|This is a debrief I wrote of CES 2000.||10-Jan-2000|
This is an experiment. After coming back from Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. I'm trying to distill what I've seen. I'm not sure the audience for this debrief should be -- feedback would help. One caveat is that this is not a polished document. Just a collection of thoughts and observations.
For those not family with it, the http://www.cesweb.org is sponsored by the Electronics Industry Association (EIA) and, in particular, their CEMA (Consumer Electronics Manufacturer's Association). The show itself was dying two years ago but has come back strongly (though the summer show has been dropped). In fact, it seems to be eclipsing Comdex as the computer technologies become mainstream. This was evident by the larger CES airport traffic as compared with Comdex!
There are still some parts of the show which are definitely not Comdex such as booth selling watches from Taiwan and the Adult area. Though the letter is getting more web-oriented than being focused on video and accessories.
My particular interest is in the IP Infrastructure and in how connectivity is affecting products. Part of this is my "enlightened self-interest" agenda in pushing the IP Infrastructure concepts. Of course, I'm looking for products that I would like to buy. These overlap in current focus is on devices that enable me, as an individual and hobbyist, to build things on my own.
Part of the show is organized into "Pavilions" or groupings by theme. I'll use these loosely as a focus.
This is sponsored by Upside magazine. The comments here are not strictly limited to exhibits in this Pavilion.
Of course, the entertainment industry is discovering the Internet et al. Again, I'm including other "media" stuff here, not just the Hollywood stuff.
This isn't really a pavilion but since I'm using it as an organizational theme … some things such as phones have been covered above but there's lots more.
Already mentioned HomePNA and HomeRF above. A couple of companies are trying to build on "broadband" connections to the home. Intel and others over gatewaying boxes.
This is a perennial at CES with speaker companies making their year's revenue. Still there with lots of DLP TVs and fancy screens. It's complementary to all the high end display devices being shown on the floor. But there is still a gap between these devices and what is available in retail in the US though 16:9 TVs are selling elsewhere in the world.
As noted, HDTV in the PC is much easier than TV. Midlevel HDTV resolution is 1024x780i (interlaced) which is considered low for PC's Admittedly large displays are expensive but home theater seems to depend more on sound. All this makes the convergence of PC and TV displays more obvious and one can think of a PC (either general purpose or special) as a software-defined controller. My personal view is that this will allow a development cycle much faster than traditional CE companies can match. Should be very interesting.
Even high resolution HDTV (1280x1028p?) doesn't seem all that high (I may have those numbers a bit wrong). What is really surprising is that this is the resolution used for large theater digital movies that are viewed as better images than 70mm movies! One reason is that film has a lot of jitter due to mechanical factors. Hmm…
Also, I've heard conflicting stories but my personal take is that developments in PC-based HDTV also make the PC a very good DVD decoder – better than standard players. We wind up just quibbling over monitor size. Though some claim that optics don't follow Moore's law, I've heard the same claim about printers, about telecommunications etc. The ability to evolve the components independent is the key to Moore's law. The cost of the electronics doesn't vary with screen since, only with resolution, which also abets large image viewing. Watching a video game with high performance graphics on a $30,000 large projection TV is a much more exciting experience than the same old tired HDTV demos.
Hughes makes the receivers for DSS satellite TVs and has an HDTV version. I suspect that this will be the primary deliver for HDTV since local cable companies will find it hard to justify as well over-the-air companies. But the satellite systems use up lots of channels to send the same movie shifted by a few minutes. This can be better done by buffering on disk. This would means that they have the capacity for HDTV and benefit by having a distinct advantage that allows them to skim high end users. The receiver has RF-remote control so it can be placed in the basement. Matching that with devices from Channel-Plus for video distribution allows one to shift from seeing this as per-TV boxes to simply source streams. One can decide how many streams are available concurrently and from which sources. Once again, this is a straightforward idea that hasn't quite made into the CE culture. Again, opportunity! In fact, as noted above, even HomePNA is fast enough for a video stream or two and CAT-5 at 100mbps has lots of capacity. Hmm.
Another perennial. CEDIA (Consumer Electronics Dealers and Installers Association) is the real show for this area and this year I saw less of it at CES. But Smart is finally going to be shipping CEBus components. The advantage is that these are much more reliable than X-10. But it is a transient technology and they do agree with me (well, I've been telling them long enough) that IP-devices will have the advantage. There's a real opportunity to work with them and others. GE is sponsoring the smart device so I do expect to see them in retail and they can give those of us the ability to play with them while waiting for the better devices.
Belkin is pushing their home wiring scheme but the focus seems to be on facilitating traditional wiring such as RJ-6 for video. One cute aspects are the hallow baseboards which make it easy to wire existing homes without tearing up all of the walls.
Of course, digital cameras continue to advance. I've already decided that film cameras need to justify their difficulties. While they do have some imaging advantages, for the moment, over digital, it's not enough for most purposes any more. Professionals can be high-end digital cameras that are very good. But the 3.3 megapixel cameras are about to debut!
Of particular interest was the Sanyo VPC-SX500 that does 640x480 video capture (4x my current Sharp MPEG camera) as well as 1.5 megapixel still in rapid sequence mode. Hmm, looking at their brochure, it says 1/16 VGA mode for full motion capture, which is a lot less interesting. It allows one to use the IBM CF 340MB drive for 50 minutes. Hmm, maybe not as exciting but will need to look at it some more. The camera is about $500 with 8MB CF. The IBM drive is $500.
Sanyo was pushing the ability to go from the camera directly to CDR. In the US I believe that the PC will remain the focus rather than a plethora of special purpose devices. I do believe in specialized devices where form is function but only after the market can explore approaches. In Japan, however, devices like Word Processors sell. I can speculate why but that's for another essay.
Cars are, as usual, a big arena for Consumer Electronics. I didn't look this year but there are normally OSHA warnings on some of the demo cars.
Digital Radio and Satellite radio. These are attempts to keep the old style radio alive with new features and quality. But, like RDBS (Radio Data Broadcasting System) which is supposed to let you scan for a particular kind of station, I expect them to fail in the face of IP radio. But, like WAP, there will be lots of investment and excitement for a period of time.
The term "AutoPC" is Clarion's version of the Microsoft WinCE platform for the car. The original "vision" was that there would be many manufacturers licensing the reference design. But, having bought one for my car, it's obvious that these companies do not understand software platforms. Instead, it is positioned as a replacement for the car radio and it takes over the DIN slot. It's a zero-sum game. I was willing to do this for my old car but my son hates the UI now that he is using it. (I did discover some short cuts so maybe it can be easier).
I had assumed it was dead but Clarion is coming out with a new model that features the ability to add video screens. When driving only the backseat is supposed to be allowed to see video in the US. (In Japan, where Video Karaoke is important, there is no such limitation). Alas, it's not an upgrade to the current unit. While I would like to get the new version, I'm loath to give up the DIN slot and junk my new car's CD Changer/Cassette Player/Radio.
Microsoft is also teaming with Visteon to do an embedded version but this is even more closed than the Clarion implementation.
So I may have to get the Magellan navigation system instead. That's the one that Hertz uses though Magellan laments Hertz' inability to install them correctly.
And I'm looking at various alternatives to put a "real" computer in the car. While one can place a laptop on the dash, an installed system with a remote screen would be nicer. One company is Real Car Computing . Their background is building systems for the military so low-price is not an emphasis.
As an aside, Pharos had a nice GPS kit for WinCE but, alas, the WinCE screens are too difficult to read in normal light.
I looked at the (Intelligent Transportation Systems) ITS Data Base (IDB). This year I had a chance to speak to Allan M Kirson (he is listed at www.sae.org as being at Motorola) who is considered the father of the standard. The people I spoke to last year emphasized link level reliability. Allan was much more amenable to the use of IP. The problem is that the bus started out as a protocol atop of existing car buses that are low speed serial connections emphasizing link level reliability and won't be available till the 2002 (or 2001?) model year. And the higher speed buses intended for entertainment won't follow till later.
This reminds me of the best offers of the bell-heads to do networking. One should be able to build IP networks on diffuse IR or by using the HomePNA technologies. The HomePNA design is intended for difficult environments and doesn't require a hub. Fiber and other media are options but require planning. The IDB argument is that physical medium commonality is important but, again, with IP we can bridge. Much more important is enabling innovation and experimentation.
The big problem is still IP connectivity to (and from!) the car. But a GSM phone can do 9600 bps now and soon, with GPRS, much higher speed. We are then quibbling over price but early adopters can get flat rate pricing for GSM or CDPD. The marketplace can innovate much faster than a process that is dependent upon the current large companies.
My comments about the DIN slot as the scarce resource applies here too. With a network we needn't displace the existing radio or other gear in the DIN slot.
There were a few new efforts to provide traffic and navigation data. Existing players such as NavTech are aimed at commercial or other limited markets and aren't sufficient responsive to the need to iterate. For example, I didn't find navigation systems that allow me to add my own information.
Here too, just give me the data and the ability to write simple programs and, well, stay tuned!
TelConTar has their Rich Map Engine that includes Active X controls. Perhaps useful for experimenting with one's own system though I assume the pricing is commercial (high).
In addition to Clarion's AutoPC video, there were a number of other car video offerings for the passengers. TMI Products had a standalone unit for ceiling mounting which should make installation relatively simple.
Not much at the show. But in speaking to the Bluetooth demoer at Acer, he commented that wireless 802.11 (Ethernet) is just data (though it can do voice over IP) but then he seemed to agree (given he was technical and felt safe) that Bluetooth does give a voice path but just one. Once again, a network with its limits built in. Bluetooth also faces FAA challenges and apparently causes other RF interference in the neighborhood of a phone. I suspect that other failures of imagination will soon become evident.
Perhaps I didn't look hard but I didn't see much WAP presence. Even Sanyo, which featured their Sprint phones, didn't mention WAP. Of course there were WAP phones but it didn't seem to get special mention.
Interesting to see a number of DSL efforts and little mentioned of Cable Modems. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the Telco industry is more into deal making and in taking responsibility for premise wiring than the CableCos. DSL combined with HomePNA allows a nice single box solution though the current players are only nibbling at this. Creative Labs has an aggressively priced unit at $149 that might give DSL an advantage.
Alas, DSL is still a salvage operation that requires you have the right kind of legacy copper wiring. The DSL focus is on the accidental properties of recycling phone wires with a technology developed for Interactive TV. The offering should be connectivity not a particular kind of signaling standard!
I looked because I have Nokia 6100 phones. They are showing their new 7000 series (not shipping yet) that does have WAP capabilities. The good news is that it can share accessories and car mounts with the 6100's.
I didn't have time to look through the cell phone booths in details but didn't see any surprises and, as noted, surprisingly little mention of WAP. Bluetooth and WAP were more in evidence at Comdex.
ETown and others are publishing "how-to" information on the net. This is another exciting trend. It's easy to understand the advertising model of a site that provides antidotes. As a user I'm happy to see sites incented to provide this information. While we can argue about the web vs. traditional publishing, books simply aren't there when you need them.
No surprise to see lots of them with a number also support SDMI (the Microsoft et al encryption standard) in addition. There are a variety of form factors and other features such as supporting Audible's news and information feeds.
HRCC is interesting. According to their literature they want to assure that user retain the "fair use" right to record content even from encrypted sources. Gary Shapiro, the President of EIA, is involved so, for now, I'll give HRCC the benefit of the doubt in that they seem to be pursing an agenda I agree with.
The idea of computer connected devices for "adult entertainment", both interactive and standalone is an old idea. FeelThe.Net was demonstrating computer-connected devices that one places on (or in?) various parts of the body. These can be connected over the network. Demonstrating them on a table, however, produces an effect more like the old "Mexican Jumping Bean". Sill, combined with the Digiscents, one can imagine the possibilities.