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Live From CES: Day 1

01/07/2011 11:40 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The doors have opened. Let the games begin.

It's pretty much impossible to accurately describe CES. It covers too much. The image is one of whiz bang gadgetry, and while that's part of it, it's largely the perception because of what television covers, showing "the cool." In truth, there's plenty of cheesy junk throughout the unending aisles of the show, as well as workman material like cables and processing boards and microchips - not to mention all manner of products that are part of everyday life that one would rarely think would be at CES, like refrigerators, ovens, medical equipment, and even electronic cigarettes and eyeglasses, the latter a product from Pixel Optics, called "empower," that can adjust the lenses of bifocals for close-up reading by either taping on the frames or simply tilting one's head downward when in "auto mode."

Still, the eternal question most everyone gets going to CES is, "What did you see that's cool?!" As I mentioned the other day, my definition of "cool" is different from most. It's not the flashy whizbang, but often the more quiet, lowkey products that work so simply and elegantly in a way that you actually use them and they improve your work. I have nothing against whizbang, mind you, it's just that I most especially love it when something makes my life better.

So, rather than trying to describe all of Day 1 at CES, I'll start with what I found cool - but no need to buckle your seatbelts. These don't have an ounce of flash in them. Just great design, impressive thought, elegant simplicity and huge practicality.

One example is the Clickfree Wireless. Clickfree has been a company that helped pioneer easy backup, with a "plug it in and it will back up your data" external hard drive. As the market developed towards automatically backing up all files as soon as they are changed, Clickfree moved in that direction. But with their newest product, they've made backing up so ridiculously simple it's almost invisible. With the Clickfree Wireless, you plug the device in once, and that's largely it. You let it run through its first backup with its auto software, and then unplug it. And then you put the device away! You do have to plug it in somewhere (oh, the challenge!), but you can store it wherever you like, out of view even, and because it's WiFi - and because on that first back-up it was able to determine your WiFi settings, it will continue to back up automatically as you change any file, whether you ever see the device again. You can change settings, if you're more technologically adept, but for people who are technophobes and never backup, they pretty much have no excuse now. Now, they can literally forget that they are backing up or even have a back up, and still back up.

A company I'd never heard of, Elocity, had a fascinating digital photo frame. Now, what in the world can be cool about a photo frame. It displays photos, right? Well, with Elocity's product, you load your .jpg photo files - and then it automatically converts them to 3D...and displays the pictures you took in 2D but with 3D depth. (It's somewhat similar to the process that TV and movies are using to convert 2D films and TV shows to 3D.) The results were seriously impressive, particularly from farther away.

And Elocity had another product of note - a 3D television that doesn't need glasses. For me, glasses are the big challenge for 3D TV; it's simply not how people watch television. They get up, go to the bathroom, head to the kitchen, talk to people in the room, read - and glasses heavily get in the way of that. But without glasses, you're back to Watching TV Mode. Other companies are dealing with "no glasses 3D TV," but they tend to have limited viewing areas outside of which the picture is blurry. That's not the case with Elocity - range was impressively wide. (There were occasional pockets of blur, but if you adjusted a few inches, it was fine again.) To be clear, 3D TV without glasses is still quite a few years away. The image isn't remotely has sharp and clear for what people expect today from TV, especially now with high-definition. But the Elocity is showing the way towards that goal.

Speaking of television, Cydle has a bit of technology that adds a fascinating twist to one of the world's most popular products. It turns the iPhone (and iPod touch) into a television. The i30a is a dock that fits around an iPhone/iPod and receives a DTV signal. It then transfers the signal either by 3G or WiFi. An free downloadable app provides all the menu options. Because it uses a DTV signal, the number of stations it gets is limited, since the technology is growing. But that's an issue of the outside technological world. As for the device itself, it's ready. And the limited demo I saw worked quite smoothly, picking up a live TV broadcast.

Cydle has another product, as well, that falls into my "cool" category for being very simple in concept, very small in size, and being something you'd actually use, as part of your daily life. At first glance, it looks like nothing more than an MP3 player, about the size of a deck of cards. It has a touch screen, plays music, and plays movies. Fair enough, that's almost painfully normal - except that it also has a built-in TV, broadcasting live television. As above, there are the same DTV limits presently. And as above, I've only seen the P29A in limited use, so I can't say how well it works in full operation. But the demo worked as you hoped it would. Both it and the iPod TV product should be available in March..

And finally, one of the coolest products I saw was a battery. A battery, like...well, one of your basic alkalines. Cool? Really??? Yes, really. You see, what was absolutely wonderful about this absolutely simple batteries, from EcoAlkaline, is that they have no mercury, no lead and no cadmium. And they're certified "carbon neutral" by carbonfund.org. So, when you're finished with them and toss them away, there is absolutely, positively zero guilt that you're mucking up the environment. These batteries are degradable, and when they degrade, they are putting nothing poisonous into the ground. Okay, great, swell, but how do they work and are they ghastly expensive? I haven't had a chance to check them out, but the company says that an independent testing firm showed the EcoAlkalines lasting longer than Energizer and equal with Duracells. The cost of a 4-pack will range between $1.25 and 1.50 per battery, which is basically within normal range of standard batteries, though the standards generally will drop to half that when sold in large multi-packs. However, EcoAlkalines offer some multipacks, as well, and plan to increase that in the future.

Yes, I admit it, there is nothing among all of these that will make anyone go, "Oh, My Gaaaawwwd!!! But for me, they're all (at first glance, admittedly) just utterly wonderful products that improve your life, no matter how simple. In fact, it's the simplicity that impresses me the most. Because, in large part, it's what makes them so useful.

To be sure, there was plenty of flash whizbang at the show. And this was only Day 1, with three more days together. There is wall-to-wall 3D television with quality that's breathtaking. Tablets and eBooks are growing in numbers and maturity, with several making moves to separate themselves from the pack (though still trailing the iPad). The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Color Nook and Entourage Pocket eDge (the latter with two screens, basically one an e-reader and the other a tablet) each have something special about them. (To be fair, there are others, but I haven't come upon them yet.)

And more, much more. I wrote about some of that yesterday, but time is limited for typing and the CES tsunami is still pouring over the shores.

The show goes on. But now, I must rest my feet. And decompress. Because tomorrow is only Day 2. And the zoo here only gets zooier...

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