I managed to get to CES in Vegas this year. It’s been years since I attended and, frankly, after a year of economic trials and tribulations, I was hoping for some technological inspiration. Something to renew my faith in geekdom. And I’m pretty sure I got it.
There’s been all kinds of spin doctoring going on about attendance the year. Promoters wanted to broadcast attendance would be up or at least steady. (The final word appears to be that it was about even or slightly higher than last year. Although the number of exhibitors was down from 2,700 to 2,500.) Exhibitors I spoke with all claimed good, quality traffic and palpable ROI. (Could be wishful thinking or Pollyanna budget defense, but I heard it frequently enough to believe it.)
All told, there was a sense of optimism on the floor. Optimism was a recurring theme for the pre- and post-show hype. People want to put 2009 behind them and be excited about cool stuff again. We want to be motivated, awed. And we want to move a TON of product.
I’m a week behind where I wanted to be on my recap. The tech media has effectively digested and regurgitated the highlights of the event. 3D TV, mobility products, touchscreens and gaming were among the most buzzed categories. When I attend CES, I’m equally interested in what’s being displayed as I am in how it’s being displayed. So here are some personal highlights of what caught my eye at CES this year.
Coolest Booth Gizmo
Kodak had a great booth and, by far, the “stickiest” booth feature I think I’ve ever seen. It came in the form of a 20-30-foot touch screen. Looked like a waterfall. I heard it referenced as the shuffleboard. Leveraging what appeared to be connected Microsoft Surface screens, Kodak flowed interactive product information down a wall and attached peninsula. People flocked to the display like moths to the flame, unable to resist the shiny candy glow.
Along the surface, you could pass little floating pucks around, bouncing them from side to side and down the river. Most males felt instinctively compelled to make a game out of it. How fast could you shuttle them around? How many consecutive walls could you bounce? Could you send the pucks back UP the wall? (I figured that one out). Click on one of the little lozenges and it expanded into a multi-slide presentation on the selected product. Close it when done or it would close by itself and return to its trip over the digital horizon. Very, very cool and a beautiful centerpiece to a well-thought out booth. Kodak did a great job. It also proved how we’re on the cusp of a total touchscreen world. Next up: touchscreen walls and floors.
Biggest Booth Spectacle
I can’t say that I walked every square foot of all three LVCC Halls, but I did make it into every publicly accessible room. And, in my opinion, Samsung’s booth had the most jaw-dropping spectacle value. There were other great booths. Plenty of novelty and creativity. But for sheer “wow” factor, Samsung’s booth scored top marks. Particularly the front-most entrance through their crazy, mirrored space station portal o’flat screens. People just went into a mouth-breathing stupor, wandering aimlessly and bumping into each other with glazed looks on their faces. Pretty entertaining, actually. Definitely inspired the most spontaneous photo taking among the crowds that I saw. No booth babes necessary.
Once you ventured into the heart of their goliath booth, you couldn’t get around the giant Rubik’s cube of 3D displays. Pull up a pedestal, don your 3D glasses and watch their stream of 3D animation highlights…Shrek, Monsters vs. Aliens, etc. The content was stunning. At one point, I literally looked around me because it appeared that sparks were falling on my head.
Samsung and Panasonic were both heavily hyping 3D before and during the show. Based upon what I saw, Samsung appears to be ahead of the game. Panasonic was even showing Avatar trailers, but the Samsung experience just looked more dynamic. Could’ve been content, could’ve been the displays, the lighting…who knows. But Samsung won round one, in my opinion.
Most Engaging Booth Demo
I couldn’t help but get sucked into the Taser booth crowd. As I walked by, about 80 people were animatedly awaiting something to occur in the booth’s stage area. Pushing through to the front of the crowd, I saw that they were having people volunteer to be tasered. And they were apparently kind of happy to do it. Go figure. I saw three people sign the release form and have their right leg wired up. (They didn’t do the full prong-in-the-torso treatment. But, as the woman did say repeatedly, each volunteer WAS getting the full 50,000 volts.) I’m not sure what was most striking: seeing one person volunteer to get shocked so they could flail around the floor in front of a crowd of strangers, seeing MORE people hurriedly volunteer after seeing the first person endure the semi-indignity, or the raucous bloodlust the crowd and press had as each volunteer stepped up. A little bit of a car wreck mentality in the air. You HAD to watch.
Biggest Booth Typo
I’ll let the photo speak for itself. Not entirely sure who the company was (although I think you can see their logo)…I couldn’t get past the 10-foot typo. Not sure what “Fussion” is, but I’m pretty sure it’s NOT the synergistic union of writing and proofreading. (Disclosure: I have a genetic tendency to involuntarily look for typos on signage. I can’t help it.)
Biggest “Whaddayaknow” Moment
OnStar was displaying their latest features and were doing so with the new Chevy Volt as the supermodel. Great synergy of products…the latter with quite a bit of buzz to bring to the table. Beyond knowing the Volt is due out soon, I had never seen a picture, let alone a living, breathing model. Really sharp car, I have to say — inside and out. OnStar was touting all the intelligence you’ll be able to gather about your Volt thanks to their service. Imagine a big iPhone app that lets you check the remaining charge on your Volt (plus a lot more.) I’m pretty sure I had that “whaddayaknow?” face on the whole time I surveyed their booth.
Thin Is In
LCD TVs (and a resurgent plasma lineup) were everywhere. They’re getting bigger and astoundingly thinner. Virtually every LCD manufacturer had multiple units conspicuously viewable by profile. While the surface area gets stunningly large, a thinner screen makes the proposition of mounting (and lifting) these new screens palatable. For me, it helped illuminate the coming convergence of touchscreens and flat panels.
We’re clearly moving to a place where not only will TVs and computer displays become the same device, but they really won’t even BE a device. They’ll be a physical, architectural feature of our homes and offices. Our walls, our countertops. The thinner the screens get, and the faster, the sooner we’ll see this happen. (Look at the silver Samsung unit below. Understand that just the silver portion is the screen. The black box simply holds it on the mounting post…the screen itself was no more than an inch or inch-and-a-half thick. Fairly amazing for a 60″ TV. The 52″ Sharp beneath it was no slouch with regard to slimness either.)
3D TV had a ton of hype going into the show as the “must-see” technology. And I don’t think it failed to impress. There were a lot of well-prepared demos and talking points not only about the displays themselves (and the complementary glasses), but also about the production and distribution of content. Panasonic did a good job talking about how it’s making gear to enable the creation of content and their co-sponsorship of three 3D channels through DirecTV, slated for rollout this year. Blu-ray is also answering the 3D call.
Clearly, there are a LOT of hurdles to be jumped. And I don’t think we’re far enough out of this recession to see widespread adoption. As I’ve seen it written, most consumers are still grappling with the big screen decision…3D aside. If they just purchased one in the past year or two, I don’t foresee a big race to go buy a 3D screen, particularly in its infancy. And the question over whether 2D and 3D imagery will look the same on a 3D screen is big in my mind. It will be a LONG time until everything’s in 3D (if ever). In the meantime, I don’t want to watch a 2D program with subpar image integrity because the TV is optimized for 3D playback.
So lots of questions on 3D specifics (including whether if consumers will be able to stand the glasses. A few of them gave me some fleeting headaches.) I think it’s 2-3 years before we see it’s inevitable adoption. Personally, I think it was a perfect storm with the release of Avatar. I think that movie and the technology behind it ARE groundbreaking enough to almost single-handedly fuel the rush to 3D adoption. With Dreamworks and Pixar in the mix, it seems a matter not of IF but HOW SOON.
And how could I forget 3D gaming? Some GREAT demos there including, ironically, a 3D Avatar game that dropped jaws.
So there you have it, a Binarian’s reflection on CES 2010. A good dose of technology marketing inspiration and renewed hopes for an economy ready to start rocking again.