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Sunday, January 10, 2010

CES Show Overview - Part 1

If you've read my overviews before you know that I usually go to a trade show not so much to see a particular product but to get a feel for the trends. This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was no exception. I have a lot of pictures and a many thoughts about the show this time, so it looks like it will take 3 parts to get through everything and still keep it in readable bites.

First of all a couple of thoughts about Vegas itself. You can usually tell how the city is doing by watching the billboards on your way into the city. When times were good, Vegas casinos were advertising as far away as Baker (about 100 miles out of town down Route 15), and when times were bad like last year, there were as many empty billboards as there were ones that were occupied. This year I saw just a single empty billboard on the way in. Either the city is doing better, or the billboard company is pretty much giving the space away. Regardless, it made Vegas feel a little more prosperous this time around.

And the city did feel a bit more upbeat  this year, but that being said, traffic on the streets  was really light, even at rush hour on a Friday night. We went through the Wynn and Encore, which were dead, but the Venetian seemed a livelier, although still light considering it was the weekend. It didn't seem like there was any trouble getting a dinner reservation, which is always a sign of how the city is faring. Then again, there are a lot more casinos, places to eat and places to stay than ever before. It's a lot harder to fill to capacity.

The CES show had a much larger crowd than last year and the general feeling was that things were looking up a bit. Where last year there was panic, this year there was hope.

This was the year of the 1080p television and it struck me like a ton of bricks. I don't think I've ever been taken by a picture as I was at virtually every booth that featured TVs at CES. Gorgeous, beautiful, to die for picture. I was always passive to TV monitors and Blu-ray players (the only device that can deliver 1080p resolution picture) until this year. Now I want the biggest, baddest picture that I can afford. now if only 1080p was being broadcast.

Left is a picture of the Samsung booth.

And speaking of the biggest, here's a picture of a Panasonic 152 inch plasma television. You can see an average 6 foot guy standing in front with his arms out, and how he still can't cover the entire width. And the picture was sharp and crisp. I have a wall in my house designated for one when they become available, if only I can figure how to get it without knocking down a wall and using a crane.

We knew going into the show that 3D was going to be all the rage and it was  - even more so. In fact, I'd say it was the overwhelming theme of the show on the floor, especially in the "heavy metal" (big manufacturer) hall. You couldn't turn around without see some blurry picture on the screen, which of course meant you needed 3D glasses to see properly. That being said, 3D has come a long way and really does look pretty good. I do believe that it's in the "parlor game" stage (as industry pundit Shelly Palmer so aptly puts it) in that the picture looks pretty bad if you're watching off axis. You have to be pretty much dead center to really see the 3D effect. And the glasses are a royal drag. I can't see this technology ever becoming popular as long as you have to wear the silly things.

Television trends besides 3D and 1080p? Most of the newer models we comprised of LED's, not LCD's, and certainly not plasma (which is relegated to sets beyond 65 inches now). Connectivity? Many sets now come network-ready for connection to Skype, Hulu and other social media video networks (more about this on my Music 3.0 blog). How about ultra-thin? Many TV monitors are now so thin that you have to worry about some serious damage should they ever fall. Some look downright dainty in their thinness. And a serious problem is still the cabling, which takes up far more space than television itself now. Until that becomes almost invisible, no one will ever be able to take real advantage of the slim proportions.

And speaking of slim proportions - OLED televisions are the wave of the future. OLED stands for "organic light emitting diode" which is a fancy word for the material that is used to create the displays which will everywhere in due time. OLED displays are literally paper-thin and are used in many of the newer smart phones that we all so love. The problem has always been scaling them larger. Last year Sony showed one that was a bit over 15 inches. This year they were getting beyond 20 inches. One day soon, this is what we'll all be watching, but the technology has to evolve and the price has to come down first.

A number of trends at CES only peripherally touched television monitors. The first was the after-market auto area, which up until this year was principally the domain of the audio geeks that wanted their windshields to explode from the loud audio level. That market has thankfully receded somewhat, and was taken over this year by video in the car. CES had displays for the back seat, displays for the front seat, after-market backing-up the car cameras and displays (I want one), and super touch screen displays on the car stereos. Another trend in automotive was a lot more wi-fi for the car and the welcoming of streaming into the vehicle. Satellite radio was present but severely downplayed, a sign of the devolving health of that part of the industry, I think.

Another trend was that iPod and iPhone accessories were everywhere, with an entire floor section not exactly dedicated to them, but almost. What was very apparent was that the rest of the industry has ceded that part of the business to Apple, as few "media players" were seen in any booth except some of the small Chinese manufacturers. There were a couple of iPhone accessories that did capture our attention. One as a device that turned the iPhone into a small projector that worked pretty well for about $300 as seen on the left.

Yet another trend was all electronic things "green" and "sustainable", with an entire section of the floor dedicated to devices that had something to do with either of those catch-words. But every major manufacturer also put on their "green" marketing jackets, and after a while it was easy to not pay attention any more.

Much more tomorrow in Part 2.

1 comment:

Don D said...

Another telling indicator: parking across the street from the LVCC was $10/day. Compare that to previous years...


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