Five buzzworthy products from CES
By Daniel Sieberg
The eMagin X800 3D
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LAS VEGAS, Nevada (CNN) -- Drinking from a fire hose. Holding back the tide. Herding fish. Whatever your metaphor of choice, it's easy to get washed away amongst the thousands of gadgets at the annual International Consumer Electronics Show, or CES.
This year, beyond the ubiquitous cell phones, MP3 players and plasma TVs, we tried to find a few products that seemed unique to us.
In no particular order, here's a sampling of the shiny objects that caught our eye:
The SkyScout from Celestron doesn't play music or video games. But it would still appeal to that budding or seasoned astronomer. It's about the size of a pair of binoculars, but it only has one viewing lens. On the side is a digital readout, and inside, it packs an impressive amount of technology, including GPS and the ability to calculate the angle at which you're pointing it at the sky.
You see, if you point the SkyScout skyward -- indoors or out -- it will tell you precisely what's above you with the click of a button. It can also guide you to the night's celestial highlights with a series of arrows inside the lenses. For example, if you want to know where Mars is in the sky, just hold it up, and red arrows that blink as you move the SkyScout across the horizon will find it.
This may even fall under the somewhat rare "e" category for gadgets, as in educational. It's expected to ship in early spring for about $399.
The Roomba vacuum from iRobot has swept through many homes since its introduction in late 2002. Using a series of sensors, the Roomba can clean your carpets while navigating around any furniture or walls.
At CES, iRobot showcased Roomba's cousin once-removed, the Scooba. Roughly the same size as the Roomba (think a fat Frisbee), Scooba just needs some cleaning solution (or, the company tells us, you can also use white vinegar), and with the push of a button, it's on its way.
It's able to suck in loose dirt on the floor, clean with brushes that spin about 1400 rpm, and then suck away the water left behind. iRobot reps told us that on average, it might take Scooba 45 minutes to clean a 200-square foot room, depending on what's in the way.
Somewhere out there, household pets are uniting against robotic cleaners.
This one is available now for $399 on the iRobot Web site, and will see a wider release at places like Target and Sears in early February.
The eMagin X800 3D
Without actually wearing one, it's tough to imagine the experience you get with the eMagin X800 3D visor. But using OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays and a few carefully placed lenses, the viewer is meant to feel as though he or she is watching a 105-inch screen from about 12 feet away.
Think "Robocop" meets "Revenge of the Nerds" glasses. In other words, full immersion in a video world.
At CES, the company was talking about pairing it with Apple's video iPod, and there's also one on the market that puts the user inside a video game environment. But it can work with almost any video source. It's clearly not meant to be worn while doing anything else since it limits your peripheral vision, but the company says it's for a more private viewing experience, such as on a plane.
We used our laptop to play a movie, then plugged in the X800, and off it went. The one we tried will retail for $799 when it comes out in early spring.
Sling Media made quite a splash with its Slingbox last year, giving people the opportunity to watch all those TiVo or DVR shows anywhere they went via an Internet-connected, Windows-based PC or laptop. The Slingbox itself doesn't look like much -- a large silver "brick" with several inputs on the back. But attach it to your network and cable provider at home, and it's ready to connect you to your living room wherever you go.
The news from CES is that Sling Media will be adding a mobile component to the Slingbox.
The company says any wireless-enabled Windows Mobile Smartphone or handheld will soon be able to see live or taped TV shows on the go. We used a Sprint Pocket PC phone provided by the company, and it seemed to work just fine.
The frame rate slowed when we had a bad signal, but it never dropped out entirely, and the speed of the video adjusted depending on its surroundings. In Las Vegas, we were able to watch the movie "Hoop Dreams" that was recorded on the Sling Media rep's home TiVo back in San Francisco.
There will likely be some debate over licensing, copyright, etc. in the months and years to come, but the company is confident that it's only providing people a way to access cable content they already own or pay for.
The Slingbox retails for $249, though the company has not announced whether the mobile component will cost more. That will be revealed sometime this quarter when the service becomes available.
The MFuel Universal Power Bank
Finally, a little anecdote from CES that also includes a product description. We were preparing to go live on CNN from the show floor and were about to demonstrate the aforementioned Slingbox's portability.
The Sprint Pocket PC had been charged the night before, and we thought we were all set. About 10 minutes before the live shot on CNN, I noticed that yours truly had not actually powered the Pocket PC down overnight (we'd been awake setting up the whole time).
Glancing at the screen, I noticed a disturbing message that said the battery was so low it would have to shut down soon. That'd be a problem. Blank screens do not translate well on live TV. As panic set it, we realized we were saved by a product that was right in front of us.
The MFuel Universal Power Bank comes with countless adaptors (the word "universal" almost says it all) that are meant to provide you with enough juice to keep going in a pinch. Something we could relate to.
It's a little larger than a DVD case, and uses Lithium-ion power to run virtually anything with a battery. It gets its power from your laptop or other charger (sorry, no cold fusion at CES yet).
While it's definitely versatile, we found it didn't quite work with every model we had with us, like a certain D-series Dell laptop and one of our RIM BlackBerries. But it certainly did the job we needed. For any digital camera, cell phone, MP3 player, PDA, laptop, DVD player, etc. owner out there, this could come in handy.
It comes out this month for $299. The company makes several other products, too, including one called a Turbo Charge that needs only one "AA" battery to provide up to 2 hours of talk time.
And that's only a small sampling from the sea of gadgets at CES.
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