the new 17-in. aluminum PowerBook is outrageously expensive. But so is a top-of-the-line Lexus. There's a market for that sort of thing, and having what marketers call a "halo" product makes the rest of your line -- say, the far more affordable 12-in. PowerBook -- look that much better.

That said, I'm still waiting for somebody at Apple to tell me if/when the Apple Stores will actually deliver on their "5 down, 95 to do" mission of increasing market share. I hear all these great things about how they're bringing in non-Mac buyers, but I've yet to see market share (more like 4 percent these days) budge more than a fraction.

Fairfax, Va.: Please elaborate on the "rampant sexism of a lot of CES exhbits"? What needs to be done to stop it -- does there need to be a separate Women's CES exhibit?

Rob Pegoraro: No! What a ridiculous concept. No, what would be nice would be to market products based on them being cool products, rather than by hiring booth-babe supermodels to demonstrate them to show attendees.

But, hell, CES has nothing on the Electronic Entertainment Expo in this aspect...

Reston, Va. 20191: Hello Rob - Is .MAC ($100/year) worth the money for dial-in people; is it worth the money for cable modem people running OS X? What seems to suggest it might be essential for the latter is that virus protection is included -- but if that is all a user wants from the package, the price seems a bit steep. What is your view?

Rob Pegoraro: Dial-up, no. 100 GB of file storage is of marginal utility at best over a modem connection. With broadband, it becomes more reasonable, but only if you're going to use a lot of these services (personally, the anti-virus software is worthless and the .Mac e-mail doesn't matter much, but iDisk, putting your iCal schedule online and HomePage Web hosting are attractive).

Arlington, Va.: What did you think of Sony's big push for remaking the TV into the centerpiece of the digital entertainment revolution?

Rob Pegoraro: I don't see Sony doing that. If anything, it's now leaning more towards a Vaio PC as the center of your entertainment system. The TV remains the primary output device, but how could it not, given the size difference between TVs and PC monitors?

Silver Spring, MD: As you know, Sony introduced the new PEG-NZ90 clie at the CES last week. Do think they will introduce a PEG-NZ80 (without the digital camera)?

What is your recommendation on a real good portable minidisc player/recorder?

Rob Pegoraro: I'm sure Sony will -- it's done that with every earlier N-series Clie.

I can't offer a recommendation in MD player-recorders. I'm not a fan of this technology at all; MiniDisc never got off the ground as a recorded-music medium, it has some, er, unique copy-prevention hassles (there's a fascinating blog item out there about one guy's inability to copy a recording of his own audio presentation from his MD to his computer), and hard-drive or flash-based digital-audio solutions will eventually leave no room for it in the market.

Frederick, Md.: Rob, what was new and exciting in the gaming space out a CES?

Rob Pegoraro: Nintendo has a new Game Boy Advance SP, which has an illuminated screen (addressing our number-one complaint about the original GBA) and a flip-open screen, which is apparently somehow cool. There were some new graphics cards on display, but I didn't have time to check them out. But nobody makes much gaming news at CES; that tends to wait for E3 in the summer.

Manassas, Va.: How do you rate the relative brightness of the video displays; i.e., plasma vs crt vs the new technologies?

Rob Pegoraro: I asked just about every set manufacturer a variant of that kind of question -- which set is best? The answer seems to be that plasma remains unchallenged at sizes over 40 inches, although DLP/LCOS sets look really competitive; at 30 inches or less, LCD is the way to go. CRT is fine too, of course, but nobody wanted to talk much about CRT at the show.

Arlington, Va.: Were you able to corner the TiVo folks regarding their new premium service? Will I be able to watch TV shows that I recorded on my TiVo on my Powerbook? How are they implementing Rendezvous/ZeroConf networking?

Rob Pegoraro: I did get a good demo of the TiVo home-network add-on. When you connect a TiVo to a Mac, it does use the Rendezvous (aka ZeroConf) networking standard to find your Mac and vice versa. You can then listen to your iTunes music and browse through your iPhoto library on the TV. But this doesn't support streaming video, nor can it as long as TiVo only includes USB ports -- that's not enough bandwidth to send shows in real time. This feature is due in the spring and will cost a one-time $99 activation fee, I'm told.

Washington, D.C.: You've written a lot about the continuing disputes over copyright and digital rights management. Was this topic on people's minds at CES? What's the mood among the gadgeteers -- are they optimistic that some sort of truce can be negotiated?

Rob Pegoraro: Very much on people's minds. I left the show feeling a little more optimistic about this than in the past. A lot of manufacturers seem to have gotten sick of waiting for Hollywood to issue some reasonable marching orders and are just building in features that they think consumers will want -- e.g., that Lyra Jukebox I mentioned. Meanwhile, there's still no clarity on what copy-prevention systems should be embedded in hardware, so manufacturers can't really build in anything yet, which means the installed base of non-copy-protected hardware keeps growing.

But then there's that nest of plugs at the back of the digital TV. One thing you still don't see enough of is digital video outputs, which could boost the quality of recordings made with future PVRs and DVD recorders. This, unfortunately, is one area where manufacturers do still appear content to wait on the entertainment industry.

Washington, D.C.: Did anyone do a CES blog this year?

Rob Pegoraro: Haven't done more than some perfunctory Googling to find one, but if anybody has any nominees, please let me know... it's certainly a fine topic for a blog.

Arlington, Va.: Will the new TiVo service do Slideshows as well? Or Movies?

Rob Pegoraro: Slideshows shouldn't be an issue at all (the SonicBlue networked DVD player offers the same feature over the same speed of connection) but iMovies would take up a lot of bandwidth unless you compressed them pretty heavily. That's why I'm waiting for somebody to jump on 802.11g, the standard used in Apple's new AirPort Extreme, to share all this stuff around the house.

Somewhere, USA: Update on the Linux front:
Got tired of Redhat holding my hand all the time. It was getting in the way. So I went to SuSe. Which comes on a DVD(!). Both RH and SuSe want to install on the larges hard drive, even if it's not the master on the ide chain. Arrgh. At least SuSe's partitioning assumes that people who select 'expert' mode know what they're doing.

Do the actual HDTV/DTV monitors have a multiple input capability? And why do people want a bult in tuner anyway? I haven't used the one on my TV in years, except to set it to channel 3 so I can watch the VHS tape deck. Which has its own tuner. And aux inputs for the DVD.

Given the variety of video devices out there what's needed is some sort of switch with multiple inputs. One for DVD, one for tape, one for tuner, one for satellite, one aux. Oh goody, another remote. Better yet, a programmable remote that doesn't cost $200 and eat batteries. - wiredog

Rob Pegoraro: Hey, wiredog--glad to see your update.

WRT TV inputs -- aren't you really asking for a router for your TV set? I'm not sure that's the concept that's really going to grab the bulk of the American populace.

Chantilly, Va.: Rob -- are you going to review this camera phone I'm seeing advertised EVERYWHERE on TV these days? I think it's a Nokia.

Rob Pegoraro: I'm still trying to decide what to do about camera-phones, period. The cell-phone cabal seems to have taken some kind of a vote on this and pronounced the concept a must-have, but is it really? I can easily think of ways this function could be handy ("honey, let me e-mail you a shot of the lamp I'm looking at, and you tell me if it's any good") and also ways that it could be just a waste of cash.

washingtonpost.com: In a recent e-letter, you looked back on some of your reviews from 2002 and filed updates. Could you talk about one or two of the most important reviews you revisted?

Rob Pegoraro: Yes. This was a second-opinions e-letter; I had been thinking that some earlier columns of mine were, well, not quite wrong, but they hadn't aged so well. Two examples:

* I wrote this high-minded, principled declaration that you should try to avoid using America Online's IM system, since this company remains the biggest obstacle around to IM interoperability. That's true, but 11 months later I still spend most of my time in AOL IM. How can I not? Everybody I know is on it, and I'm not going to get all those people to quit. Instead, though, I've booted the AIM software from all of my computers -- I use Trillian on Windows, iChat on the Mac.

* Second, I had to temper some of my initial enthusiasm for Apple's Jaguar update to Mac OS X after it went through a nasty bout of crashes. Every other time I'd wake up the computer from sleep--wham, instant kernel panic. I finally fixed this by reinstalling the OS, and here Apple redeemed itself somewhat by offering a really easy way of putting a clean install of the system on the computer *without* touching my data, my preferences or my applications.

Laurel, Md.: Not sure what the vague "this" in the last sentence of your dispatch article (maybe this will be simpler next year) was referring to.

But did you see any displays suggesting that anybody was trying to make anything simpler to use, understand, shorten the learning curve, etc?

Rob Pegoraro: "This" was supposed to refer to, well, everything I saw at CES. Far too many products introduced there require an unnecessary degree of technical savvy -- to wire different components together, to make informed judgments about competing and incompatible formats, to buy products without knowing what technological restrictions may be placed on their uses.

Let met put it this way: One of the best categories in the business these days is the home theater in a box -- you buy a single component that includes the DVD player, FM tuner and surround-sound receiver, with matching speakes included. You take it home, you connect the TV and/or cable box, and you have one plug going to a power outlet. People love this, and with good reason.

So I really do hope that digital TV can make things like integrated over-the-air and cable-TV tuners happen. Likewise for that all-digital HDMI connector (although I want to see more about what sort of copying restrictions it might enforce.) We all have better things to do than pore through wiring diagrams.

Rob Pegoraro: And that's all the time we have for today. Thanks for all your questions. If I missed anything or some other query comes to mind, e-mail me anytime (although bear with me if a reply takes a while; I'm now behind about two weeks in answering my e-mail, thanks to the holidays and CES week).

- R


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company