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Sunday, January 9, 2011

CES 2011 Report - Part 1

If you ever had any doubts about the economy coming back, all you needed was to attend the 2011 CES show in Las Vegas last week to change your mind. From just an exterior look at Vegas, there seemed to be a number of new hotels and a lot of renovations to some of the older ones, so the town has a shiny new look.

But the show was the best evidence of the economy coming back, with both attendance and exhibitors up over last year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, the entity that puts on the show. Another indication of the economic upturn was the fact that the major manufacturer's booths were larger than ever, and the abundance of booth babes. It seems that every model or dancer in Vegas was hired by the show, and at about $20 per hour plus expenses, a manufacturer has to feel pretty good about things to authorize that sort of extra outlay on something like eye candy.

As usual, I was at the show more to spot the trends than to see anything in particular. The only time I stopped my rounds through the isles was if something really jumped out at me. Here are my impressions.

Contrary to what you've heard in the mainstream press, this was NOT a tablet show. Sure, there were plenty of tablets around, but most were by no-name companies that will never get any traction. As you can see from the picture on the left, many companies couldn't even decide on the size that their tablet should be, so they offered multiple sizes. Most of them also used the Android operating system, obviously a blow to the Windows world. All that being said, what's the point of having a piece of hardware if there's no great software apps for it? Only the iPad can guarantee that so far.

Make no mistake about it, CES 2011 was a 3D show. It seemed like 50% of the booths had something to do with it. The problem was, most of the 3D I saw was crap, but you couldn't tell if it was the content or the product that was deficient (I think mostly the content). After having been exposed to some great 3D a few weeks ago (as well as a lesson on what makes great 3D), it was pretty easy to spot the difference. I'll devote a couple of posts to 3D in the near future.

3D Cameras
There was a fair amount of inexpensive video and still 3D cameras (under $2k) at the show, and Panasonic even had an adaptor available to turn a regular camera into 3D.

One of the coolest things I saw all day was a team of sand sculptors in the Panasonic booth, surrounded by different camera models connected to monitors so you could evaluate them.

The Chinese Are Coming.
There was a huge contingent of Chinese companies at the show. I mean really big, and not just in the Chinese section of the floor. They were everywhere, and they all seemed to have variations of the same items that the major and secondary manufacturers were selling. Where could all of these products be going? Is anyone actually buying them?

Solid State Drives.
A very subtle trend was the one towards solid state drives, or SSDs. Just about every new device has solid state memory, and it looks like spinning hard drives will soon go the way of the CRT television.

A couple of final comments for Part 1 without pictures.

Handhelds - Easily the most vibrant part of the show was in the handheld area. Lots of activity at just about every booth and a really exciting vibe overall. IK Multimedia seemed to have a big hit with their iMic (which we'll see next week at NAMM as well).

Televisions - TV's are getting thinner and thinner, with the most impressive (to my eye) offered by LG. There were even some larger (20 inch plus) OLED versions around, although there wasn't a big deal made of them like last year. Of course, everyone had several "connected" TV versions available, but again, the buzz wasn't like last year.

Audio - Unlike other years, there was a clear de-emphasis of audio products and there weren't very many on the floor (hi-end audio was all at the Venetian as usual). I guess the good part of that is there are now fewer crappy audio products out there, but the fact that audio has become less than significant does give some pause.

More on some of the audio products that I spotted tomorrow in Part 2.
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