CES, by Fred Thorlin
Toys for Boys, 2005
With COMDEX out of operation I expected a booming Consumer Electronics Show.
Instead I thought I got off of the monorail at Apple World. But that is a week later! The theme of CES was Apple’s iPod and Apple wasn’t there. Motorola entered into a licensing arrangement with Apple to produce an iPod compatible cell phone. Microsoft provided downloading music for the Creative Labs iPod-like device. Almost every hardware maker at CES offered something to play music on. Now that Apple has announced their sales, it is easy to see why.
CES was exciting. You walk past a four-story high, snow-covered ski ramp at the front door. Motorola had snowboarders doing their thing on it. Booth celebrities included Jackie Chan, Tony Hawk, Fatal1ty (sic) and Les Paul. Bill Gates’ presentation was oversubscribed as usual and I heard he had a severe attack of the demo demons including a blue screen of death on an X-box. At the booth Microsoft was handing out coupons for free downloads of music from MSN. They also seemed to be actively pushing their one-way wrist communicator. They now offer the service in 100 major cities. You can receive sports news, stock quotes, personal calendar data and a lot more on your wrist from several wrist ornament manufacturers. The same information is as available on your, usually larger, telephone display. I don’t see a future for the SmartWatch. Motorola makes a point of this with their Dynamic Portal. As the sponsor of the ski slope Motorola made a point of a lot of things. Their announced premise is that they will offer so many form factors that, if it communicates, they will have just what you are looking for. They had a video phone connected over the internet, aka VOIP. They offered an iPod telephone and Bluetooth and RFID and pictures and 3G. They are securing their position as the communication technology aggressor. Ron Garriques, their keynoter, summarized their design strategy as “if it fits in their pocket, it sells”; furthermore they sell it. Check your pockets.
The migration from CRTs to flat screens is quickening. ViewSonic showed 17” screens for $299. The sweet spot is now at the 19” size for $399. LCD measurements are actual diagonals as opposed to the rather mystical inflated dimensions we got used to with CRTs. The thing you need to be careful about now is the height to width ratio; it is moving from 4:3 to 16:9. This means an old format 19” display had 173 in 2 of viewing area whereas the new format 19” display has only 154 in 2 of display area; a 10% reduction.
Sanyo showed an engineering model 3-D Step Barrier display. Barrier displays allow incorporating parallax into an image without the need for the user to wear glasses. Last year’s barrier technology would only achieve the parallax effect if you kept your head within one degree of the display’s center line. The Step Barrier design staggers the position of the visual barriers and increases the viewing angle to about forty-five degrees. No products incorporating this technology are committed at this time.
The video card battle continues with ATI holding the current lead with their Radeon X850 XT. nVidia needs to have some products out there which take advantage of their extended precision to regain the lead.
For fun with your video camera you will have a hard time beating Muvee autoProducer4. This program reviews your video recording and produces an exciting video composition. Did I leave out any steps? No. This near magic has been improved over earlier versions with the addition of titles, styles, pick your own music and select your important scenes capability added. If you have a hard time believing me, you can give a free try at muvee.com. It even works with some videophones!
Among all of the dazzling hardware there was one item that so impressed me that I bought one on Amazon as soon as I returned home. BenQ makes a lot of amazing electronics but I couldn’t resist the BenQ Super Slim Mini Size Keyboard for $37. It has full size keys with a nice touch and is only 11” wide. I usually work on a TV dinner tray so it is perfect. After using it for a week, I am still happy.
A technology I am looking forward to using, wireless USB, still appears to be a year off from becoming a product. Philips, Intel and Staccato Communications demonstrated the technology. Expect wireless USB to produce a 480 Mbps transfer rate.
Another product I am anxious to purchase is the Sony PSP, PlayStation Portable. Price and availability seem to be a puzzle but under duress they allowed I should expect them by the time you read this at a price of around $200. The unit will be a combination game and media player. The 24-bit color display is awesome! It connects via IrDA, USB, stereo jack, Wireless LAN et al. Multiple processors team to produce an impressive experience from a handheld unit. My only concern is that there is so much going on in this small unit that it may also function as a frying pan.
Heat is hot. I saw a couple of PC chassis that were essentially heat sinks with mounting hardware inside. Zalman Tech and Hush showed chassis of this genre. They are not cheap and will not accommodate all components but they will keep your system cool without any noise from fans. See zalmanusa.com and hushtechnologies.net to get a feel for how far you can go.
I continue to be intrigued with GPSs. Garmin and Magellan had multiple announcements at CES. Garmin added a heart rate monitor to their ForeRunner product for runners. Their StreetPilot series has been repackaged in a touch screen format. Entirely new is their Bluetooth receiver for GPS data. There are others on the market at half their price though. They also now have a Pocket PC format GPS to complement the Palm computer product released a year ago. Their RINO line of GPS communicators weren’t shown but they claimed they were getting popular with hunters and for use in troop deployments. Garmin should also be mentioned for another innovation; they distributed their press kits on memory sticks, in stead of the traditional print or CD format. This says something about the price of memory. Magellan showed the better priced line of consumer GPSs. Their eXplorist units were in a smaller format with similar display sizes and some models featured color. The three new units included computer connections. Some of the units include electronic compasses. With these you can stand still and figure out which way you want to go without moving or doing celestial observations, and do it inside most buildings. Very cool!
Last year at CES we saw Wherify with a wrist mounted device to attach to your kids to find out where they are. This year GlobalPetFinder keeps track of your dog.
I take a lot of pictures on my vacations. I try to keep track of what each picture is of by time stamping them. Time zone changes keep making that more difficult and less useful than you would expect. My latest camera allows me to add voice annotations to each picture; alas, I’m not inclined to talk while snapping. I have been looking for a camera that would stamp the GPS coordinates on each image to solve the problem of where the picture was taken. I found I was not alone and that such a device is being pushed by a major GPS industry participant. A product is at least a year off.
Muvee wasn’t the only interesting software product I encountered. PentaSuite is a collection of utilities to do a lot of things you need to do often but never thought of as being in a single package. Compression, encryption, file transfer and format conversion are activities I frequently want to do but previously required me to go to as many utilities. PentaSuite does these and image editing, video frame extraction, PDF creation, scripting and more. PentaSuite is a Swiss Army knife for the computer geek in your life.
Singing Coach from Carry-a-Tune Technologies, carryatune.com, is the product for the aspiring singer in your family. This program teaches you to carry a tune. Step one has you hum into a microphone to determine your vocal range. Step two has you sing against music that scrolls across your computer screen. You learn to adjust the pitch of your singing to keep a line on the screen in a box associated with each note. If you just want to sing along with your favorites, from Ray Charles to Cher, without upsetting the dog, or become king of the karaoke club, this is the program for you.
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.