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Dispatch from the CES

Dispatch from the CES

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I've just returned from a week in Las Vegas. Now, most people think that would be an exciting thing in itself, and perhaps a bit overwhelming - and it certainly is. But I spent this past week meeting a lot of celebrities. Let me digress a bit, for I forgot to mention that it was all work, as I sat there in the crowd, enjoying the free food and drink, notebook in hand. And that was only part of the week - the rest involved sitting in on highly entertaining speeches from some of the electronic industry's greatest executives. (Yes, that was me sitting only thirty feet from Bill Gates last Wednesday, when he was being interviewed by Conan O'Brien). Part of it included walking the 1.5 million feet of exhibit space covering everything from cell phones to the world's largest plasma screen to Howard Stern. Welcome to the 2005 International Consumer Electronics Show, largest in the world. And they sure know how to treat the press.

The visit began on Tuesday. CES held a special preview for members of the media. A number of companies had their latest developments (primarily in PC's and accessories) on exhibit, a buffet was set around the room and there was a nice bar in the corner (although I no longer drink, I could easily tell that most of the press were quite happy). Throughout the conference, the press room was the place to be. Snacks and beverages were available throughout the show, as were PC's with full internet access and wireless internet for those who brought there own laptops. During the afternoon, the press buffet was offered - a full catered meal, including dessert. And the computer bags that Toshiba supplied this year for the press were huge, with so many pockets that I couldn't figure out which ones to use for all the press packets and goodies I picked up. Did I mention the CES loves press? Now don't start thinking that just anyone can get in as members of the press - I noticed a couple of upset bloggers being turned away at the registration desk. This isn't a political convention - it's serious business.

The evening before the show opened, I arrived two hours early for Bill Gates' keynote speech at the Las Vegas Hilton. Next to me were a number of hardcore gamers, like myself, including Andre Horn, Editor-in-Chief of Germany's GamePro magazine. Andre had come all the way from Munich because of rumblings that the second generation XBOX would be unveiled during Gates' speech. After all, this is where he introduced the first one. What we received instead was something rather unexpected.

The presentation was designed as a late night talk show, with Conan O'Brien hosting, complete with opening monologue before he interviewed Bill Gates. Everything was going smoothly until Bill tried to use a media center remote only to have nothing happen - on multiple attempts. Things were so bad for Bill, that when Lee Ann Champion, the senior executive vice president for SBC came out to showcase IPTV, a new protocol for interactive television that is being developed by the two companies, she mentioned after a flawless demonstration, "And I also want to point out that all of these demonstrations worked. It's a good thing, right, guys? Did I do it good or what?"

The frosting on the cake was when Bill came to the XBOX demonstration. Instead of unveiling the next generation consol, we were given a demonstration of Forza Motorsport, a game that everyone in the gaming industry already knows much about. And then the XBOX they were using for the demo crashed - it ran out of memory.

SONY must have been loving this, for the very next day, they held a press conference where they introduced the Playstation Portable, or PSP, to the North American market. The product should be released by March. What's amazing is that it not only plays games, but can be linked to PC's or use memory cards from a camera to become a music or photo player. SONY will be offering both music and films in the new UMD disc format for the PSP. Although I wasn't able to attend the press conference, I did get to play with a Japanese model the night before while waiting to be let in to the Bill Gates presentation. That's what's so nice about standing in line next to a videogame magazine editor who happens to have one in his bag.

The keynote presentations were full of celebrities. Carly Fiorina, CEO of HP carted out Gwen Stefani and Venessa Carlton, as well as Dreamworks founder and former Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg. Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel had Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. Texas Instruments' CEO Ron Templeton's guests included Howie Long, and yet again Jeffrey Katzenberg, who spoke about TI's incredible DLP digital projection technology and how it has effected filmmaking (more on this in another article).

The tradeshow itself was huge - 1.5 million square feet, 140,000 attendees from 115 countries and 2,500 hundred exhibitors. It's impossible to tell you about everything on display, but to give you a sampling, four of the items that impressed us most were:

  • A 102" plasma tv, the world's largest, at the Samsung booth.
  • Blu-Ray disc technology at Panasonic. The Walt Disney Company is one of the studios supporting this next generation replacement for DVD's. (DVD-HD, a competing format, was also showcased at the show). The Playstation 3 will use Blu-Ray discs, which hold up to 50GB of storage on a single side.
  • New DLP projectors, including the Radio Shack Cinego Instant Home Theater, a DLP projector that has speakers and a DVD player built in.
  • The Olympus m:robe 500, a portable music player capable of storing 5,000 songs and 20,000 digital photos. It features an integrated camera and a 3.5" touch screen.

We ended our tour of the tradeshow floor at the Sirius Radio booth for a live broadcast of The Wiseguys Show. If you've never heard it, the show is hosted by Vinny Pastore, who has starred in such productions as The Sopranos and Shark Tale, along with a group of friends from the old hood, including broadcasting veteran Joe Causi. The guests for this particular broadcast were Las Vegas legends Lance Burton, Frank Marino (who has stared as Joan Rivers in La Cage at The Riviera for the past twenty years) and master of screen and stage Robert Goulet. If you don't have Sirius Satellite Radio, go to their website and you can listen in on the fun. The Wiseguys are hilarious.

So there you go, lots of celebrities, lots of gadgets, tons of walking, and Bill Gates for once having things break down in public. I'll have more updates for you throughout the month, including a look at the Las Vegas monorail and a comparison between Disney's parks and Vegas - you'd be surprised just how much they have in common.

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