I approached my first trip to CES with many of the same feelings I had when I made my first pilgrimage to Comdex in the ’90s.  Excited for the new things I would see, anxious about the size of the crowds, and concerned for my feet.

CES Opens

It’s always refreshing to get out of Waterloo, where our concentration in Tech Companies is mistaken by some as a form of destiny, and that our leadership in any particular area of technology is secure.  I most often get that sense from people who don’t spend much time in Silicon Valley or other hotbeds of innovation.  Things move very fast, especially in developing markets.  It is with this sense of inquisitiveness I set out to experience the latest breakthroughs in the vast world of Consumer Electronics.

Getting to the show from my hotel was very easy.  The monorail is a cheap and comfortable way to get to and from CES, as long as you try to avoid the peak times.  I left early, so I could avoid the rush and get the floor maps to each hall.  I like to plan my itinerary around specific companies or industries.  It’s a foregone conclusion that you can’t spend lots of time at everything.  There were over 2500 exhibitors, which was down from 2700 in 2009.  With 1 day to go, there were 113k attendees.

As a side note, I think over 200 of these 2500 exhibitors were purveyors of BlackBerry and iPhone covers.  You name a theme, colour, texture or material, and somebody has a case for you.  I did wonder how many cases these companies needed to sell to justify the costs of CES.  Anyhow…

With my South Hall 1&2 map in hand, I set out to see the wonders that lay before me.  The first interesting technology I saw was a home security product.  It was called “Control4” and uses various touch-screen remote and tablet-like devices to control and monitor your home.  You could also access the system through your computer/iPhone (I assume remotely but this wasn’t mentioned).  There are some real conveniences in a system like this.  The gent demonstrating the system pointed to the logging and reporting that enables a parent to tell when their son actually got home.  Did he make curfew?  Hmmm, not sure that pitch worked with me.  I’ll be waiting up for my kids.  One other odd issue was the physical door locked.  I asked him “how is it powered?”.  The whole system works wirelessly, and the doors lock/unlock upon command through the console, or by entering the code on the keypad.  The locks have AA batteries inside.  So, I wonder what happens when your batteries die, and you don’t have your keys on you?  Hopefully there’s an alert on the system that warns you that you’re about to be locked out of your house.

I next found my way through lots of not-so-interesting cable and component vendors.  I was starting to become concerned.  Where were the cool technology booths?  But fortunately, there were some sites to behold in some booths.  I snapped a few pictures as proof.

I met up with my colleagues mid-afternoon, and we decided to grab some refreshments and head back to the hotel.  All in all, day 1 was a bit of a let-down to be honest.  But the best was yet to come.

Day 2 I set out first for the Central Halls.  This is where the large Consumer Electronics companies had their booths.  Well, actually calling these booths is like calling Buckingham Palace a cottage.  They were immense, and beautifully constructed.  I began to see what I had heard was going to be the “big thing” from CES 2010: 3DHD.

But before I got there, I wandered past the Intel booth, where they were showcasing lots of processor technology.  They had a very cool touchscreen cube that was showing small thumbnails of pictures of CES people had uploaded to Flickr.  When you touched a particular thumbnail, the image expanded.  It was all moving like a wavy stream of thumbnails.  It was just a showcase of something cool, not tied to any particular Intel technology.

Next I strolled past the Microsoft Pavilion.  I found it foreign and uncomfortable because I really don’t use Microsoft for much anymore.  They’re clearly still a huge market force, but their technology doesn’t have near the effect it did 5 years ago.  I did take note of their “Microsoft Auto” display.  [Insert your own car-reboot, crash, <ctrl><alt><delete> joke here]

I then approached the first of the CE giants: LG.  Their plasma and LCD TV offerings were huge.  And the panoramic display they made out of over 100 TVswas quitespectacular.  Their 3D HD presentation was quite impressive.  I should mention a few basics about 3DHD.  Most require the use of special glasses.  This does pose a challenge to consumers who wear glasses when they watch TV.  So far, it appears that each TV manufacturer has their own spec and design for the glasses, and that they are selling the TVs with only 1 set of glasses.  I heard a Panasonic rep say something about it “making sense for the single guy who likes to watch sports”. Uhm, that perhaps works better for the “single guy who has no friends”.  I think there’s a standards opportunity here, and I think it would behoove the entire industry to standardize the technology so that the glasses can be innovated and segmented by 3rd parties.  If I have to bring my glasses to a friends house to watch the Superbowl in 3DHD, I don’t want to have to worry that he’s a Sony guy and I’m a Panasonic.  I didn’t see any pricing announced, and when I asked was told that pricing isn’t available.  I’d guess that these should be priced similarly to top of the line HD Plasmas, with a small premium.  One area of innovation that I wasn’t impressed with was the IP TV features.  I don’t want my TV manufacturer putting YouTube and other browser capabilities in my TV.  They won’t be done as well as 3rd party media devices (Boxee, WD HD TV Live etc), and they just raise the cost to develop and manufacture TVs.  Stick to what you’re good at, and leave those other things to companies that have competencies in things that bring out the best in your TV.

There isn’t a lot of 3DHD content right now, but it’s starting to come.  Panasonic was demonstrating 3D Blu-Ray as well as DirecTV’s 3DHD channel.  I feel like I’ve already seen Avatar because it was playing everywhere in 3D.  I tried on glasses from several manufacturers and there wasn’t much difference IMHO.  They all felt about the same.  I think the quality of the 3D experience is affected by the size of the screen.  The larger, the better.

The Panasonic 152″ Plasma is a great example of this: I saw a Boxee Box and met with Avner Ronen, the Boxee founder.  And I spent some time checking out the various Android-based phones, including one called the vPhone that supports 2 way video conferencing.  The smartphone market is going to be a very exciting one to watch in the next year.  With BlackBerry in a battle with iPhone and Android attacking both from the lower-end of the market, there will be lots of drama here.  Of course, the hottest spot at CES for me this year was seeing Maria Bartiromo aka the “Money Honey”.  She was broadcasting live from the floor of CES for CNBC.  It was interesting to see the behind-the-scenes work that goes on just prior to going live.

I also spent some time at the Sony booth. I was very happy to learn that the driving simulator Gran Turismo 5 is going to launch in Japan in April.  This is a spectacular simulator for the PS3.  They had it running in a demo racing station, and I took my turn at the wheel of a beautiful new Ferrari 458 Italia.  Mamma Mia!  There was lots of interesting stuff there, but nothing that had me in awe.  Perhaps that’s just a sign of how high expectations are set now for Consumer Electronics innovations.  We’re all spoiled to a certain extent, by the wonders the bright minds across the globe have brought into our homes.  I’m considering this CES an incremental evolution of existing technology.

I haven’t decided whether I want to go back next year or not.  Perhaps someone is working on something that will blow my socks off in 2011 or 2012.  And maybe that someone is working right next door to me in Waterloo.  Who knows?

BTW, to see more of my CES 2010 pix, please visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ph-stop/sets/72157623065655279/show/