CES 2008

January 7-10 was the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A few thoughts…

As always, CES was an interesting event to attend. The scale of the show is pretty hard to imagine if you haven’t been there before; it’s just huge. I don’t think attendance figures have been released yet, but projections were in the 140,000-person range. Exhibit space was something like 1.8 million square feet.

A couple of friends weren’t very impressed with the 2008 show. I’d agree in one sense: there weren’t a lot of revolutionary finished products on display. There were a lot of incremental improvements to existing products instead. And, of course, the usual attempts to one-up others with the biggest/thinnest/shiniest gadget out there. Panasonic had a 150-inch plasma TV on display, which was a big jump from the puny 108-inch displays from last year. Sony was showing off flat-panel displays that were 3 millimeters thick. You get the idea.

But there were quite a few interesting things on the periphery of the show, many of which are likely to have an impact on products rolled out over the next couple of years.

Several manufacturers have released really small wireless USB chipsets; these provide USB2 (480 Mbit/s) speeds over a distance of a few meters. The trajectory of these products is pretty clear: they’ll become less expensive pretty quickly and will soon be built in to all kinds of computers and peripherals. One manufacturer was even showing off a wireless laptop docking station, in which the display as well as low-bandwidth peripherals were being coupled to the laptop via wireless USB. While the idea of a wireless docking station seems pretty silly at first, it’s easier to get interested in the idea when you think about things like a standardized wireless protocol for talking to devices like computer projectors.

Sony was also demonstrating a couple of interesting wireless tools. Their “TransferJet” system is an extremely-short-range networking technology that works at a distance of a couple of inches; it’s designed to couple digital media devices to computers without resort to cables. It’s not immediately clear that this offers many advantages over wireless USB, but it’s interesting nonetheless. They also demonstrated another prototype wireless system that they claimed could deliver a lossless 1080i HD signal over a distance of nearly 100 feet. The demonstration looked great, but I’m interested in learning more about how it might work; that’s nearly 300 MHz of uncompressed bandwidth!

I also found some of the advances in OLED display technology to be pretty interesting. While it’s always been a design goal, it’s interesting to see that some relatively small manufacturers are now producing OLEDs by using inkjet printers to construct the displays!

So, in summary: 2008 wasn’t a great CES year for flashy finished products. But some of the new technologies (that haven’t yet found their way into finished products) are really interesting!

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