CES2006: Beyond the Digital Living Room

Pro gear gets consumer-friendly, handheld video expected to dominate
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Pro gear gets consumer-friendly, handheld video expected to dominate

LAS VEGAS: Since consumer electronics manufacturers last gathered for CES, the number of portable consumer devices that promise video anywhere, anytime has exploded. When the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show gets underway in Las Vegas, in early January, expect to see even more such devices, both big and small.

Last year, approximately 145,000 people attended the event at the Las Vegas Convention Center and at least that many are expected again this year.

Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors the annual event, calls the 2006 show, Jan. 5-8, a must-attend convergence event for anyone working in consumer electronics, both in front of and behind the camera. In fact, he's seen the number of broadcast engineers attending the show jump in recent years.

Even though the annual event is billed as a consumer electronics experience, Shapiro said the gear that professionals use are being fashioned into less expensive models for the consumer market.

"We're focusing on desktop video production," he said, with new products designed for the home video aficionado. Sanyo will show full motion HD consumer-based gear, for example.

HDTV will continue to be hot, with the number of North American TV households with at least one HDTV-capable display device growing from nearly 10 million by late 2004 to more than 55 million by the end of 2009, according to Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst for converging markets and technologies with In-Stat.

Kaufhold expects that LCD flat-panel displays will likely be the hot item at CEA followed by digital light processor displays and wide-screen CRTs that will be introduced in 28- and 32-inch sizes.

CES keynoters will include Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, who will kick off CES2006 with a pre-show talk, Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer who will deliver the opening keynote address and Google cofounder Gary Page.

SUPER SESSIONS

While CES2005 last January focused on the digital living room, the proliferation of new mobile consumer devices on the market since then means that multimedia can go just about anywhere you can carry a handheld device, according to technology analyst Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, who has served as consultant for consumer electronics giants including IBM, Apple, Microsoft and Toshiba, among others.

"When you look at digital technology, it allows for more personalization of content, and not just in the digital living room," he said.

With mobile wireless devices like smartphones, many of which enable users to send and receive text messages and watch videos, "the whole concept of connectivity changes. The battle has kind of shifted for greater interest to the connected consumer."

Bajarin will discuss this and more when he moderates "The Battle For Control of the Connected Consumer" super session. The panel, which includes Rudy Provoost, CEO, Consumer Electronics, Philips and Sky Dayton, CEO, HELIO, Inc. (formerly SK-Earthlink) will explore the role that PC, TV, cell phone and handheld devices will have on consumers, content providers and hardware and software manufacturers as cable, satellite and telecom vendors compete for consumer dollars.

With the flood of new technologies on the market, one of the biggest consumer complaints is the lack of user-friendliness, but Bajarin said that so far, Apple has lead the effort to make it easier for consumers.

"They have created an iPod that is very great as a music player and now supports video and supports video downloads from the iTunes stores," he said. "Apple has simplified that process of downloading and consuming music, and now video."

The "Entertainment Technology: View from Hollywood" super session is sure to draw filmmakers and other content creators embracing new multimedia technologies.

Michael Arrieta, senior vice president, Strategic Alliances, Sony Pictures Digital Networks will serve as a panelist at the session.

He describes phones as truly converged devices--from being technology people use to send and receive text messages, listen to music and stream movies, play games and of course, make phone calls.

"Mobile phones represent a huge market opportunity," Arrieta said, pointing out that with bigger screens from products like the Blackberry-sized Sony Ericsson P910, that features a 262,144 color touchscreen people will be more likely to watch feature-length movies as opposed to movie trailers or clips.

"As a digital ecosystem, we're still evolving," he said.

TECH ZONES

With more cool products being unveiled, the convention has expanded beyond the Las Vegas Convention Center to accommodate the anticipated overflow.

Attendees can visit 14 "Tech Zones" in the LVCC and the Sands Expo and Convention Center to view the latest in ultrawideband, IPTV and robotics. The IPTV zone, for example will cater to cable providers, telcos and TV and mobile content developers, while anyone who has been following the Blu-ray versus HD-DVD debate will want to check out the Blu-ray zone.

SPECIAL DISPLAYS

ESPN and CES have teamed up this year to demonstrate technologies and discuss major advancements in consumer electronics on the Grand Lobby Stage. Highlights will include Mobile ESPN, ESPN video games and ESPN HD and ESPN 2 HD.

So, while a lot of the CES event may focus on the handhelds and the digital world at large, at the end of the day, people still need to come back home.

For those interested in the practical application of home automation and whole house broadband, check out the NextGen06 Demonstration Home, sponsored by CEA's TechHome Division in the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center and Jan. 4 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

For more information on registering for CES2006, visit www.cesweb.org.