Live from CES

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This was my first CES, and it was quite an experience. It also seemed like it was Las Vegas’ first CES given the mass confusion that existed at the airport, the monorail, and all around the conference center. I thought Vegas was supposed to know how to handle conventions! Ah well, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now and assume that CES is just so big that all infrastructure is stretched so far beyond capacity that the whole event can’t help but be a clown show.

Given the consumer-electronics industry’s affinity for acronyms, I’ll create a few of my own to describe what I saw on the hectares of floor space at the convention center: the floor was replete with HEFTs, YADMPs, HORPTs, YACPs and TFBVCs (sorry, but I couldn’t find a vowel for that one). Now I’ll decode the acronyms: Huge Enormous Flatscreen Televisions, Yet Another Digital Music Player, Hundreds Of Rear Projection Televisions, Yet Another Cellular Phone and Tiny Flash-Based Video Cameras.

Samsung’s 102 inch plasma TV was quite impressive, though it was actually four 50 inch panels fused together — I could not see the seams between each panel. The picture was beautiful and this TV was the talk of the show. However, given that it must weigh at least 400 pounds, an eight and a half foot piece of glass begs the question of whether one should opt for a projector and a screen instead. I’ve got a 50 inch plasma at home and that thing is a space heater when it is running, so this thing could transform you living room into that sauna you’ve always wanted.

Overall, the scale of the show is overwhelming and one becomes numb after seeing hundreds of MP3 players, cellphones, video cameras, USB flash drives, televisions projectors, and so on. I didn’t see much that I would describe as disruptive technology. For the most part it was incremental, more storage capacity, bigger screens, smaller form-factors, etc. Once a new device category is created and becomes established, one can witness the Cambrian explosion in action at CES with established companies (and dozens you’ve never heard of) creating hundreds of variations on the same basic concept. It has been going on for years with MP3 players, and if I had to choose a recent example of a newish category, I suppose it would be personal media players, though there’s not enough data to say these are a success yet.

I ended my Friday with the keynote from Texas Instrument’s CEO Rich Templeton, which featured Howie Long, Jeffrey Katzenberg, several movie trailers (including the new Star Wars Episode III) and a live demo of Sling Media’s SlingBox Personal Broadcaster from Sling’s CEO/co-founder Blake Krikorian. Blake introduced the audience to the concept of place-shifting: using a SlingBox attached to his cable TV at his home in San Mateo, he was able to watch his own television over the internet on his laptop and on a new EVDO cellphone. Pretty cool. Of course, being a demo, it was not without glitches, and no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t able to show the SlingBox connected to his TiVo. Blame the demo demons for that one. Nonetheless, it was a great show for Sling, and the company had heavy foot traffic at their booth and got some nice mentions in the press, including a nice mention in Thursday’s WSJ.

Finally, the last of the nine photos I posted in this entry made me laugh and illustrates nicely why CES is no place for babies (to say nothing of the AVN Awards show that goes on at the same time as CES).