CES: Electronics get ever smarter, snazzier at CES

CES: Electronics get ever smarter, snazzier at CES

Last year's Consumer Electronics Show foretold refrigerators that would e-mail the grocery store when you ran out of milk, and a microwave that could wirelessly swap household tips with your washing machine. Intelligent appliances are back this year, as well as handheld gadgets and gizmos for a smarter home.

"This year a smart home is all about technology that makes your life easier and more efficient," says Christa Wendland, media relations manager for JP Davis & Co., the sponsor's of Smart Home, a private event kicking off CES here on Monday.

Devices on exhibit at the Smart Home event include Motorola's DCP501, touted as the first consumer electronics product that combines a digital cable set-top receiver, a CD/DVD player, and an AM/FM stereo-receiver. Also on display is National Semiconductor's Geode Origami Mobile Communicator, which combines a digital camera, a digital camcorder, a videophone, a WebPad for Internet surfing, a personal digital assistant, and a MP3 player.

Plenty of vendors and associations of vendors are eager to help you network these smart appliances and digital home toys. The HomeRF Working Group Inc. is rallying to gain airwaves in the increasingly crowded home networking field.

Even the telephone, a home appliance already sporting high-tech functions, is being further refined. At the Smart Home event ArialPhone unveiled wireless microphone functions for its US$299 handset product of the same name. The ArialPhone now supports voice activation and Web browsing by phone, as well as options for routing voice calls over the Internet.

Multitasking Gadgets

Convergence is clearly a CES keyword. Every type of technology imaginable will be on display, including products from 250 wireless vendors, home information, electronic games, home networking tools, and home theater products.

The board of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents about 90 per cent of the buying power for interactive entertainment and gaming in particular, is meeting at CES. The IEMA is presenting a digital entertainment "village" that houses three technology pavilions showing the latest in interactive entertainment. Some 2000 vendors are expected to show high-end video, audio, consumer technology networking, broadband, mobile electronics, and more.

For example, Samsung Electronics is implementing Planetweb's Digital Photo Manager and Digital Audio Manager software in a new line of interactive DVD players that is scheduled to ship later this year. With the programs, users will be able to display images from other media (such as memory stick or CD), create slide shows, play files with an audio jukebox, and copy and play MP3 files.

Just as Matsushita Electric Industrial announced it will support Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format in its Panasonic Consumer Electronics Inc. DVD players, Moxi Digital says it will integrate RealNetworks' RealOne Player as the preferred streaming media player in the Moxi Media Center set-top box. The combo satellite or cable receiver, jukebox, video recorder, DVD player, and gateway isn't expected to ship until late 2002, but it will be in the spotlight at CES.

Exhibits Overflow

Even in a sluggish economy, the 2002 International CES is on track to be the largest ever, and the air is charged with excitement. Its organising body, the Consumer Electronics Association, says a record-breaking 1.2 million net square feet of exhibit space is filled this year. Organisers say the show is now the largest technology show in the US and the largest annual consumer technology show in the world, taking the title from longtime champ Comdex.

Unlike many other recent major conferences, the CEA expects strong attendance.

"In addition to having strong exhibits in all parts of our show, attendee preregistration is on par with the last several years of CES," says Karen Chupka, the CEA's vice president for conferences and events. "Traditionally more than half of the top Fortune 500 companies in the US attend CES either as buyers or exhibitors."

The CEA represents more than 650 US companies involved in the design, development, manufacturing, and distribution of audio, video, mobile electronics, wireless and landline communications, information technology, multimedia and accessory products, as well as related services that are sold through consumer channels.

Networking Abounds

Rival home network standards are vying for attention at CES, including 802.11b (also known as Wi-Fi) and the HomePlug Power Appliance. For example, Lugh Networks is wiring a model home to demonstrate networking PCs, audio equipment, and peripherals through its power-line network technology.

Linksys Group is unveiling new wireless and home networking products. Its Instant The $299 Instant Wireless Presentation Gateway (WPG11) is an 802.11b product that supports remote presentations, allowing users at several locations to share access to a display during a meeting. The Instant Wireless Ethernet Workgroup Bridge enables any network device with an Ethernet port to go wireless, including PCs, printers, Internet appliances, some gaming consoles, and even entertainment hardware such as Replay TV. The $149 product acts as a wireless converter to bridge Ethernet and wireless communications.

Linksys is also showing a selection of Instant Powerline Networking products certified under the HomePlug specification. New are a Powerline USB Adapter, priced at $149; Powerline Ethernet Bridge, $149; and Powerline Cable/DSL Router, $179.

Sophisticated digital entertainment isn't confined to the home: a number of so-called auto infotainment systems are being unveiled. The Eclipse MP3 Changer from E.Digital and Fujitsu Ten is making its debut at CES. Comworxx is showing Port-IT, a voice-activated telephone unit that provides navigation assistance and hands-free Web browsing. The $1299 product made its debut at last year's CES but is shipping this quarter.

Motorola is introducing its Bluetooth Car Kit, which lets you switch your Bluetooth SIG handset to hands-free operation in the car. It is expected to ship in mid-year and works with the $199 Bluetooth headset, which is scheduled to ship this quarter.

A pair of CES returnees is marketing the wares they showed in prototype last year. Two satellite radio companies, Sirius and XM, want to stream digital satellite radio service to homes and cars.

Sirius Satellite Radio is scheduled to launch nationwide on February 14. XM Satellite Radio claims 30,000 subscribers paying $9.99 per month after about two months of service. The company plans to expand its distribution and cut new deals with car manufacturers.

Other Highlights

Other CES announcements include:

-- SanDisk is presenting Cruzer, a pocket-size storage device that uses removable flash memory cards. The unit is about 3 inches long, 1.75 inches wide, and 0.75 of an inch thick. It also accepts both SD cards and MultiMediaCards, and it plugs into USB ports. It is scheduled to ship in the second quarter, with pricing depending on capacity, which ranges from 32MB to 256MB. A 128MB Cruzer is expected to cost $99.95.

-- Fujifilm is expanding its CD-Recordable media product line with Glow Discs, which have an 80-minute, 700MB, capacity and 1X to 32X write speed. These luminous discs will cost $9.99 for a pack of ten when they ship this quarter. The product is expected to be available in the first quarter 2002.

-- The Digital Media business unit of Trident Microsystems is announcing Jaton's X-Media DreamBox, which is designed to improve monitor quality for video games. With this $149 product a CRT or LCD monitor can function as a regular TV, a progressive TV, or an LCD TV.

-- Sanyo Electric is unveiling two wireless handsets and a wearable TV. One of the handsets provides a display at the base of the phone, and the other uses an attached head-mounted display. The wearable TV is a head-mounted LCD. These products will be marketed through resellers.

-- Sprint is boosting 3G wireless communications in general as it promotes the high-speed advanced network in a mobile showcase, Sprint's Third Generation Experience. Sprint plans to launch 3G services nationwide in mid-2002 and is touting its faster and more capable services, which include messaging, digital imaging, and streaming video.

-- AverMedia TECHNOLOGIES is presenting the AVerFotoplay digital photo player, a $79.99 palm-size digital camera accessory that provides an easy way to display pictures on a big-screen TV.

-- 01 Communique is debuting a remote access and viewing tool. The I'm InTouch service lets you access Outlook or Outlook Express e-mail and files remotely through a 128-bit SSL secured connection. The application also lets you remotely monitor up to four video cameras attached to a PC.

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