CES 2010: The Convention Strikes Back

01/08/2010 11:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

On Thursday, the South Hall where I went didn't have any 3D-TV vendors (or none that I saw in the morass. It's easy to miss a lot...) I did get to visit NVIDIA, though they're only 3-D for computers. Very impressive though. Very. The technology is quite mature. I suspect most of the big pushes for 3-D TV will be from the people who make the actual TVs, and those companies tend to be in the Central Hall. That's today.

One thing the NVIDIA manager said that I didn't realize is that companies that sell TVs will likely include 3-D glasses. (One can still buy them individually, of course.) However, they may only include one pair, or two. Not enough for a family. Also, he said compatibility of technologies isn't an issue, since regardless of what technology a TV uses, "You'd only be watching your Panasonic TV with Panasonic glasses." I said I had a devil's advocate scenario -- what if your friend was having a football game party and showing the game on his Sony set, but you only had Panasonic glasses? "Good point," he said. And that's another issue that will have to be resolved, among all the journalists buying the hype. Forget football TV parties, people invite friends over to their homes all the time for dinner, and then watch TV. How do you handle that? You're not going to have a half dozen spare glasses sitting around. As I said, the technology appears terrific, and is near ready -- but there are many things that argue against it becoming THE thing next year, until they get worked out.

The convention is very crowded, though probably lighter than previous years. It's a little hard to tell since they're only using one convention hall, the Las Vegas Convention Center, not the Sands Exhibition Center, as well. So, everything is jammed in one place making it seem as crowded. But that's deceptive. There are other indications that make it apparent that the turnout isn't as big. But if anyone writes that it's empty, it's not. It's jammed, like always. Just not *as* jammed.

Wandering through the South Hall, the technology is overwhelming. I only stop to see maybe three percent of it, and only about a quarter of a percent makes it through the brain waves and into print.

Here are some quick impressions on things seen, before I dive off the deep end and head into the Central Hall, where the Big Boys play. (Microsoft, Sony, Panasonic, Phillips, Toshiba, Casio...you get the point.) Unlike many, however, products that particularly catch my eye aren't the big whiz-bang ones, but rather more quieter things that have prominent everyday use and have refined them wonderfully.

For instance, the X-Mini II. It's nothing more than a pocket-sized speaker for MP3 players, about the size of a golf ball. But it's wonderfully made...and what excellent sound quality for something this small. And loud. The company, XMI PTE from Singapore, also introduced the X-Mini Max, which is slightly larger, but pulls apart to make stereo speakers.

One of the companies I like, Clickfree, has some new backup devices. The Traveler starts at 16 gig (and will soon be up to 64 gig) -- it's about the size of a credit card, so you can stick it in your wallet. It uses the Clickfree software that automatically recognizes thousands of standard data file formats, and automatically backs them on on the device without your having to do anything. Upcoming they'll soon have the Traveler SD, a tiny SD flash card you stick in your notebook, and it will do the same thing backing up as mentioned above.

What's noticeable is how many USB 3.0 devices are beginning to show up. Currently the standard is 2.0, and computers with USB 3.0 ports won't likely be available until the end of the year. The 3.0 devices runn faster even on 2.0 ports, maybe two or three times faster, but when they're finally in 3.0 ports the results should be impressive. All vendors say about 10 times faster. Seagate, for example, was showing off its Black Armor portable hard drive.

Verbatim has the first small-form portable hard drive I've seen. Toshiba announced one a year or so ago, and even had demos, but they never went into productions. The Verbatim XS, though, are coming out in Februrary. They're small enough to almost fit in a shirt pocket.

Sungale has an interesting device, the Kula. It can show IPTV from all over the world. The "IP" stand for Internet Protocol, and the simple explanation is that it's any streaming broadcast that can be shown over the Internet. Right now, most US TV is blocked, though not all. (They had the Golf Channel, for example.) But a great deal of TV from around the world is available, including the BBC. You have to be networked to a Wi-Fi connection, but then the content is yours. A free year of subscription will be included, and after that there are different levels. But a basic free level will be available with limited channels. The Kula should be for sale soon, perhaps February.

Butterfly had a fascinating personal projector. These are growing in popularity, but what the Butterly nice is how small it was, and how clear the image projected was -- and how big. Probably 36-50 inches diagonally.

Last night, I went to the other of the two events I love. Both similar. The first was Pepcom's Digital Experience, and last night was Showstoppers. Lots of exhibitors in a huge ballroom, much easier to get around and more collegial. Plus they always have great buffet tables through the place. The daily double. (Hey, I have my standards...) The only annoying thing is that it's always the same night as the BCS Championship, so I haven't seen that in years. Sort of. After the first year, the complaint were so big that they now have a large displays overhead to show the game.

The Pogo Plug, introduced last year, is finally about to be released. It's a device that connects between your Wi-Fi router and an external hard disk. It's software will automatically back up your data, music, video files (and whatever you want), and from that point on, you can access this external drive with your data from any computer in the world. You just log on to the Pogo Plug website, and sign in.

The L5 Remote is a little dongle plug that you attach the your iPod touch or iPhone, and then after downloading a free app, your touch or iPhone will become a universal remote. The only downside is that, of course, you have to have that dongle plug attached, and therefore have to be careful not to lose it when not in use.

Finally, mSpot Mobile Movie allows for streaming rented movies directly to your mobile device. Nothing is downloaded. It works via Wi-Fi or G3 connection. It's just another way that computer, TV, movies, and entertainment have converged. All of mSpot's content is set up directly with deals with each movie studio. In fact, when I mention to the company's rep that this reality was one of the core issues in the Writers Guild Strike, when the companies insisted they need three years to study the Internet and claimed there wasn't any money in the Internet yet, he broke into laughter. "No money?," he said, "Then maybe they'll give us back everything we pay them! Because we pay them a lot."

And a lot is what else there is here at CES. So, much more to explore. As I put on my pith helmet and go explore the CES jungle...