CES Day 1: South Hall, Central Hall

2006-01-08

I walked into the Las Vegas Convention Center at 9:10am, just after all of the exhibits opened. My first impression of CES was, "This is big, really big." But as I saw more and more, I started to get comfortable with the size and just went with it. I saw lots of things that I had heard rumors of but had never seen. Some of them were really cool, some of them were really pointless, but most of all, everything was new.

All of the exhibitors showed off their current products either in a display case, working demo, or at the very least, a product catalog. I found that the people working directly for the manufacturers tend to know a lot more about the products they're pushing than any website could ever tell me. Definitely a good thing.

So, I started in South Hall 4 and worked my way backward to South Hall 1, then I hit the Central Hall (not sure which area I started in there). The first booth I spent any reasonable amount of time in was the D-Link booth. The staff were very helpful, almost to the point of car salesmen... Scary. Anyway, D-Link is coming out with a new home network management suite that looks a lot like 3Com's old network manager software with lots of GUI enhancements and more features that a home network user might want. The software allows you to do lots of cool things that tend to be relatively difficult such as creating a protected Windows share. Their software will create all of the appropriate user accounts, assign privileges, create the share, set security attributes, and map the network drive on all of the other computers in the house. The sales guy said that it took an average of 20 clicks to complete this task for a home network, and 40 for a corporate network. D-Link's software will do all of that in a very easy dialog interface that takes no more than two clicks (though you may want to tweak a few settings).

The next booth I visited was Marvell. For the uninitiated, Marvell makes chips that do insanely complicated things and manages to make it look simple. At this point Intel, Broadcom, and Marvell are the only manufacturers with working pre-802.11n devices. I mentioned that I had done some embedded Linux work and would be interested in using their devices and was quickly informed that all of their boards run Linux on an ARM processor. The exhibitor suggested that I apply for a job... Score!

After those two booths, things get kinda blurry in my mind. I didn't see too many other interesting things in the South Hall (I missed a lot) and will probably go back tomorrow to finish up.

Next up on my tour de CES was the Central Hall. This is where all of the realy big, really expensive booths were. The first booth I walked into was Texas Instruments. They were really pushing the DLP chips as the next generation of projector technology. I watched their ten minute show where I got a firsthand look at one of these newfangled projector thingys. Needless to say, I was impressed. The picture was crystal clear, the colors were vibrant, contrast was excellent, no screen door effect, and extremely comfy chairs. Win one for TI. Also on display at the TI booth was the Mitsubishi pocket projector due out by the end of the year. This was not a prototype, but a working demo with a sign next to it quoting a price of $899 USD. They also had another competing projector in the same form factor using the same chip. I believe the manufacturer was Toshiba but I won't be sure until I sort through all of my pictures. The difference between the two: Mitsubishi quotes sub-thousand dollar prices, where the other one was $1,099 USD. The Mitsubishi projector seemed like a more durable and sturdy design whereas the other one was rather flimsy. I also thought the Mitsubishi one was also brigher but that may have just been the lighting setup. It looked like the menus and controls were a pain on the Mitsubishi projector. Hey, it's a tradeoff.

I wandered around a bit more until I made my way to the Microsoft booth. I pushed my way through many crowds (they're japanese, they're used to it, right?) and got some good looks at Windows Vista Media Center Edition. As far as I can tell, this is a killer app. The entire convention seems to be circulating around the release of better media apps for the home with much better integration with the rest of the home. Around the back of the Microsoft booth were a few Windows Mobile 5.0 demos. One in particular caught my attention: a prototype of a reciever for 320x240 TV feeds streamed from cell towers. No definite dates, prices, or release plans according to the exhibitor so this may never hit the market. Nonetheless, it was very cool. I played around with the latest build of Vista for a few minutes (5070) and picked up a couple of Vista T-Shirts.

I moved over to another part of the Microsoft booth and saw a prototype of a tablet/laptop/toy combo that was designed to be a low-cost computer for K-12 students to replace textbooks. Not a working model, just a mockup that Microsoft is working with the designers to find suitable manufacturing for. If these ever come to market, they'll be excellent hacking toys.

My last stop at the Microsoft booth got me a 60-day trial for their new Digital Imaging and Editing software that does strictly touch-ups. I asked about PhotoDraw but the girl had never heard of such a product. This leads me to believe that it's officially dead and will never be coming back. Oh well.

I wandered around a bit more and didn't see much else that sticks out in my mind. I left the Central Hall and made for the tents setup across the street. I rested a few minutes in the Gibson booth until the MC mentioned an upcoming country singer. I exited immediately following the announcement.

Next tent over was the CES Concierge. Nothing of interest unless you've screwed up your registration.

The next exhibit outside was the Digital House; a collaboration between Microsoft, HP, and a few home automation companies to demonstrate how existing technology can be leveraged to create a very cool, very expensive, technology enabled home. The tour started with a buggy prototype of a seven-inch wall-mounted touch-screen that sports software that gives one-touch access to almost everything you'd want to know about your home. Lighting, Window Shades, Music, Cameras, Weather, anything you'd want to manipulate. This device is still a prototype but should be on the market by the end of Q2 2006.

Next up was the butt-ugly HP Media Center PC that looks like a set-top box. This exhibit was meant to demonstrate the ability to use a media PC in a dining room environment. There is a plugin and service for Media Center that enables you to buy pieces of art to display on the screen when you're not using it. Royalty-free art starts at $0.99 USD. Another scenario that the exhibitor proposed was if you had just gotten back from a trip or something and wanted to show your friends some pictures. Just pull up the Pictures menu in Media Center and you're good to go. Any music from your library can also be played simultaneously... A handy feature. This demo reminded me of my mom. These are the sorts of things that I could see her using a media box for.

A few more minutes spent in the living room looking at a 52" HDTV and another HP Media Center box was a little boring only because it was a repeat experience from the Gates keynote. The next room was a video game room. It doesn't really exist in the average home, but I went along with it anyway. This room featured a smaller LCD HDTV (somewhere around 32" I think) connected solely to an Xbox 360. They used the Media Center Extender functionality of the Xbox 360 to stream Live TV, Movies, and Music, showing how once you've got the infrastructure (home network, media center pc) in place, another room can have all that functionality at the price of a TV and and Xbox 360. Not bad.

I meandered through the none-too-exciting kitchen and into the crowded bathroom to see a lighted water faucet that changed colors with the temperature of the water. A little over-engineered, but nifty. The bathroom also had a touch-screen with access to the Media Center so that you could stream your porn/sports from the pot. I don't spend enough time in the bathroom to warrant something like that, but I'm sure my dad would love it.

Next was the master bedroom. Again, an HP Media Center box with a rather large TV presented a nice way to view content from bed. A bit overkill, yes, but it was cool overkill. That was the end of the Digital Home tour. I walked out of there with one thing on my mind: I need to get a real Media Center PC and a nice display.

The next exhibit in the center court was the Yahoo! building. Hot girls handing out wristbands wasn't a bad way to start. Once inside, I noticed that everything was based around mediocre competition to Microsoft's Media Center. The UI wasn't as pleasant, there weren't nearly as many ways to obtain content and the actual usage scenarios I could come up with for Yahoo's software were limited. Sadly, Yahoo is a dying company. They're falling into the not-invented-here mindset. Hopefully they'll wake up before it's too late.

That was the end of the outdoor exhibits I could get into. Microsoft had another huge tent setup outside that was reserved for VIPs only. I heard through the grapevine that it's a swanky party with lots of swag. Perhaps next year...

We went back to the hotel for a while, then ate at P.F. Changs. It was really good and the staff were really nice and cooperative considering that we walked in off the street with a party of 13 and no reservations.

Next post - CES Day 0: Flying, Registration, Bill Gates Keynote