The Consumer Electronics Show 2010 edition opens today in Las Vegas, what I like to call the most wonderful time of the year. Electronically speaking, at least.
Though the show doors don't officially open for an hour, there have been a few events thus far, so it's possible to get an early sense of some themes.
For starters, the economy has taken its toll, and CES is notably smaller this year. It's been held at two separate convention sites for the past few years, but this year it's largely confined to just one. Also, quite a few companies aren't buying booths, but rather taking meeting rooms. JVC has long had a very good breakfast press conference at a hotel -- this year, that's out, and they're just having a basic press conference at the convention hall.
In other ways, there have been cutbacks, too. Some a tad odd. The press room no longer has spiral "reporters notebook" that they've always given away. Their explanation was that they're "going green." But I don't believe it. After all, this is the Consumer ELECTRONICS Show -- the place is loaded with ELECTRONICS. Everywhere. You're bombarded by ELECTRONICS. Electricity, batteries, flashing lights, electronics, electronics, electronics are coming out of every year. And they're "going green" by eliminating paper?? I don't think so. I suspect it's cost-cutting. But even that is stupid, because blatant extravagance. More to the point, as I said to the person in the press room. "Er...how is the press supposed to...take notes? And actually write about what they see here?" Not shockingly, she didn't have an answer. Ah, but life will persevere. Paper will be found!
It's clear already that home 3-D is going to be one of The Big Things here. Last night, at Pepcom's Digital Experience event, I saw a low-key 3-D demonstration lfrom Cyberlink (which makes the software to run movies on computers) and nVidia which makes the glasses. And it was very impressive. (But it was just material on one's computer, not TV).
3-D for the home is clearly coming. The question is whether it will settle into the form most vendors are pushing at the moment. As I said, the hype is massive. The technology is basically here, and the technology is good. The questions are --
People will need to buy a TV that can handle 3-D. It may be very expensive, or not. But a lot of people have just been pushed into buying Digital TVs and HD TVs. Will they be willing now, today to ditch those and by a new TV? That purchase might still be a few years away.
For movies, the only technology that can play 3-D is Blu-Ray, and not all that many people have upgraded yet to Blu-Ray players. Most people are perfectly happy with normal DVDs.
Unlike going to a special event movie, will people be willing to wear 3-D glass for their five hours of TV a night -- every night? Not only is that cumbersome, but it's not how people watch TV. They multitask -- watch TV, read magazines, talk to people in the room, go to the kitchen, and so on.
What will the standard be for glasses? Right now there are several. The red-blue glasses. Polarizing glasses. And electronic shutter glasses. (This latter is considered the best, but most expensive. It sends blistering fast pulses alternating into each eye. But even here, there is no standard. Sony has one, but nVidia has another.)
One way around this is the 3-D technology that doesn't require glasses. I've been seeing demonstrations of that for years, and it's fascinating. But it's not ready yet for home consumption. For one thing, right now, you need to be a certain distance from the screen, and in a specific spot. It'll have to be developed so that everyone in the room can see the 3-D. And though it's probably possible to widen the range, and I don't know if it can be widened that much.
Anyway, these are some of the questions. The technology will come. After all, it's here. But I think that the hype is far exceeding the reality. It's still a few years (or more?) from being the norm that the hype is suggesting is on the doorstep. Keep in mind, when people had to upgrade their TVs to play digital, Congress had to extend the deadline something like half a year for people to simply buy a new, basic TV, because people were so bewildered. This is much more complex a situation than that.
It's coming though. Just eventually. The show officially starts in an hour, so I'll be seeing a LOT more.
I saw a few other interesting items last night --
Toshiba has a new, full notebook computer that's not much bigger than a netbook, and at a somewhat similar cost ($549-699, depending on the configuration). It's the T135-D, and is ultrathin.
eBooks is another technology that's getting a major push. Whether that market is large enough to sustain all the competition, we'll see. At the moment, the biggest alternative to the Kindle is Barnes & Noble's new eBook reader. (One little tweak they offer: since they have brick-and-mortar stores, if you go into one with your eBook reader, it will recognize you and send you special promotions, like free cookies. Okay, I said it was a little tweak. But I'm sure they develop it further...)
Lexar has a miniscule USB flashdrive, the ZE, about the size of your thumbnail (ah, once these were call thumbdrives...). They call it a "plug and stay" device, because you can stick in in your notebook's USB port and just leave it there all the time: it has backup software on it that recognizes all the standard data file formats and will automatically backup your documents whenever you save anythings, without you having to do anything. It's somewhat similar to the Clickfree external hard drive, with much bigger capacity. For that mater, Clickfree is introducing their own new model, the C-2, which has nice enhancement. And speaking of teensy flash drives, Verbatim has one that almost makes the ZE look big, their "Tuff-and-Tiny." And it holds 8 gig of material, with a 16 gig model coming.
One other area that's growing -- the merging of your computer with your TV. Roku began as a device to play Netflix movies on your TV. They now have a dozen channels (including Amazon-on-Demand and MLB.com, which is Major League Baseball), and expect to have 100 channels by the end of the year. Boxee Box takes the Boxee software that consolidates all multimedia on your computer, like Hulu, but much, much more, and allows you to play it on your TV. There were quite a few other similar-type products at the Pepcom event.
(By the way, this is significantly related to issue in the Writers Guild strike. The WGA said that new terms had to be developed for TV content blending with the Internet. The studios insisted that it was all so newfangled, that they needed three years to even study it. It was all so far away. It's here, it's now, and the TV and the Internet for many is all the same thing.)
That's all for now. The show officially starts soon. Updates as they occur, if time allows....
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RobertElisberg