Friday, January 11, 2008
Not so far, far away...
From CNN Entertainment Producer Matt West

There is no "strolling the floor" at the Las Vegas Convention Center... it's more like "trekking."

Though I guess that's kind of a mixed metaphor, given all of the cool "Star Wars" gadgets we saw.

During the final hours of the show on Thursday, editor/producer Paul Chase, new media maven Jennifer Martin and I journeyed into what seemed like a galaxy far, far away: the South Hall of the convention center.

From our broadcast position in the central hall, the South Hall might as well have been on another planet. Getting there required winding through a serpentine obstacle course of booths, conventioneers, stairways, escalators and the occasional Segway. (We later discovered that we took the long way -- pronounced "wrong way" -- as our engineer pointed out that all we had to was simply set outside our workspace, walk 20 feet and enter the building right next door. That's an engineer for you.)

When we finally got to our destination, radio-controlled car manufacturer Nikko's booth, our fatigue gave way to sheer giddiness. For there in front of us was nearly everyone's favorite droid R2-D2.

Nikko was displaying two "R2" products at CES. The first a remote controlled, wireless webcam "R2 unit" -- complete with a Skype enabled light-saber remote control (which we immediately dubbed the "Skype-saber"). The second, a remote controlled "R2-D2" home theater projector with DLP projection and other built-in goodies like an iPod dock.

Both products took two-and-a-half years to develop and feature some very cool details, such as reactive sound effects that capture nearly anyone's attention and interest.

As a life-long fan of the original films, recalling the famous scene where Luke Skywalker watches a video recording projected by R2-D2 of the captured Princess Leia pleading for Obi-Wan Kenobi's help, I couldn't help but channel my innermost geek when seeing this product up close.

But with a slightly out-of-this world price-point, these high end electronic collectibles are aimed at a more serious enthusiast. At $2200 for the projector, according to one Nikko representative it's a market "that's definitely out there."

Good thing they won't have to travel to a far off star system to find these two collectibles -- they'll be heading into stores the next few months.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008
PR attack
From CNN.com/Live's Dan Wright

CNN wrapped up its live coverage of CES today, and our crew will leave on Friday to return to our normal TVs, non-pimped out phones and alarm clocks that don't project onto the ceiling.
We'll also be saying goodbye to the PR ATTACK.

To register for the event, you have to list your company and function, which gets distributed to all the exhibitors on the various floors and halls. That’s pure poker chip gold to an aggressive PR firm.

The emails and phone calls start in late November, each offering private interviews with executives and behind-the-scenes looks at their 'must have' products. Once the show starts, business cards, product pitches and ambush gadget proposals come at you like taxi cabs on the Vegas strip.

As the show went along we lined up guests to appear on our platform and discuss and display products they enjoyed. When the products arrived, so did the handlers. In some cases, the PR firms representing clients offer a simple follow up and a casual, frankly soothing approach to pitch the products, Goldilocks style, not to hard, not too soft.

When we came across Eye-Fi during the pre-show tours and they offered simple conversation and the non-stalking approach getting their message out. Mindy Whittington and Jef Holove took their wireless 2GB Memory Card from the booth to the awards stage by, in my opinion, letting the product do the talking. A simple wireless card that retro fits older digital cameras as well as new cameras to simply upload pictures straight to the popular sharing websites (Shutterfly, Snapfish, etc) without taking the card out of the camera or attaching a cable.

They won one of the Yahoo Tech Last Gadget Standing awards and left a favorable impression on me with a simple non confrontational approach.

Lisa Townsend and Stefan Pollack from Human Touch were also great with helping us stage their massage chair on our set as a prop. Good luck to them all.

I have mixed feeling with the show ending. There's so much too see and so little time, but I look forward to a few months without getting CES PR requests.
The gadgets our readers want
All this week, CNN has been asking readers to send us their ideas for the perfect new gadget, and we've gotten a ton of responses.

Some of the ideas were practical, like adding voice-activated features and GPS to the iPhone, a portable language translator for travelers, or a six-disk changer for the Xbox 360, so gamers won't have to get up to switch from "Soul Calibur IV" to "Halo 3."

Dick Tracy-style cell phone watches, paper-thin computers that can be folded up and put in a purse and retractable car overhangs to keep you dry while loading groceries or bucking kids into cars seats are a little more fantastic, but not too hard to imagine.

Other suggestions, like an ATM card that never runs out of money, were just absurd (though I'm totally signing up for one if they ever come out).

Several people suggested medical devices that would be a huge help to people with diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

CNN.com's Nicole Saidi compiled our I-Reporters'ideas, which you can check out here.

Who knows, some of these ideas might turn into the hottest new gadgets at next year's CES.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Sound Judgment

As I mentioned in an earlier posting, there's no end to the quantity of eye-candy at CES. There is also plenty of EAR candy as well - with plenty of toys for noise on display from various audio manufacturers.

The influence of the hit game "Guitar Hero" is evident on the floor here. In fact, Peavey - well known as leader in the music world for their amps and guitars - is showing off their own Peavy branded Guitar Hero controller.

I dismissed it at first - until I saw a demonstration.

As a musician, one of the most challenging aspect of playing "Guitar Hero" is that it's nothing like playing guitar. Peavey's controller is attempting to bridge the gap between gamers and guitarists by offering a full-size fret board, where the buttons are spaced more like the real thing.

The super-cool graphics don't hurt its appeal, either.

Another "Guitar Hero" inspired development is the "Guitar Wizard" software and controllers. Developed by a music teacher, this teaching tool uses a guitar with familiar looking color-coded frets.

Using a computer, novice rockers learn to play based on colors scrolling across a screen - much like the "Guitar Hero" game, but later those colors give way to actual notes, eventually turning the player - into a player.

Look for it in stores later this year.

Rock on.
Love, gadgets and the saddest booth
From GameTap's Dana Jongewaard
Within a single half-hour on the show floor, I ran across five couples walking around and holding hands, which just struck me as incredibly bizarre. Either there was some fancy match-making gadget that I haven't yet stumbled across, or else electronics are a literal aphrodisiac for this crowd.

But even if you didn't have someone to love, there was sure to be something that caught your fancy. Maybe it was the 150-inch Panasonic, which I finally got to see today (though all of my photos of it sucked due to both the massive swarm of people around it and the fact that I have very poor photography skills).

If you like really bulky bizarre not terribly useful gadgets, then you might want to check out a new gaming peripheral. It's a vest that you connect up to a game and then wear; when you get shot in the game, you feel a corresponding thud to that part of your chest or back. (For those of you to whom this sounds appealing, be warned, however: friend reports say that the response is disappointingly weak and slow.)

However, my favorite part of shows like this are always the kind of sad, not very exciting booths. I'm not quite sure what the appeal is--maybe it's part of the human nature to root for the underdog (I know I'm not the only person who weeps like a little girl when she watches the movie Rudy.) Or maybe it's just that it makes even the bad days at my job seem not so horrible. At least I'm not in charge of doing marketing for batteries, or sitting behind a counter of random networking cables that are not discernibly different from the counter of networking cables in the adjoining booth.

Perhaps the saddest was one lonely little booth on the periphery of the South Hall. In the midst of hundreds of companies touting their latest digital technologies and gadgets the size of your hand that can contain your entire personal media library, they were showing off a few dozen wooden shelving units, perfect for CD and DVD storage. Soldier on, brave people--soldier on.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Digital Crack for XBox Live Arcade
From GameTap's Dana Jongewaard
This morning's first stop was in Microsoft's press tent, where we got to see five of the upcoming titles that are coming to XBLA this year. I have to say that as much as I love some of the big titles, the games that always end up sneaking up on me are the little downloadable ones, so this was one of the appointments I was looking forward to most.

And it's pretty clear that Microsoft is really still pushing to provide a wide variety of content to users. There's cult favorite Rez HD, which looks appropriately amazing in HD (go figure), and there's even a classic version for those of you who don't like your games as bright and shiny as possible. Omega Five, which comes out tomorrow, is side-scrolling flying combat action. And Brain Challenge is XBLA's answer to Brain Training, the type of game that gets hyped so moms get convinced that they should buy gaming systems.

One of the titles we spent the most time looking at was the long-rumored update of classic Lode Runner, which first came out 25 years ago. Basic gameplay, where you're zipping up and down along a level while collecting gold and avoiding robots, is the same as before, but the graphics have now been 3D-ified (although gameplay is still 2D). The game includes 16 stages, with four to five levels per stage, and also has a number of modes in addition to classic play, including a survival mode, which is available in both single-player and multiplayer.

The other featured game was Poker Smash, which is basically match-three gameplay with poker elements. Rows of tiles creep slowly up the screen, and each tile is labeled with a card type-ace, king, queen, etc. Shoot for three- and four-of-a-kinds while trying to set up the maximum combos. Show-offs will have the chance to edit footage of their combos and then upload them for others to view their mastery. While I'm not entirely convinced that people are going to want to watch other people's play footage, the game itself looks like one of those deviously addictive pieces of digital crack.
Pray Station

Making your way around the convention center floor here in Las Vegas, one would think that the most striking thing would be the brightest and the loudest... the shiniest and the slickest. And true, there is plenty of eye-candy here at CES.

Arriving late in the game, I took the opportunity today to stroll the floor in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Why limit myself to just one of the three buildings in this sprawling facility, you might ask?

It is really almost too much to take in all in one sitting. A simple stroll is not going to cover it. An endurance march might. In fact, at one point, I thought that I had actually seen all that the Central building had to offer until I looked at a map which showed me the difference between "where you are," and where you still need to go.

But amidst the hustling booth barkers, the babes, the booming sound-systems and crowds, one of the most striking things I have seen so far was the most silent.

There, just off the convention floor was a crowd of maybe two-dozen Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, quietly at prayer. Amid the sensory overload and non-stop movement of CES, here in Las Vegas of all places, was this reverent and spiritual time-out that would not be interrupted by passing crowds, panoramic LED displays or in my case, curious bloggers stopping to look in on this most personal moment.

The ultimate in noise-cancellation...

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'Don't Tase me Flo'
From CNN.com's Paul Chase

Leopard print Taser Wow, you see everything here at CES, and I mean everything. So, if you forgot to get your Aunt Flo something for Christmas you may want to consider a fashionable Taser, because pepper spray was so last year.

Taser International introduced its Taser C2 line, which comes in a variety of colors, such as Redhot Red, Electric Blue, and even Leopard.
They also have a complete line of "fashionable" accessories including holsters (with or without a built-in MP3 player), batteries and a cleaning kit. So don't forget your lipstick, iPod, and Leopard Taser when leaving the house.

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Meeting Bill Gates
From CNN Internet Correspondent Veronica De La Cruz

Bill GatesA 7-1/2 hour flight, a whirlwind tour of the show floor and a long night of editing may not be the best way to prepare for an interview with one of the most important people in the world, but that's how things work at the International Consumer Electronics show. CNN Internet Correspondent Veronica De La Cruz describes her meeting with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates...

We arrive in Vegas with just enough time to change some clothes and grab a quick shower at the hotel. Then we're off to cover the opening event, the official CES preview party.

I make my way out to the floor and take a quick look around. Immediately, I'm captivated.
There on the floor before me is my new found love: a Human Touch Zero-Gravity Massage Chair equipped with Accu-point detection. It's a massage chair made of soft black leather. The accu-point detector scans my back and finds the knots perfectly; I never even utter a word. The whole experience is earth-shattering and I'm determined to take my new love home, until I discover the price: $4,000.

My heart says "YES," but my wallet says "NO." I force myself to move on.

Another jog around the room and I find that I also adore the bright red design of the Ladybug I-pod Docking Station. I'm in awe of the technology behind Viable Inc's touch screen for the deaf and hearing-impaired and I'm riveted by the Invisible Shield, a clear skin that keeps your gadgets safe and scratch-free.

My producers realize it's getting late and we still have to go back to the hotel to edit our video piece. One last parting glance at my chair and I'm out the door.

The next morning my alarm goes off at 6 a.m. Not a lot of sleep considering we were up really late trying to feed the video package back to Atlanta.

My mind wanders to my massage chair for a moment, but then I quickly shift focus to the present: my upcoming interview with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. I have just one hour until the interview and my mind races. What questions will I ask? What will he be like? Is he a nice guy? Is he a tyrant? Will he be a good interview or will he stare at me like I have two heads and I'm speaking in tongues? Watching the clock tick I realize I'm out of time and my crew is waiting for me downstairs.

Arriving at the Microsoft tent I'm pleasantly surprised. The place is crawling with Microsoft product and I find the people are nice and friendly. A publicist for Mr. Gates approaches me. His name is Chris and he wants to brief me on the parameters of the interview. I get ten minutes with Mr. Gates. I'm to keep my questions on topic. Any "off-topic" questions should be saved for last. I am sure they do this so I will run out of time during the interview before I ever get to the "off-topic" questions and therefore, Mr. Gates will never be subjected to them.

Walking up the stairs, Mr. Gates is sitting with a bunch of people. He stands, I shake his hand and give him a big smile. He returns his signature half-smile he's famous for. So far, so good. Seems like a really nice guy.

I sit down and the whole thing goes by like a flash, in fact, looking back I can't even tell you what I asked.

All I know is we discussed the future of technology. We talked about his future, as he steps down from the helm of Microsoft to shift his attention to philanthropy. I tell him my little brother lives in a virtual world and communicates almost solely through instant messenger and I'm worried that future generations might be socially stunted. Are we becoming too dependent on technology? Will technology cripple the social interaction of future generations?

Mr. Gates talks about his kids. He tells me they search online for dogs that need to be rescued and his kids beg him to adopt them. This is all good stuff. I love it, and for a split second, I forget that I'm sitting with one of the richest, most powerful and most successful visionaries in history.

The time flies by. My ten minutes are up. He stands and shakes my hand. "That was good!" he exclaims. He gives me his signature half-smile and even agrees to pose with me for a picture. What a rock star. He's made my day. Decades at the helm of Microsoft and ten minutes in a room with me -- and a conversation that will stay with me forever.

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Monday, January 07, 2008
Ho-hum start for gamers
Bill GatesMicrosoft Chairman Bill Gates showed off his gaming chops on Sunday by rocking out with real-life "Guitar Hero" Slash, but if you were hoping for major gaming news from Microsoft or Sony, our colleagues at GameTap.com say you might be disappointed.

Gates did make some news -- including a new HD programming deal with Disney-ABC and MGM -- but GameTap's Curt Feldman said it was "not exactly scintillating or terribly sexy."

Sony execs barely mentioned the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Portable at their news conference on Sunday, Dana Jongewaard said. They mentioned a few new products, like the Rolly, a portable music player that moves and scoots across the floor to the beat of your favorite tunes.

Jongewaard said Sony spent most of its time announcing new versions of their existing lines.

"There will be 16 new Handycams, two new Walkman phones, a Blu-ray PC drive, a mainstream entry into the Alpha camera line, new Mylo models, some new Vaios, a bunch of new Bravias -- although I missed the exact number, apparently 10 of them are 1080p," Jongewaard said.

"How on earth can it be profitable to have this many different products?" she added. "Think about Apple, with its streamlined offerings, or Nintendo, which has a ridiculously small product lineup -- only two primary pieces of hardware. Then look at Sony's smorgasbord of offerings, and it just seems unnecessarily bloated and confusing. Does any consumer really need 16 different video camera choices from a single company as opposed to three or four solid, distinctive options?"
Taking over Vegas, and The Marquee
From CNN.com Science/Technology Writer David Williams

We're doing something a little different this week with The Marquee Blog. The Consumer Electronics Show opens today in Las Vegas, so we'll be focusing on Sony, Microsoft and Motorola (to name a few) instead of Britney, Lindsay and that guy from "Grey's Anatomy."

I'm not ruling out celebrity shenanigans. Kevin Costner is supposed to be there -- WITH HIS BAND -- and so are Yoko Ono, race car driver Danica Patrick and Chuck D from Public Enemy.

Xena is also scheduled to attend, but we're not sure if it's the original warrior princess Lucy Lawless, or just some woman in big boots and a leather sports bra.

Either way, gadgets are the stars at this show, and for the electronics industry, CES is the Super Bowl without the point spread or the Oscars minus the borrowed jewelry.

About 2,700 hundred exhibitors will be there, all hoping their gadgets will be the next iPhone or Nintendo Wii.

There's a lot of ground to cover, so CNN has sent a team of reporters and producers, who will be sending back videos, stories and other tidbits. We'll also be hearing from our sister site GameTap.com and possibly from some of the bloggers covering the show.

We'd also like to here from you. Got an idea for a great gadget, are there features you'd like to see -- or see wiped of the face of the Earth?

Send us an I-Report.

And if you're lucky enough to get into the show and see something cool, let us know.

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