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- Senator introduces bill for I-57 that would connect Sikeston with Little Rock (04/28/16)4
- Law firm requests information about Cape's traffic cameras (04/25/16)3
- Local lawmakers split over failed medical marijuana bill; voters may have a say (04/26/16)19
Favoring the affordable
The world's premier consumer electronics show wouldn't be complete without the fanciful and outlandish: A smart oven preserved and cooked meals based on remote commands, while a 102-inch plasma TV -- taller than the 8-foot walls in many homes -- inspired ooohs and aaahs from couch potatoes.
But manufacturers at this year's gadgetfest generally took a more modest approach: They eschewed the flamboyant and futuristic in favor of relatively affordable devices that will debut within weeks or months, not years.
Many of the 2,400 exhibitors at the International Consumer Electronics Show last week hawked simple, elegant, sub-$1,000 items meant to enhance consumers' "digital lifestyles."
Universal remote controls, hand-held computers, digital camcorders, MP3 players and TVs that can be programmed from cell phones help users stay plugged into a world of digital music, video, games, television and Internet.
"We're encouraged by the real-world products at affordable price points this year," said Mike George, chief marketing officer at Dell Inc. "We're finally moving from hype to reality."
Although the 2005 show is light on breathless enthusiasm, the realism thrills skeptics who have been hearing technologists gush about the "wired home" since the mid-1980s.
"It always remained something that was likely to happen tomorrow," said Michael Greeson, founder of The Diffusion Group, a consumer electronics think tank based in Plano, Texas. "The problem was that tomorrow never arrived, and the digital home was becoming a vacuous concept, somewhat of a pipe dream. But this is no longer the case."
Among the interesting gizmos on display at the show that ran from Thursday to Sunday:
* The NevoSL universal remote control from Universal Electronics Inc. Even Microsoft Corp.'s chairman, Bill Gates, complained Wednesday that consumers are bogged down with too many remotes for TVs, DVDs, VCRs and stereos.
UE's device, expected to debut in the second quarter for about $800, can control all home theater and stereo equipment. It features a 3.5-inch diagonal LCD color display, 17 programmable keys and a scroll wheel.
* A gaming-video-music console called Gizmondo by Tiger Telematics Inc. It fits in your pocket and can play games, send text messages, snap photos and perform other digital feats, but it doesn't act as a cell phone.
Launched in the United Kingdom in October for $420, Gizmondo will be available in the United States within three months, but U.S. pricing hasn't been finalized.
* Ojo personal video phone from Motorola Inc. It will begin shipping in early spring for about $700 and features video at 30 frames per second. The phone can make calls over the Internet and will require a broadband connection.
Unlimited domestic and international video calls will cost about $14.95 per month, making it ideal for far-flung grandparents and small business owners who can't afford to travel.
* Everio camcorder and digital still camera from JVC. Although it debuted in November starting at $1,100, the Everio still had CES buzz because it's the first to use a removable, 4-gigabyte Hitachi microdrive -- similar to the iPod's, though it pops out.
The fits-in-your-palm Everio can capture an hour of video at mini-DV quality, similar to a prerecorded DVD. Users can edit video on the fly.
* A surround-sound gaming chair and audio system from HotSeat Inc. Inventor Jay LeBoff, an amateur race-car driver, got the idea for his HotSeat Solo when he first played his children's Xbox games but yearned for the feel of a real car seat.
The grippy leather chair fits all body sizes and is similar to those in professional race cars, complete with cup holder and subwoofer. LeBoff will begin shipping online orders for the $399 contraption in April, and, if all goes well, it may be in stores by August.
* Z800 3D Visor by eMagin Corp. The 10-year-old company built the organic light-emitting diode microdisplay for military and medical use, and this spring will begin selling the goggles and headset to consumers -- particularly gamers -- for about $900.
Pop a game or movie into your PC, strap on the glasses and get flooded with 2.8 million pixels, the equivalent of a 105-inch television screen viewed from 12 feet. High-speed head tracking enables a 360-degree view.
Traveling executives can use the goggles to look at sensitive business plans without worrying that an airplane seatmate is spying. The only drawback: The goggles are heavy and may pinch your nose.
* An embedded microdrive from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. The 1-inch, half-ounce innovation is 20 percent smaller than the smallest microdrive now on the market, but it holds double the data -- between 8 and 10 gigabytes.
Dubbed "Mikey" for its diminutive size, the drive will debut in the second half of 2005. Consumers can't buy the drive directly; Hitachi is in discussions with cell phone and MP3 manufacturers.
Although realism was the theme of the 2005 show, CES wouldn't be complete without fanciful gizmos, such as the 30-inch "intelligent oven" that can defrost, dehydrate, refrigerate, bake, broil or warm food based on prompts from any Internet-enabled computer or cell phone. TMIO Inc. is taking pre-orders online, but hasn't set prices.
The manufacturer with the largest CES display was South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co., whose executives sought feedback on its crowd-pleasing 102-inch plasma TV. Retailers' enthusiasm will determine whether Samsung will mass-produce its single prototype on display.
Samsung displayed an 80-inch plasma TV at CES last year, and the company will begin shipping the monsters in May.
But the newest prototype may never see the light of Best Buy: Like many of the more outrageous products at CES, it was built in part for bragging rights.
"It's a technology statement," said spokeswoman Tara O'Donnell. "The message is that Samsung has the ability beyond any other company to produce plasma panels of this size."