Consumer Electronics Show Report: Directions, Trends, and Products

By Jeffrey Allen

Every January the consumer electronics industry gathers together in Las Vegas to strut its stuff and show off its newest and best offerings at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The show offers manufacturers an opportunity to get the word about new products out to the press and to entice new orders from distributors. As a result, the show offers an opportunity to see what products manufacturers now have available, what directions they are moving toward, and what advancements they expect to offer in the near future.

CES 2005 hosted in excess of 140,000 visitors from more than 100 countries and presented thousands of new products and innovations from over 2,500 exhibitors.

Reviewing the award winners is among the most interesting parts of the show. A number of special recognition awards take place in connection with the show. The awards run the range from best innovation (the 2005 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award) to “Technology Is a Girl’s Best Friend” to the C/Net Next Big Thing and the Ziff Davis media awards. If you want to check out the innovations and offerings that won such recognition, go to the CES website awards page and then pick the link for an award ( http://www.cesweb.org/attendees/awards/innovations/default.asp).

Exhibitors showed products and services in many areas designed not only for home but also for office uses. Major exhibitors included Microsoft, Canon, Samsung, Sony, Brother, Yamaha, and Casio. Displays included a very wide range of product indeed: home theater components, office equipment and furniture, vibrating massage chairs (useful for home or office!), portable entertainment units of all sizes and shapes, digital music teachers, auto accessories, and home medical testing units. As usual, there was much to see and to make sense of in terms of perceiving trends and directions.

Judging by the number of exhibitors showing new or improved versions of products, several technologies will continue to grow in the near future.

Wireless communications of all sorts continue to proliferate at tremendous rates. Areas in which we will see expansion include wireless telephony, wireless Internet access (from telephones and other devices), wireless networking (home and office), and Bluetooth (short- range wireless connectivity for devices such as earphones or speakerphones to telephones).

Vendors continue to offer more and better versions of mobile phones. Mobile phones have become multifunction devices that now include such things as personal information managers, cameras, GPS (global positioning system) capabilities, and, in some cases, fully functional PDF capabilities. Some mobile phones also include radio and MP3 player capabilities.

Many of the phones now have Internet access capabilities. Manufacturers will make more Internet-ready phones available this year. All of the major mobile service providers have plans for Internet capable phones. Expect such plans to increase, and expect more people to use their phones for Internet access. Many telephones have the ability to send and receive email as well; again, expect more and more people to use their phones for email communications.

The use and implementation of Bluetooth technology has grown rapidly in the last few years. Numerous manufacturers make wireless earphones to connect to mobile phones using Bluetooth technology. Several companies have now come up with Bluetooth-based portable speakerphones that can work in your car, home, or office. Because not every telephone comes with Bluetooth capabilities, some companies have made connectivity devices that plug into the telephone (usually the earphone connection on a mobile phone) and create a Bluetooth capability by adding a separate receiver/transmitter to the phone, allowing it to communicate with the other wireless piece (speakerphone, headset, computer, PDA, etc.). Many PDA’s and computers now come with Bluetooth capabilities, enabling you to connect them to the Internet through a compatible Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. Wireless computer keyboards and mice based on Bluetooth technology have also shown recent growth, and their use will likely continue to expand.

Computer connectivity on the go has also received a recent boost. More and more wireless PCMCIA cards are being offered that allow the computer to connect directly to the Internet from almost anywhere using the signal from the provider’s network and the PCMCIA card connection. Effectively a mobile phone account, these arrangements require an ISP and a subscription/usage fee. As ISPs implement 3G (third generation) technology, the speed of such connections increases to the point of comparability to a DSL or cable connection. You can achieve such high-speed wireless connections now in certain test market areas. Expect connection speed to increase and cost to decrease over time.

Wireless networking at home and at work continues to attract more and more users. Many new wireless networking devices have come to the market in the last year, and more will come this year. Most have moved to the 802.11g standard, and some now offer “Super G” (a special adaptation of the “g” standard to allow a nominal doubling of speed over standard 802.11(g). Wireless networking has dramatically improved in the last couple of years and generally has achieved a level of reliability allowing it to be useful at home and at work. It remains a bit quirky at times, however, and some buildings have areas that will impair or block wireless signals so that they do not permeate the entire desired area. Such problems can be alleviated through the use of supplemental “hot spots” or connectivity points.

A newer faster standard is being developed, but it will not likely appear until the end of 2005 or 2006. This standard (sometimes called “WiMax”) will allow broader area distribution of a signal and, potentially, the ability to have high-speed wireless Internet access virtually anywhere.

As more and more of us get Internet access, we depend more and more on the Internet and find more uses for it. The more popular uses and functions of the Internet include various forms of communications, email, general and specific research, and, of course, shopping. Some time ago the concept of telephony over the Internet developed. That concept, often referred to as VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), caught on and will continue to grow. Several large VoIP providers now offer Internet telephony for home and business. Consumers and businesses have shown significant interest in VoIP as it allows long distance calling at very low expense. The quality of the service has proven good and the connections strong and clear. I have installed a VoIP telephone connection in my house as an experiment and have been quite pleased with it. I am now looking into it for my office as well. VoIP does not even require special telephones. Once you install the electronics for the connectivity to your Internet connection and a telephone line (a simple enough task that you can easily do it yourself), a standard touch-tone telephone will work fine to complete calls. You can even use your wireless telephones with VoIP.

Satellite radio offers another burgeoning and relatively new technology. For those of you not familiar with satellite radio, you can choose between one of two providers, Sirius and XM. Both have a modest subscription fee. Satellite radio offers a wide variety of programming ranging from specific genres and periods of music, to talk shows, to comedy, to news and sports. You must have a special receiver to get satellite radio, and the receivers all tie uniquely to one or the other provider. The ability to receive broadcasts almost anywhere that the antennae has an unobstructed view of the sky and the fact that the broadcasts contain no advertising have combined to create a very quick and substantial growth in popularity. Many car manufacturers offer satellite radio as an option. As each receiver requires a separate subscription fee, many manufacturers have created kits that allow you to move one receiver from home to office to car and to dock it into a connection including power and an antenna at each location. Exhibitors showed a number of receivers and kits at CES. Some manufacturers have even created boom box shells for satellite radio receivers. At least one has now created a portable device with self-contained power to allow you to carry it with you in a relatively small package (by comparison to the boom box).

Digital photography continues as a popular area for new products. Every camera manufacturer at the show brought new offerings. Digital still cameras continue to offer more and more features and better resolution at lower prices. Digital movie cameras have shrunk in size and in price while continuing to increase in features and quality as well. You can acquire very decent digital movie and still cameras for only a few hundred dollars these days. One of the newer and very promising innovations is the digital movie camera using flash memory instead of tape or disks. These devices first appeared last year. Several new versions have come on the scene, and the quality of the images continues to improve. As the flash memory offerings improve (higher speed and larger capacity for lower costs), the utility and popularity of these cameras will likely increase. It is worth noting in terms of playback and editing of movies recorded on flash media that many computers (particularly laptops) now come with built-in flash memory card readers and that, even if yours does not, inexpensive USB 2.0 card readers solve that problem quite well.

The area of presentation technology also continues to improve in terms of quality, size, and price. Several years ago you could not find a digital projector that weighed less than five pounds and cost less than $5,000. Those at that level only had about 1,000 lumens, making them of limited utility, except in rooms with controlled lighting environments. Now at least one manufacturer offers a 3,000-lumen projector at just over five pounds and approximately $3,500. A number of projectors in the approximately three-pound range produce 1,800-2,000 lumens and cost less than $3,000. If you do trial work, arbitrations, or mediations, consider adding a projector to your standard equipment if you have not already done so.

Finally, look at plasma screens and high-definition television. These evolutions in technology produce amazingly clear pictures. Plasma screens up to 50 inches wide have become available at costs in keeping with the price of large screen televisions over the last several years. The last big screen TV I purchased was about 4' wide x 2' deep x 4.5' high and is HD capable (meaning you have to add an HD tuner to receive HD broadcasts. The next one I buy will hang on a wall and stick out only about as far as a picture frame (2–3")!

 

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