I was in Las Vegas last week with my partner Jason Mendelson for CES, my third or fourth (they sort of all blur together) trip to Sin City for this bit of consumer-electronic craziness. I just read Dave Hornik’s post on his trip to CES and felt compelled to share my thoughts as well. While I think it is highly unlikely that I’d find a startup to invest in in Vegas, it is a great way to get the lay of the land in the consumer electronics industry and generally soak in the zeitgeist of today’s gadget universe. We also walked the halls to see the buzz that our portfolio companies which exhibit at CES are drawing. We had several MobiusVC companies to check in on this year: eCast, MicroDisplay, Perpetual Entertainment, Reactrix and Sling Media.
In the past few years, the big themes that have been prominent at the show have ranged from digital music devices, mobile video and smartphones. This year was the year of Full HD (1920 x 1080 progressive scan), and, of course, the ongoing game of one-upsmanship in flat screen TVs. Sharp’s 108 inch LCD TV ruled the day, trumping the 102 inch and 103 inch plasma screens in previous years, thanks to Sharp’s new eighth-generation LCD plant. We looked at as many TVs as we could find, since Mobius VC is a co-investor in Microdisplay, along with the fine folks at August Capital. MicroDisplay was showing their gorgeous LCoS (liquid crystal on siicon) Full HD RPTVs in their booth as well as in the booths of their partners Akai and Memorex, who will soon be shipping MicroDisplay’s TVs into the retail marketplace.
But the best-quality, most astonishing TV I saw at CES wasn’t even a big screen TV (the biggest was a mere 27 inches) and, sadly, is not yet commercially available and was billed as a prototype. Sony’s ultra-thin OLED TVs were truly stunning and their display quality was markedly better than anything I’ve seen before, owing partially to their remarkable 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. I’ll be picking one of these babies up when they are finally ready for prime time — I’m guessing that Sony’s still struggling with lifetime issues on these displays, given the organic compounds used in the displays.
I’ve been involved with Sling since leading their Series A round in the summer of 2004, and it has been great to see how they’ve grown each of the three years they’ve been at CES. The first year, they were showing pre-release prototypes of the original Slingbox, last year their announcement of the SlingPlayer Mobile for mobile phones was all the rage, and this year, Sling made waves with the announcement of the upcoming SlingCatcher device, as well as with CEO Blake Krikorian’s appearance during Les Moonves’ keynote speech, where they announced the upcoming release of the clip-n-sling feature in the SlingPlayer and CBS’s partnership with Sling whereby Sling users can freely clip and share snippets of CBS programming they capture while watching their Slingboxes. Kudos to Sling and CBS for this groundbreaking deal.
Finally, I should mention that the biggest buzz during CES wasn’t at CES at all. It came from up north in San Francisco at Apple’s MacWorld conference. Apple’s announcements of the iPhone and AppleTV easily generated as much press coverage as all of CES combined. For any consumer electronics company other than Apple, hosting a conference at the same time would have been suicide, yet, once again, Steve Jobs has pulled off a marketing masterstroke and demonstrated his company’s ability to define the conversation in the world of digital media and consumer electronics.