CES Showstoppers

The Consumer Electronics Show is all about firsts, but some of this year's bordered on the freakish. Samsung unveiled a flat-panel TV with a 102-inch screen - that works out to 31 square feet of plasma real estate. Or how about $75,000 for LG's 71-inch plasma set? There was even some strange weather, with showgoers waking up one morning to find Las Vegas covered in snow - which is the closest any of us is likely to get to seeing Hell freeze over.

But don't let the sizes and prices of those plasma sets scare you. CES 2005 showed the price of admission for flat-panel TVs - front projectors, too - coming down fast as companies work hard to knock down the reasons for not buying a big, flat HDTV.

Another major theme was how to get the most out of your iPod. As Apple continues to redefine how we listen to music, companies big and small are coming up with clever add-ons like minisystems, high-end earbuds, and docking stations that let you use your iPod as a multiroom music server.

Meanwhile, a lot of the manufacturers that were left with warehouses full of MP3 players when the iPod revolution took over are trying to beat Apple to the Next Big Thing: portable video players. It's not clear whether these players can create any buzz, or if Apple will have to step in and launch an iPod-like portable-video blitzkrieg.

Not as flashy as iPods or big-screen TVs but just as important is the transition to a wireless world. Running yards of cable from receiver to surround speakers has long been the bane of the home theater buff's existence, but a number of companies showed all-in-one systems with wireless surround speakers. The jury's still out on sound quality and signal reliability, but the continued proliferation of cable-free speakers is an encouraging sign.

On the pages that follow, you'll see some of the goodies manufacturers are promising to deliver in the year ahead. (Of course, just because they promise doesn't mean they'll deliver .) But these weren't the only things worth noting. In fact, there was so much go in g on that we couldn't fit it all into one article - you'll find more CES news in "Random Play" (April 2005 issue, page 14) and "The Connected House" (April 2005 issue, page 32). - Michael Gaughn

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