January 08, 2011

Notes on CES 2011

I just returned to Philly from five days at International CES in Las Vegas. It was my third time there, and I don't feel like I'm sick of it yet (a lot of the veterans I talk to seem to start dreading it by the 9th or 10th time.)

A few notes, some of them with links to articles I published during the show:

- I stayed at the Riviera. Never, ever do that. It's like a little piece of Atlantic City right on the Vegas Strip. It's just old, and not in a good way- and the Internet that I was paying $15 a day for didn't work, at all, which is sort of a problem when you're an online editor like I am. In fact, the only place in Vegas with dependable WiFi during CES week is... the airport. Which is the opposite of every other city.

- Unfortunately this year I didn't get to spend as much time on the show floor as I normally do- I was at a lot of speeches, panels, and in meetings, so I only was able to walk the halls on a couple of occasions. The Intel, Sony and Samsung booths were awesome as usual, although the bottleneck between the Intel and Microsoft booths in the Central Hall were impossible to navigate every time I went through.

- It's all about the tablets! All I can say is that tablets are absolutely everywhere, the prices are going to come down rapidly, and I can't imagine any of them unseating the iPad anytime soon. The Droid-like Xoom from Motorola looked pretty cool, and I was impressed with the Vizio VIA Tablet as well. I was standing behind Engadget's Joanna Stern when she did this Toshiba Tablet hands-on- those things take awhile, apparently. (See my article about Toshiba's glasses-free 3D and tablet.)

- I went to the Microsoft keynote with Steve Ballmer on Wednesday night, and wasn't really wowed by anything except for the Kinect/Netflix demo. As for Avatar Kinect, their new feature in which you and your friends can create avatars and have an online conversation- that's just something I can't imagine anyone ever doing.

- I saw 50 Cent, who I heard was going to be there, outside the South Hall Thursday. I was waiting in line for a mens' room in a corner of the lobby- CES is so male-heavy that the mens' room always has a line and the womens' never does- when I heard a voice yell "is that a private bathroom?" When a security guard said yes, five large men suddenly pushed into the area, and an sixth, smaller man darted into the bathroom. That was Fitty, it appears, and the rest were his entourage.

- Friday night I went to the annual Leaders in Technology Dinner, in which the keynote was an "interview" between Arianna Huffington and Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. Honestly, I would've preferred Hastings had given the speech solo. Huffington kept cracking jokes about Jeff Bewkes' shot at Hastings earlier in the week, even though it was clear that no one in the room had any idea what she was talking about. This was one of those events where the people sitting at the table with me had much more illuminating things to say than the people on stage.

- I met a couple of guys who work for iRobot, the maker of the Roomba. One of them knew about DJ Roomba, while the other didn't.

- I went to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's annual one-on-one interview with CEA's Gary Shapiro, in which Genachowski 1) talked about spectrum, over and over again, 2) Didn't take any questions from the audience, 3) Darted out of the room as soon as the speech was over, and 4) Did not, at any point mention net neutrality. Oh well, at least he's not threatening to censor video games. (See my E-Gear article.)

- I saw a panel of movie directors- Michael Mann, Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann- at the Panasonic booth, where they talked up Blu-ray and clips were shown of their films. For Mann- rather than "Heat," "The Insider," or anything else, they showed the super-bloody climax of "Last of the Mohicans," in which several people die violently. Luhrmann at one point likened over-produced Blu-ray editions to "a friend who's had too much surgery and you can't recognize them anymore"- hmm, a shot at Nicole Kidman? In a clip they showed of "Moulin Rouge," I was reminded of the long-ago time in which Nik could actually move her face. As for Stone, he came across as surprisingly not-nuts. (See my E-Gear article.)

- The Verizon keynote, which I covered for Dealerscope, not only did not introduce a Verizon iPhone, but it didn't introduce any new 4G products either (that was at a press conference later that day.) In fact, the part that wowed everyone wasn't even from Verizon- it was a Google engineer's demo of the new Honeycomb version of Android for tablets.

- The absolute best panel of the show was in an off-the-beaten path room upstairs in the North Hall and the room was barely half-full. A panel of Hollywood people who shared how they use Twitter and social media to spread their content, on stage were: "Lost" producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, comic and "Chat Show" host Kevin Pollak, "The Shield" and "Terriers" producer Shawn Ryan, "Shit My Dead Says" Tweeter (and writer) Justin Halpern and Amy Aquino, the veteran actress who is now secretary/treasurer of the Screen Actors Guild. Best of all, I got to meet them all- I warned Pollak that Larry King was at the show, and was able to let Aquino know of my family's longtime love for "Brooklyn Bridge," on which she played the mom.

- Audiovox introduced a bunch of stuff- charging stations, docks, and "personal sound amplifiers," which are like hearing aides only they're sold over-the-counter and not FDA-regulated. Here's my Dealerscope article.

- Here's my story about Orb Networks' new Blu-ray system. I've been using the Orb TV device all the time for everything from Netflix streaming to Noah slideshows.

And here's Farhad Manjoo making a very strong argument that it's all a waste of time.

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