Fast Forward's Rob Pegoraro
Consumer Electronics Show
Friday, January 14, 2000 at 1 p.m.
Last week, Rob Pegoraro toured the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the industry's annual product showcase. The buzzword this year was "digital": digital TV, digital radio, digital video disk, digital music downloads and so on. It's a confusing time for the business, as manufacturers try to promote technologies nobody's ever tried before, and for which a market may not actually exist. (Weirdest moment: Right after seeing a demonstration of a $3,300, DVD-equipped AutoPC, a Microsoft rep asked "So, would you want to buy something like this for your car?") Fortunately, you all don't have to sit through the product demonstrations or read through the press releases; Rob has already suffered through those tasks for you. Instead, bring your questions to Friday's discussion, or submit them here ahead of time.
Rob Pegoraro: Hello again, gang. I spent last week in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show, sitting through rigged demos, listening to manufacturer spiels, soaking up industry receptions--all so you don't have to. As a result, I'm now moderately well-equipped to answer any possible question y'all might have on the audio/video/computer universe. So: bring it on...
Frederick MD.: Hi Rob, I am thinking about getting a DVD player,any thoughts on what brand? and when do you think a recordable type will be available. Thanks
Rob Pegoraro: One easy question and one hard one from Frederick.
Washington, DC: So, Rob- What's the latest on secure digital music? I'm not exactly worried that my Rio is going to be obsolete -any day now- as it seemed the recording industry was threatening for most of last year... but is SDMI really in the "Where are they now" file for good?
Rob Pegoraro: And speaking of piracy fears... SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) is not quite in the "where are they now" file, but it's moving that way. The recording industry hoped to have a finalized standard in time for the holiday season just passed, but not starting this effort until last January pretty much sank their chances of ever pulling that off.
Washington DC: Which consumer electronics outfit threw the best party in Vegas? Were there any tech celebrities -or, less-likely, any real celebrities- at the show?
Rob Pegoraro: Hate to sound like a loser here, but I probably missed some of the better goings-on by not arriving in Vegas until late Wednesday night. (Note to Vegas airport management: What were you smoking when you decided to put one person per cab at the taxi stand?)
Columbia, Md: I'm excited about the HandSpring Visor, but not ready to commit. Have you tried it? Are people satisfied? Also, have you seen or tried any of the Springboard attachments -MP3, GPS, etc.-? I keep reading that they are on the way, but, well, that means nothing to me. What's the deal?
Rob Pegoraro: Hey Columbia - have not tried out a Visor firsthand, but I know a couple of friends who either have one or have ordered one. The big flaw with the product is simply getting it in the first place; Handspring royally botched its ordering and shipping operations, to the point where these folks are probably still digging their way out of the pre-Xmas order backlog.
Washington DC: I am thinking about getting a mobile MP3 player. Which is the best value out there right now?
Rob Pegoraro: The best value at the moment is probably the Rio 500, if you can get a sufficient discount on it. Creative's Nomad II seems like it might take the lead, though; it's got a good buzz around it. Worst value, by contrast, would probably be the Sony digital-music players, which carry too much of a price premium for Sony's name and industrial design--and are also saddled with some SDMI-induced complexity.
Rob Pegoraro: The IIIx has more memory than the IIIe, plus software to synch with Outlook. Otherwise, there's no real difference, and if you're not about to install a lot of extra software you might as well save your cash. Also consider either Handspring Visor model, if you can afford to wait a little while (the Handspring site quotes a four-week shipping time). Note that if you use a new Mac, the Visor is a much better choice by virtue of coming with a USB-equipped cradle.
Washington DC: Is Ballmer going to be anywhere near as much fun for you columnists to rail on as Bill Gates was-is??
Rob Pegoraro: I've never met Steve Ballmer, so I can't say for sure. However, he does sound like, well... let's say vociferous and boisterous. I'm not just talking about the "to heck with Janet Reno" quote (why do I think he may have used alternate vocabulary). The story is that he works up the troops at meetings by leading a chant of "Windows! Windows! Windows!" until he's red in the face.
Columbia, Md: How far away are we from the day when I can have one device that will hold maybe 50 to 100 CDs -compressed- and work as my portable player, in my car, and with my home stereo? AND, of course, for a reasonable price - say 300 bucks. Should I be getting my hopes up?
Rob Pegoraro: Not as far as you might think, Columbia. See our video clip on the Nomad Jukebox: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/mmedia/business/business6.htm . It's a six-gig hard drive in a saucer-shaped device, like a thick portable CD player. That should give you, oh, 80 hours or so of listening time. (At that point, you'll still need to bring along the CD case, but to hold batteries, not music!) The people there wouldn't say much about price, but something around $600 seems in store.
I noticed in your column today you mentioned security becoming more of a problem; what about the IRS requesting that more returns be filed online, tax returns reveal almost everything personal about a person and
Rob Pegoraro: Good question, Alexandria. The IRS--or Merrill Lynch or Visa or your bank--can't do much to keep somebody from hacking into your own computer, so it's critically important that you keep that secure. That means make sure that file sharing is off unless you absolutely need it, in which case you need to take a bunch of other precautions. Tricky stuff.
That's all the news we have time for today, as the saying goes. I'll be back in a couple of weeks, and in the meantime if I missed a question or your query comes to mind 15 minutes from now, post it in our discussion area and I'll get to it there. Or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.