One of the most startling surprises (disappointments) of CES 2008 was seeing the extent to which several major brands, including such heavyweights as Panasonic and Sony, have taken the CEC functionality of HDMI and run off to do their own, semi-incompatible thing with it.
Other video/imaging news and highlights included Canon's "Advanced Zoom" feature -- something so obvious, you'd think it would have been done a decade ago. Basically, this feature, which goes up to 48x with no loss in picture detail, does what "digital zoom" should have been doing for years: Take advantage of the fact that today's image sensors offer much better than standard def video resolution. So rather than just using a subset of the still-image pixels for video, it uses the full image sensor at wide angle, and then there's lots of elbow room to do digital zoom without hurting detail. Eureka. (Of course, this requires scaling technology which cost a small fortune a decade ago...)
Also on the camcorder front, Sanyo claims to have the world's smallest HD camcorder coming out in September, the VPL-HD1000, with 1080i recording onto an internal hard disk drive.
And speaking of "retro innovation," the SanDisk Sansa TakeTV provides a distinctly old fashioned way of moving video and other media from a PC to a TV screen: Walk it over (aka "sneakernet"). It's easier than messing around with wireless networks and the like, SanDisk says, and of course takes advantage of their specialty -- flash memory. The system consists of the memory device and a media adapter/docking station that attaches to the TV. Supported video file formats are currently limited to Divx, MPEG-4 and Xvid (open source Divx). They've also fired up a website to download content, at fanfare.com.
Sony showed a media server audio/video/photo jukebox that could accommodate 200 hundred DVDs (including Blu-ray, of course), and got around the "Kaleidescape issue" by using a real juke box -- no copying of the DVDs. (This mechanical tech comes at a price in convenience: Maximum load time is about 90-seconds.) Several other smaller manufacturers (let's keep 'em nameless, for now!) showed home servers that do copy the discs, and along with their new technologies also offered a variety of innovative legal theories as to how they might fly below Hollywood's radar. I wish them luck, and am burning my notebook after filing this story (hear that Hollywood? I have no notes!).
Toshiba had a demo application showing the Cell processor simultaneously handling 48 video channels, to create a mosaic-style live TV EPG.
Samsung showed a "Windows Media Center Ready" TV. But in the never-ending battle between the PC becoming TV-like or TV becoming PC-like, the star of this show was Comcast, the biggest U.S. cable carrier, who announced something that would have been anathema to the cable-TV industry just a few short years ago -- the opening of the networks to content from the Internet.
Along those lines, I also got a private demo from Cisco/Scientific Atlanta of a new "Anystream" transcoding and on-demand server system that would easily allow any cable-TV operator to set up what, in effect would be a regional walled garden for user generated content that would be available only within specified boundaries.
NBC-Universal was there weirdly, as reported extensively elsewhere. Tons of floor space, little to show except for a bunch of "download stations" where you could waste time filling a thumb drive with programs that are already available online. This was a flag being planted, little more.
Well of course there was much more -- and I'm assuming you've already read about the dazzling new displays -- but this reporter has notes to burn, and Hollywood's DRM fuzz may be on my tail as I write. So, if I might be so bold as to sum up this massive convention -- America's largest trade show -- in a single snazzy sentence: 2008 CES was not the biggest yet (that was last year), but it was the most mature in addressing the myriad entanglements of technological possibilities and Hollywood copyrights, and in terms of the viewing public having now graduated on a massive scale to big-screen high def flat panel displays, something dreamed about for years.