One million exhibitors. Sixty million attendees. Four trillion booths spread across an area the size of Rhode Island.
Those aren’t really the specs for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month, but it sure feels like it. CES is the largest (and most exhausting) trade show in North America, and most people who attend it approach it with queasy dread. You emerge from each day with aching feet, a pocket full of business cards and a craving for food that hasn’t been reconstituted, thawed and overpriced.
CES 2008 offered few big announcements that got everybody buzzing. To spare you the $350 (Rs13,755) a night hotel bills and 25 miles of walking, here’s a summary of some interesting developments-in-waiting I had the chance to play with.
This tiny, 11-inch TV is the closest thing CES had to a blockbuster. When you learn that it costs $2,500, you might wonder why. But when you see it, you’ll understand. It’s the thinnest TV on earth (3mm), and the picture is breathtakingly spectacular. Its colour range is far superior to any other TV technology, and so is its contrast ratio—1 million to 1 (compared with 20,000 to 1 on a typical plasma). You just can’t get past the astonishing, real, vivid look of this screen. It’s an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen, a new technology with low power consumption and no motion ghosting. In time, the size will go up and the price will go down. Get psyched.
This one may be the biggest magic trick of the show. It’s a portable 8.5-inch DVD player that can play movies for 13 hours on a battery charge. And yet, this player doesn’t look like a military field case. Apart from a slightly thicker hinge, it’s no bulkier than any player. How did they do that?
Lots of companies introduced GPS units at this show, including some that you might associate with GPS (such as Sony, Hewlett-Packard, LG and Panasonic). But Garmin’s new top-of-the-line car unit comes with speech recognition that is far more advanced than what has come before. For example, you can say “find nearest Chinese food” to produce a list of nearby Chinese restaurants; then you can say “line 2” to select your favourite in the resulting list.
You can also speak the address of your destination without leaning forward and tap it onto an on-screen keyboard. So how do you prevent the sounds of everyday conversation from randomly reprogramming your GPS destination? The Nuvi comes with a tiny remote control that straps onto your steering wheel. It has only two buttons: Listen and Stop Listening.
When you take a photo, your digital camera stamps the resulting JPEG file with all kinds of invisible data: the time and date, the exposure and shutter settings, and so on. There’s even a place in that invisible database to record where the photo was taken—its earthly coordinates—but those blanks remain empty today. Enter the PhotoFinder, from ATP Electronics. After taking some photos, you extract the memory card from your camera and slip it into this tiny, half-a-candy-bar sized GPS receiver. It stamps the latest photos with your GPS coordinates. Later, on your computer, you can use Google Earth or Picasa to see where those pictures were snapped.
It’s a music player shaped like an egg. When you press its top button once, the end caps open to reveal stereo speakers, and lights flash to the music. When you press the button twice, the thing starts flapping and twisting around on the table, rolling around and, well, boogieing to the music. Totally charming and totally pointless.
Ultrathin TV sets
Panasonic and Samsung demonstrated new TV sets that are only 1 inch thick. They’re stunning, when you’re looking at them on edge. When you’re looking at them from the front, as you will the rest of your life, they don’t look any different from thicker sets.
SanDisk hard drives
SanDisk displayed “hard drives” that are pure flash memory. This is a big, big deal. Flash-memory hard drives have no moving parts, so they’re infinitely more rugged and long-lasting than mechanical, spinning drives. They’re also much faster (SanDisk says Windows Vista starts up in about half the time), much smaller (5mm thick), much quieter (silent, in fact) and much lower in power consumption (0.4 watts instead of 1 watt).
©2008/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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