Big trends become apparent at the Consumer Electronics Show. The theme for CES 2004 was the battle for the living room.
But that was at the big company strategic level. The excitement of CES is seeing the hundreds of innovative products and surprising happenings, which bode events and non-events of the coming year. From gee-whiz to goofy, these are the ones that highlighted the show for me:
TwinMOS showed their USB Flash WAN Card B241. The device looks like a typical USB memory plug but it also contains 802.11b support. It doesn't need to be plugged into a port to be accessed by a computer. The model shown has 128MB and transfers data at max rate of 1MB/sec read. www.twinmos.com
Sylvania - Unical Enterprises showed a unit for 2-way wireless digital home control. It remotely controls switches throughout your house. This appears to be more reliable than the networking over your household power lines of a few years ago. www.unical-usa.com/sylvania/product/homeautomation/default.htm
Sharp has sold 1.5 million of their cell phones with the 3D display that doesn't require glasses. They now have that technology in a notebook computer, the Actius RD3D, with a 15" screen. The display can switch from 2D to 3D. 2D looks great. 3D looks very good, but it has such a narrow visual position range that it is hard to use. This is an impressive piece of technology for under $3,000.
LG Electronics showed a 60" wide plasma HDTV monitor 1366x768 for those who must have the biggest screen. us.lge.com/products/models/MU-60PZ90V.html But why stop there? H-P showed a 1020x768 pixel digital projector that can produce a wall-sized image and take up less desk space than an LCD display. www.hp.com/hpinfo/newsroom/press_kits/pcexpo/projectors.htm
The BenQ Joybee 120 is smaller than a matchbox. It has 120MB of memory supporting an MP3 player. The Joybee 120 will record FM stations and broadcast to a nearby FM radio. There is a small display showing titles. It supports play lists composed on a host computer. It rices, it dices, it blends and it pureés. It connects via a USB cable. Another, slightly bigger, BenQ unit has a full size USB jack built in.
The Clark Synthesis, Inc. Aquasonic Portable Pool Speaker floats and transmits sound above and below the waterline. I am looking forward to the first "Music to Snorkel By" album.
At the other extreme is S3i Sound. They offer sound without speakers. A solid-state acoustic driver technology transforms ordinary walls, ceilings and other surfaces into speakers. www.s3isound.com/
If it can make a telephone call, I guess it is a telephone. I now think of them as technology bundles. For $300 you can now get a cell phone from Sprint that plays TV, records movies, provides walkie-talkie and telephone service. The sound is good, but the video looks like someone showing a series of still images slowly.
The Sony CLIE UX50 is very impressive. The Palm OS5 has been greatly enhanced and animated. In addition to the keyboard, it supports Graffiti and handwriting recognition. The screen is a bright 480x320 TFT color system and it rotates as is common on tablet computers. It supports Bluetooth, 802.11b, a camera capable of making movies, a voice recorder, an mp3 player, and 45 MB of user memory plus memory stick expansion. The UX50's keyboard is just wide enough to prevent it being operated with one hand, but it does not do dishes.
At the game tournament that ran during CES, NEC promoted their "Game Phone", the NEC 525. It features a 2.2" 65K color TFT display and incorporates the NTT DoCoMo system to enable migrating Japanese games to the North American market. There is also a secondary processor to play games, so phone performance is not degraded. Add this to a 40-voice polyphonic sound system and you have a game system in your pocket. Did I mention that ATI is producing 3D video systems for phones?
Sierra Wireless showed their Voq, a Microsoft Smartphone software-based phone. It looks like a typical cell phone but the keypad flips open to the side to reveal a QWERTY keyboard. This is the smallest Smartphone I have seen. www.voq.com
You don't hold it in your hand, but the Gemini Industries Call Keeper - S60193 is cool. It allows you to record and play back telephone conversations on a PC. Software lets you store and email the conversations.
Idealab is Bill Gross' current operation. I became a fan of his in the 80's when I discovered Lotus Magellan. It was the only way I could ever find infrequently referenced information on my then massive 20 MB drive. X1 the company, a spin-off of Idealab, has released X1 the program. X1 is a revised and updated Magellan for the new millennium. It performs content searches of all files, your Outlook address book and your Outlook mail files. A trial version is available at www.x1.com.
Zone Labs is keeping up with the times with its release of Zone Alarm IMSecure. This product provides security for instant messaging.
Muvee AutoProducer automagicly produces interesting movies from user-provided video clips. Their new version adds several new styles and support for still images, i.e. panning and zooming. Now you can create movies from still images in the style of NET's Civil War series. If you collect video clips, and you haven't seen this product do its tricks before, you need to checkout the free download version.
Carchip, by Davis Instruments, continuously records engine and driver performance. The collecting device installs in seconds. It records speed and distance traveled, any hard braking or accelerating and the information surrounding a malfunction light's activation. The collected data downloads to your PC for analysis and graphing by the included software. www.davisnet.com/
Thales Magellan showed a console GPS navigator for $1400 with maps of all of the US and much of Canada installed. The bright color display shows trip information in more formats than I have seen before. Garmin, the other major consumer GPS product vendor, showed a wrist mounted GPS for use by runners, Forerunner 201, $150. It provides a Virtual PartnerT for you to run with/against. The Virtual PartnerT can also be one of your earlier efforts over the same course.
Nyko is showing a USB game controller, selling through Best Buy et al, for $39. What sets the unit apart is an internal fan that keeps your hands cool. A must for the hard core gamer!
For the political activist, World Vibrations, www.worldvibrations.com, offers a radio station in a box. Everything you need except the transmitter. It schedules programs, cycles music play lists, maintains a web site and supports all of the other tasks involved in producing a continuous 24-hour radio station.
The INADA D.1 massage chair sets a new standard for these activated thrones. The machine determines the dimensions of your body when it starts. The massaging effect is not restricted to moving up and down the back with some rollers. Rollers also go down the back of your legs, balloons knead your arms and calves and feet. It is impressive but not cheap at $4,900.
MouseCaster! I love the idea. It plays an FM radio signal thru your computer's speakers. The mouse contains the radio. The mouse cord is the antenna. No Internet connection is involved. The PC software lets you choose stations, schedule recordings and assign stations to buttons. The software also supports skins. Mousecaster sells advertising space on these skins to be maintained by the client. This last seems quite innovative, but a bit over the top.
I would have gone to the Sun Microsystems press event, but it was canceled. The Gates presentation general admission line contained several hundred people more than three hours before the doors were to open. I declined waiting in the Press line in sympathy for them and the fact that Bill Gates' once insightful keynotes have become mere product showcases. Instead, I went to the Sony presentation. It was mobbed. I ended up sitting in an overflow room watching the show on a large screen.
The show began with four dancers dressed as robots, or was it dancing robots? The room couldn't decide for about a minute. It was robots! The waist joints were too small to contain a human. They were amazing! Their motions were so fluid there were grounds for doubting their genesis. I chased them down after the show and learned that they are less than 2 feet tall, contain over 30 motors and can lift about 7 kilos.
My Wish for Next Year
I want all of my computer related devices: a) to communicate wirelessly and b) to be self powered so I don't have a tangle of power cords in my office AND I want those Sony robots to go around my house each night and refuel, recharge and/or replace each of my power sources so I can have a truly wireless computing environment.
Fred Thorlin is a contract software developer with experience in compiler development now working with Visual Basic and Palm computer environments. He also writes columns on Visual Basic programming and computing on the road. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.