7:05 am. About last night: If you're not familiar with Digital Experience, it's basically a giant ballroom that's rented out by an increasingly large number of companies who bring the press in for one-on-one discussions about their products. At a huge show like CES, Digital Experience--and a similar event called Showstoppers, which is tonight--is even better than the show itself, because it's so much more manageable. Plus they have free food and drink. And it's really good.

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The number and quality of the companies at Digital Experience was better than ever. I still don't have time to adequately describe everything I saw, but here's a few notes:

 

Lenovo was showing off its widescreen ThinkPad Z-series, notebooks, but it also had new Core-based X60 and T60 models on display. Very cool.

 

Microsoft's Embedded guys were showing new <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Portable MediaCenter v2 designs from Toshiba, LG and Tatung. The new version looks interesting. It supports 16:9 widescreen displays, better resolutions, and direct recording from TVs. Some models include integrated camera connections and SD slots as well. I'll be reviewing one of these as soon as possible, but the LG version looks like a Sony PSP, but with a 30 or 60 GB hard drive. Sweet.

 

Microsoft also had the Windows Mobile-based Treo 700w on hand, which I'll also be getting soon. There were a number of other nice Windows Powered smartphones and Pocket PC phones too, I'll have pictures up today.

 

A lot of traditional computer companies were on hand, including HP, Gateway, Toshiba (with a new Tablet PC), Alienware, and Fujitsu. HP, however, was showing off consumer electronics gear, not notebooks. They get it.

 

A company called Universal Laser Systems is offering a way to etch digital photos onto surfaces such as wood and metal using lasers. I'll be looking into this, but it's a neat effect. It kind of reminds me of those photo birthday cakes, but you can't eat the results.

 

Microsoft's SPOT team was on hand with new watch designs (some sporting eagerly-awaited leather bands) and the new Oregon Scientific Personal Weather Station, which was announced at the last CES. The SPOT watches are still too big, but I was told to wait until next year for significant improvements.

 

Sony and its partners were showing off a number of consumer electronics devices, but the big draw, naturally, was Blu-Ray. Panasonic had a Blu-Ray (BD) player on hand for demonstrations. Very sleek. Very expensive (like $1000).

 

Sonos has provided a significant upgrade to its cool but expensive Digital Music System. Now, the company is offering a smaller and less expensive Zone Player that doesn't include an integrated amplifier, which is perfect for people who already have a stereo receiver.

 

I ran into a number of old friends last night, Jerry Pournelle, Robert Scoble, Howard Sobel, and Joel Diamond among them. That kind of thing makes the mess of CES worth the effort.

 

7:47pm. A few other blurbs from last night:

 

Gates said that Microsoft will make an HD-DVD drive available as an accessory for the Xbox 360 this year. This suggests to me that Microsoft will revise the Xbox 360 to include an integrated HD-DVD drive, leaving early adopters with an optional add-on. Gates also promised to ship over 5 million Xbox 360's before Nintendo or Sony shipped their competing products.

 

Microsoft significantly updated its Windows Vista Web site after the CES keynote.

 

Off to breakfast...

 

11:33am

Just finished up with my first Microsoft meeting and it's time to hit the show floor. After breakfast, I basically just headed into the show, which is very easy this year thanks to the conveniently located monorail (which, by the way, is horribly expensive). That said, I obviously picked a great hotel this year, as the commute to the show is minimal and painless. From my hotel room to the Microsoft press tent took less than 30 minutes.

 

2:04pm

As always, CES is overwhelming. The crowds are intense, and the show floors stretches on for miles, it seems. Just getting through the people is painful. I did a quick tour of the Las VegasConvention Center's Central Hall today.

 

Microsoft is no longer in their usual space right inside the main entry-way. Instead, the company has commandeered a new location across from its press tent that gives people direct access to their booth from the outside and lets them put up a Windows Vista awning. Microsoft's booth, if this is even possible, is bigger than ever.

 

This year, Texas Instruments is taking up Microsoft's old bit of prime real estate. They're showing off DLP, of course, but now available in 1080p.

 

Both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have their own massive booths, and both camps are well represented in various other booths around the show floor. It occurs to me that there's no reason both standards can't coexist. The emergence of both DVD-R and DVD+R, for example, didn't particularly retard recordable DVD usage from what I can tell, and maybe HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will eventually both be supported in multi-format drives.

 

One shocker is that HD-DVD drives will cost just $499. But that's for the standalone player. The Xbox 360 HD-DVD drive and drives aimed at PCs will no doubt cost much less. This is unheard-of pricing for a new consumer electronics optical format.

 

Apple isn't at CES per se, but I did spy an Apple contingent in the HD-DVD booth, and of course Apple is supporting Blu-Ray as well. And if I can make a small prediction: Despite the size and scope of CES, expect Apple to generate more news and excitement next week with MacWorld than the entire CES show does this week. They're just on top of the world right now, so deal with it.

 

The Xbox 360 portion of Microsoft's booth was letting showgoers play yet-to-be released games such as Dead Rising and Fight Night Round 3, as well as Dead or Alive 4, which shipped last week. None of these are particularly excellent looking.

 

Roku has a cool new Soundbridge Radio product that takes their excellent audio remoting capabilities and puts them into a standalone box complete with speakers. Their stuff is great, and this looks like a find addition to the product line.

 

Toshiba was showing off HD-DVD media in 15 GB and 45 GB versions, the latter being a triple layer design. There's also a twin format disk that can be formatted as a 15 GB HD-DVD disk or a 5 GB DVD.

 

The Windows Vista Sidebar does support translucency, by the way.

 

The Intel booth was massive, showing off Core processors and ViiV systems, the latter of which are disappointingly set for release in late 2006, far later than I had hoped. ViiV systems are going to revolutionize the use of PCs in the living room--think Media Center PCs.

 

1080p television sets were everywhere. 2006 is the year of 1080p.

 

There were a variety of Blu-Ray (BD) disk formats shown at the show, including BD-R (25 GB recordable), BD-RE (25 GB, rerecordable), as well as 50 GB prototypes of each.

 

Looking ahead, I've got more Microsoft meetings, a VIP Windows Vista get-together, and then Showstoppers, an even that's similar to last night's Digital Experience.