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Another CES has come and gone, but my back and feet still ache. I did flirt with the idea of filing my stories from my Treo via e-mail, but I am a little too reliant on the spellchecker, so I had to lug my laptop. For those of you who avoided the 140,000 geeks in Las Vegas this week, you missed a show filled with cool new product announcements, vendor hype, and industry squabbling. It was great.
Even among those of us who went, the first question anyone asks is, “Did you see anything cool?” So here it is. My apologies to the 45 other cool things I saw, but I am very tired and really need to catch up on some sleep.
LG Combo Drive
Honestly, I didn’t see it coming. I know LG has been saying it was going to do this, but frankly, I thought it was just spinning its platters. This is a pretty big deal, especially since the player costs just a few hundred dollars more than a dedicated Blue-ray or HD-DVD player. That said, I am not sure there is going to be a big market for mixed music libraries. When consumers do pick a high-defintion music player, I think they will stick with it.
The Blu-ray consortium made a bold declaration that it was the victor of the format war already. I appreciate the gamesmanship, but that kind of hubris comes with a price. Nonetheless, I am still sticking with Blu-ray as my projected winner when all is said and done.
In order to compete against the excellent iPod and iPod nano you have to innovate–big time. Microsoft is making an attempt with the Zune, but so far has come up short. I think the Sansa Connect takes mobile audio a big step forward. With built-in WiFi the new player will let you access Plays4Sure subscription music service to be named in the next few weeks. (I guessed Rhapsody, was told I was wrong by a SanDisk source, and now I am leaning toward Urge.) From any hotspot. You can download tracks, store them on the players 4GB of memory, and even “share” tracks by sending picks to other users. They have to be subscribers, but this is still pretty cool. Plus, it looks great and even has an internal speaker.
Kleer Wireless Headphones
This was another CES surprise. This is going to be a huge year for wireless headsets with stereo, and most of them are going to use Bluetooth. We have tested a bunch of Bluetooth headsets at PCMag, and although they work fine, the audio quality isn’t audiophile quality. There just isn’t enough bandwidth to offer super-high-quality sound. But Kleer has developed a 2.6-GHz technology that offers real CD-quality sound. It sounds good to me, but I don’t have audio analyst Tim Gideon’s take on them; he has a way better ear than I do. So far this is just a reference design, but there will be models shipping soon. Expect us to get these in the lab soon for testing.
The Slingbox has collected thousands of fans by letting users watch and control their TVs from their PCs, over a home network or even the Internet. At CES, Sling Media Showed off the SlingCatcher, which reverses the process–you will be able to watch video that you stored on your PC on your TV. This is pretty much what the Apple TV will do, but the SlingCatcher will work with more than just iTunes. All the movies you downloaded from TorrentSpy? Now you can stream them to your TV. I think Sling will expand the features on both the SlingBox and SlingCatcher in the next few months. I am betting they have a fully functional PVR/media server in the next six months.
OK, the iPhone wasn’t really at CES. So shoot me. Although one of my esteemed colleagues in the industry expressed annoyance that this “wasn’t really a phone,” I still think it is wicked cool. It isn’t just a phone that plays music; there are lots of those on the market. It is a full smartphone, and could be one of the most powerful handsets on the market. Although, hello, this phone needs 3G VERY badly.
There are more, of course, but CES was exhausting. It is time for a nap. Next week, I have to start begging companies to send us products to test. Then we will see if my “cool” picks really hold up.
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