COMDEX Fall Serves Up A Full Plate

Do you think it will be a PC? A MAC? Maybe a set-top box? As the race to be the digital "hub" of business and home intensifies, folks heading to COMDEX will get a hearty taste of each contender.
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LAS VEGAS

Do you think it will be a PC? A MAC? Maybe a set-top box? As the race to be the digital "hub" of business and home intensifies, folks heading to COMDEX will get a hearty taste of each contender.

But many questions linger as backdrops at COMDEX. Who will lead the way? Who will benefit the most from the swell of digital technology, the business user or the consumer?

Senior Vice President Mike Millikin of Key3Media Group, which is producing COMDEX Fall in Las Vegas Nov. 16-21, says, "Obviously, our perspective is that it's both, but there are some who disagree with that." With these questions in mind, COMDEX Fall explores technology platforms from digital imaging and document management to real-time, networking, IT services and storage for a diverse audience of consumer and enterprise interests.

Main keynote Bill Gates will kick off the show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a ticket-only address, followed later in the week by Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy.

Aside from the usual exhibitions, product launches and a recordable DVD pavilion, sponsored by the Recordable DVD Council, 10 "technology segments" organize COMDEX under umbrellas of related interests. Located in various zones on the exhibit floor, the segments offer individual keynotes, educational programs and information gatherings hailed as "Great Debates" and "Super Sessions." Both focus on hot-button industry issues and will undoubtedly provoke discussion as the industry moves rapidly down a path to digital convergence wrought with unanswered questions.

A DIGITAL LIFESTYLE

COMDEX's "Digital Lifestyles" conference will focus on how digital technology will shape the home of the future. How will broadband spawn interactive TV and spur a wave of new applications? Although broadband is currently in less than 20 percent of U.S. households, many see a day when at least 60 to 70 percent of homes carry this connection. The number of broadband subscribers in North America is expected to grow from 7.6 million in 2000 to more than 38 million in 2004. The show will focus on the number of potential applications, interactive TV, t-commerce and even videophones.

As the number of ways to distribute digital content branches away from the PC, how should manufacturers design compatible storage mediums? High-density hard disks, rewritable DVD and DV cards will be under scrutiny for use in cellphones, MP3 players, still and video cameras, DVD/PVR players and PDAs. And how will lower prices and higher quality affect the future of recording?

One Super Session, "The Gold Rush for Intellectual Property" will examine the escalating tension between owners of copyrighted material and a demanding audience of DVD/CD-burning consumers. By pitting Hollywood against Silicon Valley and using other catchy names like "Terrorism vs. Liberty: Advanced Technology and the Right to Privacy," COMDEX appears to be banking on high-spirited jousts to draw attendees.

Millikin touts "Who Will Own the Digital Nerve Center of the Home?" as "another one of those Beta vs. VHS issues." PCs, Macs, gaming systems such as Playstation and Microsoft's Xbox and interactive DVD's are all systems vying with the set-top box to gain an upper hand, not only for a place in consumer's homes, but for the entire digital home market. Millkin forsees the stakes as "incredibly high. This is a multibillion dollar market that's going to emerge and whoever wins is going to win definitively."

A TRADE SHOW COMEBACK?

That's why in the face of a depressed trade show market, Millikin is optimistic about attendance. "I think people realize that there is a lot [about new technology] that they still need to figure out. There are major problems [facing the industry] to be solved that can't be fixed by tossing money at them, which is what people were doing for the past few years."

COMDEX addresses the blasé with a session on "Recovery," driven by one of the White House economic policy advisors. Millikin believes that the industry is searching for a path forward, however slowly. "There is a fundamental economic component to the recession or depression in our industry, but also a psychological one. We were stunned by what happened when the Internet bubble burst, we're still reeling from the 9/11 effects, but it's time to dust ourselves off and move forward."

COMDEX AND FUTURE OF TV AND VIDEO

With more than 1,000 exhibitors at COMDEX this year, TV and video are bound to be represented. But are they being edged out as other technologies creep in with similar capabilities?

Not according to Millikin, who hallmarks wireless as "the" up and coming transmission method. He says although the talk is now of forming "technology platforms," once they are in place, the professional TV and audio engineer market can look at them first and say, "OK, I can do this" and then figure out how. "I think there's going to be a big boom in editing tools targeted at the business user and this will bleed over into the consumer side - video is just about to happen."

To register for COMDEX Fall 2002, go to www.comdex.com.