CES 2007 - Wilder and Crazier Than Ever

January 11, 2007 - Imagine that you've wandered into a Best Buy or Circuit City - one that covers 35 football fields, with 65 miles of carpeted aisles, jammed with 140,000 customers and 4,500 news reporters. Every conceivable, and often inconceivable, new product is there, ranging from 108-inch LCD TVs to tiny microchips to implant in your dog. Throw in cars with stereos cranking out 180 dB, leggy spokesmodels beckoning you into their booths, and heaping piles of frankly bizarre chachkas. Then you wake up and think, what a strange and unusual dream! But that was no dream - that was CES.

The Consumer Electronics Show is held every January. The movers and shakers of the international consumer-electronics industry descend on Las Vegas to point and click, slightly before mere mortals point and click, the newest in consumer technology. It's the time to see the latest nifty products (as already reported here by our intrepid staff), but it's also an opportunity get a macro view of the industry and assess where things are heading.

For starters, clearly, digital technology reigns supreme and sits on a heavenly throne, resplendent in its glory, amen. Except for the works of a few analog curmudgeons crouched in corners, everything is positively teeming with binary mathematics. This means that microprocessors crunch the numbers and memories store the results. Digital also means remarkably fast product evolution. CE is now forever hitched to the PC wagon, and both are on a roll. Something that was 512 MB last year is 4 GB this year. Previously pricey products are now cheap. For example, SanDisk is selling a 1-GB flash MP3 player for $60. Next year, it'll probably be $30. The year after that, they'll be in Cracker Jack boxes, because they'll be cheaper than plastic whistles.

In case there was any doubt, this CES proved that flat screens rule. If your TV is more than 11 inches thick, you should throw it away immediately. Get out your tape measure. Make sure your new TV is "Full HD." For that matter, if your DVD player doesn't upconvert to 1080p, toss it too. Oh, and if your receiver doesn't have HDMI ports, it also has to go. Tell your wife I said so.

As always, there are lots of "us versus them" battles raging throughout the CE landscape. None of them is close to being resolved. If anything, the battle lines are just getting more and more tangled. For example, at one press conference, a big manufacturer of plasma displays spent 15 minutes demonizing LCD displays: They can't show fast action, they harm the environment, and according to the videotaped deposition of a professor in Tokyo, they cause eyestrain. So, okay, the message is that plasma is much better than LCD. Great. Then 5 minutes later, the company notes that in addition to plasma TVs it's also introducing a line of LCD TVs. Talk about mixed messages.