Consumer electronics in the desert


Published: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Last week saw the Consumer Electronics Show descend upon Las Vegas, bringing 140,000 or so people to see the latest and (presumably) greatest in electronics innovation.

I haven't seen reports of anything that I would consider a "killer app," that is, a product that is so amazing that it changes the market completely, but there are a lot of very nice upgrades, a few products that show where the market will be moving during the next couple of years and a handful of things that are just, well, strange.

Here are a few products that I've found interesting:

The mammoth television: Panasonic displayed a 150-inch LCD television. Yes, that's 12-and-a-half feet (diagonally) of "Dirty Jobs" in your living room.

My initial reaction was "I need one."

Forget that I don't really have a room in my house that's big enough to hold it, or that I'd have to punch holes in several walls to get enough distance to make it look right. I just need one. It's enormous.

The real trend is toward bigger and bigger displays for group viewing - people having home parties for special-event broadcasts. There are now several companies selling flat-screen televisions in the 100-inch range and more will be coming.

Super-bright television: While a lot of attention has been given to very thin flat-panel displays (see next item), Mitsubishi was showing a back-projection laser television that everyone has described as simply incredible.

Exceptionally bright colors, a ton of contrast between black and bright, and a very sharp image are all qualities people have been raving about after seeing the product.

You can't hang it on the wall, but a rear-projection television set can still provide one of the best images available.

Developments like the laser TV should keep this category alive for high-quality video fans for some time to come.

Super-thin television: While Panasonic was going huge and Mitsubishi going bright, Hitachi went skinny with LCD and plasma televisions that are only one-and-a-half inches thick.

Just in case that's still too bulky, they had a concept set on display that measured just .75 inches from front to back. LG.Philips was showing a set that measures only .77 inches thick.

Neither Hitachi nor LG.Philips would commit to a shipping date for the thin television, but I'd expect to see models based on this technology available within a year.

At a certain point, engineers start running into a problem with where to put connectors on super-small devices, and that may be the issue that causes a pause in the thinning of flat-panel televisions.

With sets under 2 inches, though, you have television sets that you can wrap a frame around and hang on the wall.

Blu victory: It's probably too early to declare a winner in the high-definition DVD war, but Blu-ray picked up a critical victory this week when Warner threw its support behind Sony's technology.

Almost all the major studios have now vowed fealty to Blu-ray, leaving Microsoft as the most significant media player still firmly behind HD-DVD.

I'll be quite honest: Because of Sony's missteps in critical digital media rights decisions (they're the company that felt it was OK to plant a hacker's root-kit on customers' computers, leaving them open to any moderately-skilled attacker), I've been very skeptical about Blu-ray.

The displayed image is very good, but I still have had many questions. If all the good programming is available only on Blu-ray, though, I may be forced to move in that direction - I'll just make sure that I have as much understanding as possible about what's going on with the discs (and I'll be sure to share that information with you).

Guitar Hero gear: Guitar Hero, it seems, is an insanely popular video game. CES saw more than a dozen different controllers for the game - each shaped like a classic electric guitar and none able to actually function as a guitar. The most over-the-top controller had to be the Peavey Riffmaster Pro System, which includes a real guitar body and neck modified to be a game controller, a Peavey speaker cabinet to hold the game console, an amp head to run everything and a small monitor in a kick-back case so you can watch yourself like your favorite rock star. You'll pay $2,000 for the system, but it's the most impressive Guitar Hero controller yet.

Taser as a fashion statement: I'm still trying to figure out just who needs one of these, but I couldn't let it pass without comment. Taser introduced the first combination Taser/MP3 player. Now, to be quite specific, it's the Taser holster that holds and plays up to 1 gigabyte of MP3 files, but still . . . The holster is black and features a very simple control mechanism and no display. The matching Tasers are available in pink or leopard-skin finish.

Next week, I'll have more information from CES, including new products in the camera and video camcorder categories. It's a huge show and I've just scratched the surface.

Curtis Franklin Jr. has been reviewing and writing about computers for more than 20 years. Currently a senior analyst at InfoWorld, he covers computers, networks and consumer electronics. You can contact him by e-mail at practical_tech@cf2group.com.

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