Smaller, better CES

It was a muted Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas this year, with most tech companies reeling from the economic crisis and its impact on sales and stock prices. Some have already started to lay off workers or reduce orders from their factories while anticipating weaker demand for the near future.

Still, CES remains the top electronics show in the world, and whatever premieres there is still going to be game changing for the industry and consumers. We may be watching our dollars these days, but nobody is moving to log cabins in the mountains to live off the land either — at least nobody that I of know of personally.

Some of the highlights of CES 2009:

LG introduces wristwatch phone — Proving once again that science fiction can come true, LG showed off a line of wristwatch cellphones at CES. Although we’ll all look a little stupider as a result, they are actually pretty cool. You can speak into your watch or use one of those obnoxious Bluetooth earpieces, and it displays almost all the same information as your current cellphone on a compact 1.43 inch colour touchscreen. I imagine it will be a little harder to program phone numbers and write your own text messages, but who cares? Wristwatch phone, people!

3D mode televisions — While we’re on the topic of looking stupid, don’t throw those 3D glasses out just yet. LG announced that all of its 2009 LCD and plasma televisions will be built with available 3D mode, which makes it possible to watch 3D films or television programs. Pretty soon you’ll be able to buy DVD, Blu-ray, or 3D versions of movies, or you’ll be able to access the 3D mode on your DVD menu. Sounds headache- and vomit-inducing, but the new technology is supposed to be good — no more of that blue and red ghosting, the new ColorCode technology is supposedly invisible to the naked eye. Also, 3D video games are apparently on the way next month.

Windows 7 Beta release — It’s available free for download at, and apparently fixes some of the issues that were apparent in earlier builds that went out to reviewers. Most people should prefer the beta of Windows 7 to Vista for things like the ability to switch off the User Account Control and sub-30 second boot times, faster file transfer and program launching speeds, a cleaner look, a simpler shut down/restart menu, and a lot less of that spinning ring thing we hate so much.

The resurrection of Palm — Palm showed off its new “Pre” line of smartphones as well as a new operating system. Features are pretty close to an iPhone, but go one step further. It has full wireless capability, accelerometer (tilt sensitivity), 3.0 Megapixel camera, touch screen at 320X480 resolution, a touch area beyond the screen for navigation, on-board GPS, and an actual pull-out keyboard. The really cool feature is the web integration, giving you the ability to merge all your online contact lists, calendars, e-mail accounts, etc. into one. No word on price or plan availability, at least for Canada.

Ultra-thin televisions — Several companies including Sharp and Panasonic showed off HD flat screens that were about a centimetre wide — the thinnest being about 8 mm.

Actual Guitar Hero — Disney and Washburn Guitars collaborated on a game that is similar to Guitar Hero but requires the use of an actual guitar, while teaching you how to play an actual instrument that plays actual music. It’s called Disney Star Guitarist, and it should be released this summer for PCs. There are also programs for keyboarding and microphones on the way.

WowWee toys —  This robotics company produced a consumer robot that actually does “The Robot” when music is playing. It’s about time; I was starting to feel stupid on the dance floor.

Thanks for the memory — SDHC, Sony and SanDisk are preparing to release two Terabite — that’s 2,000 Gigabytes, give or take — memory sticks. That’s about four to eight times more storage than you probably have in your home computer right now, and you’ll be able to put these cards into everything from video cameras, to still cameras, to your portable music/video player.

Femtocells — These are not pods where you create your own army of fembots, but home devices that amplify cellular telephone signals. With more people forgoing land lines these days in favour of cellphones, several companies are making devices that boost phone signals, or, in the case of the Motorola 9100, allow you to communicate on your phone through the Internet to save money.

Yahoo! finds its niche — Yahoo may have lost the browser war to Google, but found a niche business by signing agreements with virtually all television manufacturers to offer users online widgets that display things like sports scores, news, weather reports, and more.


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