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Live from CES: Day One

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Ah, life is good. It's the Consumer Electronics Show yet again. I know that many people (which is the polite way of saying, "Pretty much everyone here") hates the massive zoolike circus of CES, but I absolutely love the show. And this from someone who is not big on crowds. There's almost nothing but crowds here. But great techie stuff (the official term), as well.

The doors don't officially open for an hour, as I write this, though there have been events -- and tons of PR emails sent out for the past month. If your bandwith has slowed down in the last 30 days, that's why. Sorry...

It's too early to know what "themes" will appear at this year's CES, but a few inklings have crept though from all this pre-opening swirl. Most notably is that it doesn't seem that there will be a "Big Next Thing" this year. Sometimes technology moves so fast that products get a little ahead of themselves and need a year or so to "mature." Not only do they need to find an audience, but almost more, it takes time to develop in a way that doesn't just "introduce" the technology but figure out how to make them more usable for consumers. What I'm seeing a bit is that I suspect that will happen with tablets this year and 3D TV, which blossomed last year. (That said, I'm still not convinced there's a big market yet for 3D TV...and may not be. I wrote about that in my CES overview last year.) I also suspect that there'll be a lot this year about "interconnectivity," ways of getting tablets, phones, TVs and the Internet to work together.

In this latter's regard, there was already a bit of that to see at the Pepcom "Digital Experience" event last night. Companies like Fanhattan (which has a very well-design free app for consolidating TV and movies to stream, sort of a "Kayak.com for movies" is the way they described), Film Fresh (whose website does an interesting job of making movie recommendations and then streaming them) or products like Western Digital's WD Live that streams movies from Internet outlets already show how pronounced this blending of the Internet and TV/movies has become. There's also a very interesting new protocol on the way, MHL. Its consortium is hoping to become a standard, and given the powerhouses behind it, they have a respectable chance. (The companies that head the consortium include Sony, Samsung, Toshiba and Nokia.) Basically, MHL will be a port on your TV that allows you to connect an MHL-enabled handheld device, enabling you to watch content from your tablet or Smartphone on your television. It charges your handheld at the same time, so it's not a power drain, and also lets you use your existing TV remote to control the TV screen.

By the way, all of this Internet/TV interconnectivity that is not only on the way, but here (meaning it has long been in development and on the market) gives lie to the AMPTP corporations that run Hollywood's studios and networks. Only three years ago, they were offering the members of the Writers Guild of America literally "zero" in their contract negotiations over the use of material on the Internet, insisting that this whole "Internet thing" is just way too new-fangled and confusing and far off in the future to know if there's any way to make money from it. Writers knew this was ludicrous, and went on strike, gaining the first foothold (albeit a small one) in Internet conent. Well, from only a tiny view of this year's CES, it's blatantly clear how blending TV, movies and the Internet has already become -- are you watching TV or the Internet on TV -- and with Netflix spending well over $100 to bring two new streaming TV series to their service (an American version of "House of Cards," based on the brilliant British trilogy, and "Lilyhammer"), the field is already maturing, though still in its first stages.

As for the enternal CES question -- "So, what cool things did you see?!!" -- that's also much too early for a substantive list, though a few things have popped up. First, though, I have to acknowledge that my definition of "cool" technology is worlds different from most. It's not the most whizbang that makes you gasp with ooohs and aahhhs (though admittedly that kind of product is a joy to see). For me, cool is the technology that in the simplest way makes products one regularly uses much easier and much better, no matter how small they are.

A couple such products stood out for me at that Pepcom event. One was Pandigital's Handheld Wand Scanner with Doc Feeder. Despite its less than elegant name, this is a small, portable device that you can roll over a flat document to scan it -- but most such products stop there. This however lets you dock it and then use the device as a sheet feeder, as well. And there's an LCD screen on it which displays what you just scanned. It's also one of the steadiest "wand scanners" I've seen, almost impossible to make wobble. It's a little bigger than that tube inside a roll of kitchen towels, and retails for $129.

I also liked the xPrinter Server from Lantronix. It's a device you plug into your home network router (or any router, of course) and will then print from your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. What's special about this is that it doesn't require a wireless printer. It will work from any printer, as long as that printer is connected to your network. (Meaning, your home printer only has to be connected to your computer that's connected to your router.) An Android version is in development.

And Kingston has a nice-looking new product, it's Wi Drive. Similar to the Seagate GoFlex Satellite I reviewed last year, this is a portable device that uses WiFi to stream content on it to your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, expanding their capacity. It comes in 16GB or 32GB sizes (far smaller than Seagate's), but -- it uses a Solid State drive, so it's extremely small (smaller than an iPhone), incredibly light and therefore overwhelming portable. The Seagate, though higher capacity, was notably bigger and bulkier. It operates with an iOS app, though the company has an Android app out in beta form right now, as well. It retails for either $60 or $90, depending on the size.

And now, back into the circus. Send in the clowns...

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