CES was fun, as always. This year I didn't see as much of the show as in the past - mostly because I'm over that. My first year there I felt like I had to see *everything*, and I ran myself ragged. This was my fourth year in a row and now I pick what I'm going to look at and plan my day around that. Then I casually wander in what time I have left and look for things that catch my eye. But partly it was the extreme pain that kept me from wandering as much.
I always start out with TiVo, since that's the main draw for me. They had some cool stuff, which I posted about in tivolovers, of course. And there will be more to come. This year the other things I was really interested in catching were Sling Media, Digeo/Moxi, HD-DVD, and Blu-ray Disc.
I've held off buying a Slingbox because of two missing features - a PalmOS client and a SlingCatcher, and they announced both of them at this CES. The SlingCatcher is a hardware Sling client that you can connect to another TV. Previously you needed to use Slingplayer on a PC or a supported portable device. Not so convenient to access the Slingbox from another TV. With the SlingCatcher I can put one in my room and access my A/V stack in the living room remotely. The PalmOS client is officially only for the Treo 700p as that has 3G network support (EV-DO). The 650 & 680 are limited to EDGE, which is slower. There is not yet a PalmOS Treo with UMTS/HSDPA support for GSM networks. Since I have a 650 I asked about it at their booth. I was told the 680 will work, unofficially, but the 650 will not work. Though it may be marginal, and you'll need a solid EDGE connection with a decent data rate for it to work at all. I'm not sure why the 680 would work while the 650 wouldn't. They're pretty much the same thing - the 680 just has a new design and more RAM for app storage. But the screen, CPU, network support, etc, is the same as far as I know. I talked to them about testing the SlingCatcher and PalmOS client, and it looks like I may have that chance. So I'll probably be picking up a Slingbox Pro to do that. I'll try it on my 650. If it doesn't work, I might upgrade to a 680. Hopefully I'll be hearing from them soon. And big thanks to Dave Zatz, of zatznotfunny, for putting in a good word for me.
I wasn't very impressed by what Digeo/Moxi had to say - OK, not impressed at all. Everything in their booth was smoke & mirrors - mock-ups, hollow shells, etc. They still haven't finalized hardware specs on the boxes they'll be bringing to retail in the second half of 2007. There seemed to be a lot of things which are planned or anticipated, but not a lot that was solid. I think competition for the TiVo Series3 is good, it will keep TiVo innovating and on their toes, but I think Moxi is going to have a huge up-hill struggle to carve out a niche in the retail DVR market. They really should've done it years ago, but they dropped their retail plans to focus on licensing to cable MSOs - which has been largely unsuccessful, with only ~400,000 systems deployed after a few years of effort. I won't be surprised if the new TiVo software for cable boxes has more than that by the end of this year. Anyway, I posted about this in TiVoLovers. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on what they do over the course of the year, and what they finally launch. I hope the final product is more impressive.
As for HD-DVD and Blu-ray - I remain convinced that Blu-ray will eventually crush HD-DVD out of the market. The HD-DVD group was making a lot of hay over having 175,000 players sold and 160 titles on the market. But they had many months to build a lead before BD hit the market. By the end of the year BD had 120 titles, with a faster pace of new titles. So BD should have more titles soon, and maintain the lead once they do. And HD-DVD only has more players if you don't count the PS3 - which has already sold over one million units. Sony still says they'll sell 4 to 6 million PS3s by April, and probably 10 million by the end of the year. The PS3 alone will sell more units than all HD-DVD, and BD, systems together. And standalone BD systems are now available, with more systems being added, and prices will be coming down. There are still five studios that are exclusively BD, and only one (Universal) that is exclusively HD-DVD, with Warner and Paramount on the fence, supporting both for now.
LG announced a $1200 player that will support both - but now it looks like it may never ship. They planned full support for BD, but only basic playback for HD-DVD. They would not be supporting HDi, the interactive features for HD-DVD menus, extras, etc. But the DVD Forum is challenging them, since HDi is mandatory for HD-DVD. So they're claiming that LG cannot use the HD-DVD logo or claim HD-DVD support unless they support HDi. Microsoft is apparently pissy too, since they developed HDi with Toshiba. On the other side, Time Warner announced a new 'Total HD' disc which supports both HD-DVD and BD on one disc. But it only makes sense for them and Paramount, the only studios supporting both formats. If Universal used it - game over. Once they support BD in any fashion, then ALL studios support BD, so there would be no point in anyone buying HD-DVD and missing out on the BD exclusive studios. If either side lost all of their exclusive studios, then they'd lose their biggest lever in the fight. On the other side, none of the Sony studios are ever going to support HD-DVD, and Fox and Disney have reiterated that they support BD and have no plans to support HD-DVD, and feel that the best resolution to the war is for HD-DVD to leave the market.
And it really is - because the alternatives seem to be HD-DVD dying, or dealing with two formats forever. Since Sony controls movie studios and hardware, and they've committed to BD on the PS3, they're not going to drop it. With more of the content and hardware makers behind BD, it is less likely to die. Producing Total HD is more expensive - since you basically make both formats and glue them back to back. Plus consumers have never really liked flippy discs, as they're harder to handle and don't have any nice labels. It also means no DVD/HD-DVD hybrid discs - as they're flippys too. And it would eliminate the possibility of a BD/DVD flippy, though BD has demonstrated a single-sided BD/DVD hybrid with the BD data 'over' the DVD layers. That hasn't been commercialized though. I supposed you could do that, then but HD-DVD on the other side, and have all three. But the multi-format discs will always cost more than a single-format disc, meaning higher prices for you and me. It is better all around for one format to win and then volume will drive prices down.
I find this whole format war highly annoying, and I think it is really hurting adoption as many people wait. But the PS3 should help that somewhat, as people are buying the PS3 anyway and once they have it in their home, then they can use it for BD movies in HD. A Trojan horse to boost adoption of the format. If MS updated the Xbox 360 to include an HD-DVD drive standard, it might help, but they already missed the early adopter rush for the platform. I'm mostly pissed at Toshiba for causing the war by pushing HD-DVD.
So, other than that, there were the usual giant TVs - the big news this show was a 108" LCD. Eh, I've kind of gotten over the huge TV thing. They're just publicity stunts, not commercialized. Though if you were a millionaire I'm sure you could get one custom. The largest LCD from the show that will be sold is a 70" LCD from Sony, which should be out in April - for *$33,000*. Yeah, I'll pass. :-)
Otherwise, the one standout that sticks in my mind is the new AVCHD camera from Panasonic. There are two models that are pretty much identical - except one records to 8cm DVDs and the other uses SDHC cards. I think the SDHC model is cooler. They record in 1080i using MPEG-4 AVC/H.264. You get about 60 minutes on a 4GB SDHC card, or 40 minutes on a DVD-R. And there are already 8GB SDHC cards out - with 16GB and 32GB cards shown at the show, and likely out this year. They have 12x optical zoom and optical image stabilization, and they're light and small. It also records 5.1 audio - and the coolest feature, IMHO, is audio zoom. Just above the lens is an array of 5 microphones in a cross. Via a combination of directional mics and audio processing, the camera can eliminate sounds and actually zoom in the sound with the video. They had demos of footage shot with the camera and it was really cool. One was a small waterfall. When zoomed out you heard the echo of the waterfall noise off the surrounding rocks, etc. But as the camera zoomed in on the waterfall the sound narrowed until you just heard the water on the rocks and it was like you had walked up close to the waterfall. Very nifty. The downside is that the camera will cost $1499 when it ships - but I'll have to wait for the price to drop before I consider getting one.
There were innumerable toys, gadgets, and gizmos, many of them were cool, but most of them didn't really personally interest me. Or I just couldn't see affording them, or how they could be practical for me.
Oh yeah, so the pain thing. Well, you may recall that I posted in the past about having plantar fasciitis in my left foot. It had mostly cleared up for a while, of course, the week before CES, it flared up again. Even with the 800mg ibuprofen, all of the walking at CES really aggravated it. So I spent a lot of time with stabbing pain in my left foot, which made me walk with a limp. It screwed up my walking enough to make my lower back pissy, and I'd get this hot, burning, stabbing pain in my lower left back. It felt like a hot knife. And the pain from my foot would slowly spread up my leg over the course of the day. So, yeah, that was less than pleasant. Fortunately, I have a ridiculously high pain threshold so I could get into a rhythm and tune it out. Though I contributed to my breaking into a sweat, even when it wasn't that warm. I'm sure my being badly out of shape didn't help there, but just walking around didn't used to do that to me. Well, anyway, it did slow down my wandering and cut down on the time I spent walking the show because I'd just need to get off my feet. I thought about renting one of those scooter things, but I couldn't bring myself to do that while I could still get around under my own power. It just felt too lazy. My foot is still a bit sore, I'm hoping that clears up some with a bit of rest. I'm sure not sleeping enough, and therefore not giving my body the time to recover, contributed.
Well, all in all, I enjoyed CES and I'll probably be back next year again.