The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is a gigantic trade show in Las Vegas that covers more than a million square feet of floor space and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. Companies show off all of their products in the consumer electronics arena -- things like TVs, home theater systems, cell phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, stereos, car audio and so on.
As a visitor to the show, you get to see the latest, greatest stuff, and you get to see all of it in one place.
But what if you couldn't make it? The goal of this article is to give you a chance to "virtually" visit dozens of the best booths at CES, seeing the cream of the crop in the consumer electronics space.
Let's get started!
eMagin's VR Headset
We've been hearing about "virtual reality" (VR) and "virtual reality headsets" for the last decade or more. Now, VR may finally be headed to the home. Emagin's headset is still in the development stage, but it should be available in 2005:
When you put the headset on, you see a very clear 800x600 image in each eye. The image is made possible by two tiny OLED displays about the size of a postage stamp (one for each eye):
These chips are incredibly light compared to previous display technologies, making the headset much more comfortable to use.
In the demo, they were using a game called "Unreal Tournament 2004" to drive the headset's displays. This game is able to generate stereoscopic views (giving your brain the impression of depth) and can also handle 360-degree viewing. A gyroscope in the headset tells the game where your head is. So, if you want to look to the left, you turn your head to the left, and the image shifts exactly like you would expect it to. It is an incredibly natural way to view the game environment. They are expecting a price point of about $900 when the headset comes out later this year.
For more information, visit eMagin.com.
D-Box's Motion Simulator
If I had to pick one thing that really surprised me at CES 2005, it was this chair:
It looks like a normal recliner. The back two legs, however, are able to move up and down about 4 inches (10 cm).
They claim that these two moving legs make the chair a "motion simulator."
I looked at it and thought, "I doubt it." But they had tickets for a demo, so I got a ticket and came back an hour later. They had a small home theater arrangement with maybe a dozen of the chairs set up for viewing a movie.
They explained at the beginning of the demo that by getting your feet off the ground, the motion effect is enhanced. Apparently, if your feet are touching the ground, your brain understands that and cancels out a lot of the motion information. That's why the chair is designed as a recliner. So we put our feet up.
Then they explained how it works. When a new movie comes out on DVD, people at D-Box watch it and create a set of "motion codes" to drive the chair. These codes synchronize the motion of the chair exactly with the action in the movie. You download the motion codes from the Internet or get them on a CD in the mail. When you play the DVD, you also play the motion codes so the chair reacts to the movie.
The first demo was a race car scene from the movie "Driven." In the scene, the main character is exiting the pit row and driving down the track, with the camera showing the main character's point of view from the driver's seat.
First, the demo showed what the scene would be like if you were sitting in a normal chair. Then, one by one, they added in motion effects:
- The rumble of the engine starting
- The bump as the car comes down off the jacks in the pit
- The feeling of acceleration
- The roughness of the track surface coming through the tires
- Even a little bump where the car goes over a patch in the asphalt
Finally, they played the scene with all the motion effects. It really was a remarkable addition! You felt far more immersed in the movie, and it was much more exciting.
Then they showed a scene from "Spider-Man 2," which was just as convincing.
They did not mention a price, but I assume the chairs are not cheap for the home. But it is very easy to imagine all the seats in a movie theater having this technology to enhance the theater experience. It will be interesting to see if the technology spreads.
For more information, visit D-Box.com.
MobiTV's Cell-phone TV
Have you ever been sitting in the airport or subway train thinking, "I sure wish I could watch some TV right now"? Your prayers have been answered -- MobiTV can provide you with TV on your cell phone!
To use it, you need to install an application on your phone. Once installed, it gives you access to the 22 channels currently available. Choose a channel from those on the list, and you are watching:
It is not a crystal clear view of the show, but it is not bad, and the sound is pretty good. The channel lineup is respectable and includes TLC, Discovery, MSNBC, ABC News and CNBC, among others.
For more information, visit MobiTV.com.
Ergotron's Multi-display Mounts
Have you ever found yourself thinking, "How can I fit my nine LCD monitors on my desk?" If so, then Ergotron has the answer:
It's a mounting system that screws into standard LCD displays. They have structures that handle two, three, four, six, eight and nine monitors.
For more information, visit Ergotron.com.
Robosapien's New Robots
Robosapien has had a lot of luck with its first Robosapien robot, so it's branching out in a big way. The Robosapien V2 is a larger version of the flagship product:
The Roboraptor is a two-legged dinosaur:
For more information, visit WowWee.com.
Forza's Extreme Xbox Setup
Forza Motorsport makes driving games. One of its platforms is the Xbox, and the people from Forza had an Xbox setup at CES that seemed unique to me.
If you have read about Halo Networking, you understand some of the interesting networking capabilities designed into Xbox. These capabilities allow multi-player configurations on a network. What Forza demonstrated was a way to network Xboxes together to get multiple views for a single player. You can see the arrangement here:
In front of the player are three Xboxes. They are networked together and connected to the three plasma displays. The steering wheel and foot pedal inputs go into one Xbox, and that Xbox drives the other two. Each Xbox plays a different view of the same game, with all views completely synchronized.
When you sit in the driver's seat, it feels like you are able to look out the front window of the car, along with both side windows. It is extremely realistic, and since it activates your peripheral vision it is much more immersive. A very impressive demo!
For more information, visit Forza Motorsport.
Olympus' E300 Camera
Last year, a number of companies were showing high-end, 8-megapixel cameras. I expected to go back this year and see 12- or 16-megapixel cameras, but that's not what happened. I may have missed them, but it seems like things topped out at 8-megapixels, at least temporarily. A 7.2-megapixel model was the most I saw at Sony's booth (Sony was not even displaying its 8-megapixel camera), and 8 megapixels was the most I saw at Olympus as well. Maybe 8 megapixels is finally perceived to be "enough" for most people.
The E300 camera that they showed at the Olympus booth was still impressive.
This is a digital SLR with interchangeable lenses intended mainly for professionals and high-end amateurs.
The large, 8-megapixel sensor that Olympus uses has at least two big advantages according to Olympus:
- There is an ultrasonic system that keeps the image sensor free of dust. The person who demonstrated the camera for me said you could take the lens off the camera and leave the mirror exposed without dust collecting on the sensor.
- There is no wiring that runs between the photoreceptors on the surface of the chip, so nearly the entire surface of the CCD is able to collect light. All of the wiring is on the back of the chip. This gives the light sensors better range. The claim was +/- 5 f-stops, compared to a norm of 3 to 3.5.
The list price is $999 with one lens.
For more information, visit Olympus.com.
Sony had a nice display showing of all of their laptop models -- perhaps a dozen, maybe more. They were arranged from smallest to biggest. At the small end was this little computer:
This is a complete machine running Windows XP Pro. It has an 800x600 screen, along with a number of navigation aids on either side to make it easy to scroll through things on the go. It is bigger and bulkier than the OQO, which came out this year, but the screen is larger so that is to be expected. It lacks the cool keyboard of the OQO, unfortunately.
At the big end there was the VGN-A600:
To call it a "desktop replacement" would be unfair, because most people don't have desktop machines that are this nice. The most impressive feature is the screen, which has 1920x1200 pixels.
For more details, visit Sony.com.
Icombi's iPod Bluetooth Headset
How many times have you gotten the earbud cord of your iPod caught on something? Now you can eliminate the cord with icombi's iPod Bluetooth transmitter:
You plug it into the top of your iPod. Then you wear these Bluetooth headphones:
They have a rechargeable battery inside, and they were extremely comfortable and clear.
Other transmitters from icombi let you hook the same headphones to your CD player, laptop, etc. For more details, visit icombi.com.
Torian's WiFi Internet Radio
Torian was demonstrating a wireless, portable radio for receiving any streaming audio source from the Internet:
The basic idea is that as long as you are in range of a WiFi hotspot, you will be able to receive the stream of your choice on this handheld device. It also acts as an MP3 player and a recorder for any Internet radio station so you can time-shift.
For more details, visit Torian.com.
Panasonic's Oxyride Car
Panasonic had a large presentation and display to talk about its soon-to-be-available Oxyride batteries. The claim: Your digital camera will run twice as long on these batteries as it will on normal alkalines. To drive the point home, they had the Oxyride car on display:
A (smallish) person gets in this car, and then the Panasonic folks power it up with Oxyride batteries.
The impressive part is that they power it up with just two batteries:
Is the car going to go 100 mph with just two batteries? No. If you look elsewhere on the Web, you find that the car only travels about 1 meter/sec and has a maximum range of a mile or so. Still, it was very funny to see that two little batteries can get the thing moving at all.
For more details, visit Panasonic Batteries.
The Smart Car
It would appear that Smart's tiny car will be shipping in 2005:
When you see it in person, it truly is tiny. It is roughly 8 feet (2.4 meters) long and 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide. It has a small, 60-hp gasoline engine. The whole car weighs only 1,600 pounds (725 kg).
For more information, visit Zapworld.com.
Logitech's Computer Pen
Logitech demonstrated a pen-and-paper combination that actually worked amazingly well:
Here's how it works:
- You pick the pen up from its little docking cradle.
- You write in the special notebook.
- You put the pen back in the cradle.
- The computer uploads the data from the pen, launches the notebook viewer and puts what you have written in the right spot and on the right page of the virtual notebook shown on the screen.
In other words, as long as you write in the special notebook with the special pen, then the virtual notebook on the screen will look exactly like the paper notebook that you wrote in. Every page will be identical.
The way they do it is by printing a faint array of very fine dots on each page of the notebook. The dots encode information that tells the pen where it is on the page as you write and which page you are writing on.
For more information, visit Logitech.com.
Sandisk 8-GB Flash Card
I saw this in the Sandisk booth:
It is an incremental increase, yes, but I had never seen an 8-GB Flash card before.
What's funny to me about this is that my son (age 7) uses my wife's "old" laptop as his computer. The laptop is four years old. For what my son needs to do (looking at the Web, playing games, sending e-mail, writing, drawing, viewing his digital photos, etc.), this laptop is completely acceptable. In fact, it would be acceptable for most "normal" users. This laptop has a 4-GB hard disk. Now (just four years later), you can buy a tiny Flash memory card with twice the capacity that could replace that hard disk.
It makes you wonder how long it will be before you will be able to fit a complete Windows XP machine into a cell phone. Just plug in a monitor and keyboard and start typing. There were several phones at CES that had the ability to play MPG files and send the output to an NTSC display.
For more information, visit Sandisk.com.
Wherify's Kid Phone
Wherify showed its new cell phone for kids:
The phone has the GPS tracking capability that gives Wherify its name. You can go to Wherify's Web site at any time and pinpoint the exact location of your child on a map. In addition, it is a cell phone, giving your child a way to call 911 and five other numbers.
For more information, visit Wherify.com.
Speaking of small phones that you can use in emergencies, DesignTech had a tiny cell phone able to call 911:
You wear it like a pendant, but it is a complete, single-purpose cell phone.
DesignTech had a number of other products on display. Everything from this simple little cabinet light up to driveway monitors and automatic starting systems for cars. Lots of gadgets, in other words.
For more information, visit DesignTech.
Kodak's WiFi Camera
Kodak was one of several companies (Microsoft was another) demonstrating the fusion of digital camera + WiFi + Web functionality in a single device.
In Kodak's vision, you have a camera with a decent-sized screen on the back. You take your pictures. Then, as long as you are in range of a WiFi hot spot, you upload the photos to Ofoto.com (Kodak's photo Web site for consumers). You can also view your other photos on Ofoto, choose photos to print, e-mail photos to other people, etc., all from the camera. You never need to touch a computer.
For more information, visit Kodak.
One of the most promising things I saw at CES was a small group of companies aligned in their effort to create wireless USB. Their plan is to use UWB (ultra-wideband) at 480Mb/sec to create a secure system for replacing USB and FireWire cables. This diagram summarizes the idea:
According to the folks at the booth, the first products should start appearing at the end of 2005, and things will really ramp up in 2006. You'll take your new printer out of the box, you'll plug it into the wall, the computer will discover it and it will start working. If it really turns out that way, it will be awesome.
See MobilePipeline: Ultra-wideband to learn more.
Navman has created a line of GPS systems that are extremely nice. Its model 510 is typical:
It has a color touchscreen. It has the ability to store every surface street in the United States onboard. It can give you driving directions to your destination, and you can choose either a male or female voice. It is very compact, so it can fit in a pocket. And the price is $499.
For more information, visit Navman.com.
The Microsoft booth is a world unto itself, with dozens of mini-booths inside where people evangelize different Microsoft products.
One thing getting a lot of attention is the whole "Media Center" concept. There are at least four parts to the Media Center idea:
- The Media Center PC is a PC running the Media Center edition of Windows XP. Normally, this PC has a TV tuner card installed and is acting like a video recorder.
- The Media Center extender is a box that, through the network (wired or wireless), can pull content off the Media Center PC and display it on an attached TV.
- The portable Media Center is a handheld device that can download video/music/photos from the Media Center PC so that you can take them with you.
- The sources of content are primarily TV right now.
While the Media Center concept can handle music and photos, the big focus seems to be on video content.
There were several demos showing how to move content from a Media Center PC to a portable Media Center. The basic idea was: "If you have content on your PC that you can play in Microsoft Media Player 10, then you can move it to your portable Media Center and it will play." When it copies content down to the portable Media Center, the PC automatically compresses it for the smaller screen size so you can fit as much content as possible on the portable device.
To handle the content question, Microsoft now has a way to download content provided by a group of partners:
It seems limited right now, but it is a start.
Two other free things in the Microsoft booth:
- There is a place called "Windows Marketplace" where you can browse a catalog of 93,000 Windows applications. Go to http://www.windowsmarketplace.com to check it out.
- Windows Movie Maker is now in version 2.1. This is video editing software that comes free with Windows XP. Microsoft has been upgrading it silently. The version that comes with SP2 is still simple but pretty nice.
For more information, visit Microsoft.com.
Benq's Small Projector
Several companies were showing incredibly small DLP projectors, like this one from Benq:
They use LEDs for the light source, so you will never have to replace the bulb.
For more information, visit Benq.com.
The Samsung booth was unique because they had some huge screens. The most impressive was the 102-inch-diagonal plasma screen:
How big is 102 inches? Think about a typical bedroom wall -- it is about 8 feet (2.4 meters) high and 12 feet (3.7 meters) wide. This screen would fill a good portion of that wall.
Samsung also showed a 70-inch DLP screen and a 57-inch LCD screen:
It feels like there are two good pieces of news in this. First, with all of these manufacturers making this many TVs, prices will be coming down fast. Second, with all of these manufacturers going bigger and bigger, it means that "small" screens like the 42-inch ones will be getting cheaper even faster. It is funny to think that just two years ago, 42 inches was a huge screen. Now it is the bottom of the barrel.
For more information, visit Samsung.com.
Tronic is taking the idea of a portable video player to its logical limit. The device is called a Portable Multi-Media Gadget:
What we have here is a complete Windows XP machine in a small format. Yes, it can play videos, but it can also do everything that a Windows XP machine can do. So it can play MP3 files, store and display photographs and also edit an Excel spreadsheet. At 8.4 inches (21 cm), the screen is huge compared to competing devices; and at 800x600 pixels, it has plenty of resolution for most normal stuff. It should be interesting to see if this idea takes off.
For more information, visit Tronic.
If you have ever wanted to cut and/or etch thin sheets of plywood with a powerful CO2 laser, then Epilog Laser has just what you've been looking for:
What Epilog has built is, essentially, a true laser printer. The laser beam hits the piece of plywood and either burns all the way through (to cut it) or etches it to a specified depth. You can see above the kinds of cutting and etching it can do.
For more information, visit Epilog Laser.
A number of manufacturers were showing huge, seven-channel amplifiers like this one from ATI:
Each channel can handle up to 300 watts. At the front of the amp are two huge toroidal transformers. The main body of the amp is taken up by giant black heat sinks.
One interesting problem that these amps create has to do with power. Seven channels times 300 watts per channels means a total of 2,100 peak watts. In many homes, you cannot plug the amp into a normal wall outlet because the 15-amp circuit breaker cannot support 2,100 watts. So some of the amplifiers in the class have two separate line cords. You plug each cord into a different plug (on separate circuit breakers). Otherwise, you would have to run a new 30-amp circuit from the fuse panel.
For more information, visit ATI Amplifier Technologies.
Little Giant Ladders
Is this electronic? No -- it’s a ladder. But Little Giant did have a booth at CES, and the guy manning the booth was doing a really good demo.
The basic pitch is: Buy this one ladder system and you get 20 ladders in one. The Web site is nice because it has a video that shows what the ladder can do.
For more information, visit Little Giant Ladders.
iRobot had a swarm of Roombas running around its booth. The big news is that they have broken the one million unit point in sales.
iRobot also had this military/police robot on display:
It's a tele-operated robot (called the Packbot) with a camera and various appendages that you can add depending on what you want to do. The most interesting part was the price point: about $150,000!
For more information, visit iRobot.com.
Epson 3LCD Screens
Epson had a set of HDTV screens using 3LCD technology. It also had a nice cutaway view to show how the technology works:
The light comes in from a lamp. It gets split into red, green and blue. Each color goes through a small (2-inch by 2-inch), clear LCD shutter. The colors get recombined in a prism and come out on the screen.
For more information, visit Epson.com.
Motorola Ski Slope
For sheer size and audacity, Motorola gets the prize for this artificial ski slope that it erected:
That's real snow, sprayed onto a slope made of scaffolding. People snowboarded down it and did tricks.
CES is an amazing show!
For more information on CES 2005 and the technologies introduced in this article, check out the links on the next page.
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- How Home Theater Works
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More Great Links
- 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show
- Forza Motorsport
- Panasonic Batteries
- Epilog Laser
- ATI Amplifier Technologies
- Little Giant Ladders