An often irreverent look at some of the week's other CES 2005 news...
This year was our fifth in a row at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and the one thing we're both getting a bit tired of is how everything is "coming soon" or, as is often the case, at some indefinite time in the future. We understand that CES is designed, in a way, to highlight upcoming technology, but the show is starting to get out of control. Part of the problem is Microsoft, which seems to have trouble shipping products on time. But all too often we've found ourselves blown away by some upcoming bit of technology, only to be disappointed to discover that we won't be able to get it for at least several months. The only good news this year was that most of the new products were evolutionary, not revolutionary, which means that waiting for the products to hit will be only marginally less painful. Doesn't Holiday Season 2005 sound like an eon from now?
Retro Video Games Make a Comeback
Several companies at CES 2004 showed off standalone video game devices that play video game classics (or, in some cases, classic video game rip-offs), offering new generations of gamers access to classic arcade titles such as Pac-Man, Atari 2600 games, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) titles, and even a few Sega Genesis sports games. The emergence of classic gaming as an industry force means two things to us: First, people who are Paul's age--the first generation to grow up with home video games--suddenly have a lot of disposable income. Second, game play still matters. Although modern video games such as Halo 2 are graphically rich, you can't really beat the simplicity and timeless nature of games such as Dig Dug and Galaga.
CES Loves Microsoft
Microsoft's PlaysForSure initiative, which seeks to educate consumers about the benefits of online services and device compatibility with the company's Windows Media formats, has won industry support. At CES 2005, companies such as Garmin, iRiver, Motorola, Samsung, and TiVo were showing off PlaysForSure-compatible products, turning the show into a Microsoft love fest of sorts. Sure, Apple Computer's iPod might get all the press these days, but the times, they are a-changin'. As we've said so often, people like choice. And if the products and services those people will be able to choose from are any indication, those choices will soon be Microsoft-compatible. Notably absent from the show, incidentally, was anything iPod-related, except for a few add-ons.
The End of Times
For people like us from the East coast, a January trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, is usually a welcome respite from snowstorms and cold snaps. But this trip was hardly that. Not only was the weather cold and dreary the entire time we were in Las Vegas, but we actually got snow one day! Whether global warming or a Microsoft deal with the devil to help the company win out over the iPod was responsible, one thing is clear: It's the end of times. What's next, a January beach day in Massachusetts?
Is TiVo DOA?
With TiVo finally launching its TiVoToGo service, which will let some subscribers copy TiVo-recorded TV shows to a PC and, with the help of some Microsoft software, copy it to portable devices such as notebook computers, Pocket PCs, Windows-Powered Smartphones, and Portable Media Centers, you might think that the digital video recording (DVR) pioneer is going strong. So why is everyone suddenly wondering whether TiVo is on death's doorstop? Two reasons. First, cable companies are starting to offer inexpensive (if underpowered) DVR solutions through new set top boxes. Second, TiVo's biggest partner, DirecTV, is making its own DVR set top box. But we think TiVo might have a fighting chance if it can lower its subscription prices and keep its product quality higher than the cable offerings. Think about it: Many people opt to get only the TV channels that come with basic cable, but many other people also opt to pay more for HBO and other high-quality add-ons. Unless the TiVO completely tanks, some people will always be willing to pay more for a better service.
From Tony Hawk to three of the original MTV VJs, from football stars Jim Kelly and Howie Long to Cheap Trick, Weird Al Yankovic, and Yes's Jon Anderson, CES 2005 was the most celebrity-laden show we've ever attended. Having all those celebrities attend makes sense because, after all, the show is all about the convergence of technology with entertainment. But Paul still had a better time getting his picture taken with a guy in a Secure Digital (SD) memory card costume than he did meeting any celebrities, and if that doesn't explain how whacked in the head he is, nothing ever will. On second thought, MTV VJ Alan Hunter was pretty cool.
Gizmondo Is Mondo Cool
A new and previously unheralded Windows CE .NET-based gaming device called Gizmondo looks surprising cool and might just give the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP a run for their money. Featuring a gorgeous color screen and NVIDIA-based 3D graphics, the Gizmondo looks like a video game controller but also includes movie-playback functionality, wireless hardware, and text-messaging capabilities. Is the Gizmondo the ultimate convergence device? You know, it just might be.
Watch Them Sell the Zen Micro
Creative's Zen Micro is an iPod Mini killer with better looking colors, a cool slider controller, better battery life and storage capacity, FM radio playback and recording, and a voice recorder. And we had fun watching Creative sell the Zen Micro to the "norms." We don't usually sit through booth demos, but the girls with the Zen Micro holsters caught our attention and, well, you know. So we sat through the demo. We found it amazing to hear Zen's sell job, which was a combination of product name repetition and constant comparisons to the underpowered iPod Mini. Pretty effective, we thought, minutes before we purchased two units. No, not really.
Las Vegas Monorail Goes Live ... Again
For years, we've excitedly looked forward to riding the Las Vegas monorail, which, like most of the products at CES, was always "coming soon." It's running now but apparently had to be shut down for a few months just before CES because pieces of it were falling on cars that were unlucky enough to be driving underneath it. In any event, we didn't die riding the monorail, but we were surprised at how bumpy the ride was. Shouldn't this thing be whisper smooth?
Satellite Radio Is No Longer a Joke
When we first saw ads for XM Satellite Radio a few years ago, we joked about how no one would ever pay for radio. Were we ever wrong. Today, XM boasts more than 3 million users, whereas rival Sirius Satellite Radio--which we feel will eventually win out in the market--has more than 1 million users. The success of satellite radio proves two things. First, people are willing to pay for high-quality radio service. Second, we have absolutely no idea what we're talking about.