In early January, Sin City once again transformed into a showcase for the latest and greatest gadgets from around the world. The International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of the largest trade shows in the world. This year, the four-day event drew 140,000 attendees from 140 countries, 2,700 exhibitors and covered almost 2 million square feet of floor space. CES was so large that it couldn't be contained in the massive Las Vegas Convention Center; the event also had satellite venues in the Las Vegas Hilton and Sands Expo and Convention Center at The Venetian.
CES attendees were confronted with the mind-boggling task of navigating the show floor. In fact, there was so much to see and so much ground to cover that CES provided shuttle service from one end of the Las Vegas Convention Center to the other. Shuttles also ran every 10 minutes to and from The Venetian. First-time CES attendees may be surprised to learn how much work it takes simply to travel from one venue to another.
There were plenty of gadgets to drool over at CES - and plenty to steer clear of. Most attendees agreed the show's heaviest was Panasonic's behemoth 150-inch high-definition (HD) plasma TV. The crowd-favorite was never short of gawkers mesmerized by its 12.5-foot screen (measured corner to corner). Weighing almost a ton, the titanic TV made the company's 108-inch screen that was introduced three years ago, seem downright diminutive.
It seemed every exhibitor at CES had HD on the brain as most booths boasted high-definition display capability. Attendees who endured the slew of HDTVs, smaller cell phones, and the latest laptops (slightly higher performance than 2007!) found some fresh products worth a second look. While not positioned as prominently as the giant TVs, Microsoft Surface was an example of technology that is both practical and astounding.
Invoking fond memories of sit-down Ms. Pac-Man machines, Surface is a touchscreen tabletop PC that users control with their hands and fingers. A demonstrator showed how easy it is to use: Simply place a digital camera on Surface, and using one finger, drag images to and from the camera and the hard drive. Microsoft also showcased a finger-painting tool, an interactive wine guide and a travel planner - all of which can be used without a mouse or keyboard, though a soft, virtual keyboard is available onscreen.
The interface is very much like the feature-laden computer terminals depicted in the sci-fi film Minority Report, in which applications are controlled via a multi-touch, reactive screen. Microsoft expects the first Surface units to carry a $10,000 price tag.
Forgive the cliché, but thin was most definitely "in" at CES. Big names like JVC, LG and Hitachi proudly showed off ultra-slender LCD TVs that are less than 2 inches deep - skinnier than a business card is tall. The anorexic models of the bunch were Sony's OLED TVs and a concept TV from Pioneer. The organic light-emitting diode (OLED) is a technology that allows for screens that are truly paper thin. Though it debuted last year, Sony's flexible OLED screens were again a big hit with CES attendees. And Pioneer's 50-inch plasma TV measured just 9 mm thick. There was no manufacturer suggested retail price for the Pioneer TV, which may not be available for a year or two. Buyers hoping to snap up the Sony 11-inch OLED TV screen - which is only 3 mm thick - can expect to pay at least $2,000.
Storage capacity was another hot ticket at CES. Several companies announced the arrival of advanced flash memory storage drives. Intel showed off dime-sized 2 and 4 GB cards while SanDisk and Samsung displayed compact flash drives that offer 128 GB, as well as 8 GB memory cards. Samsung and Hitachi also chose CES to introduce 500 GB laptop hard drives, besting the current champ by a 180 GB margin.