LAS VEGAS The Consumer Electronics Show can be a great window on things to come.
CES played host to more than 2,500 exhibitors, 250 panels with 800 speakers and more private suites than you could shake a stick at. We didn't see it all, but we saw a lot.
Here's our take on what was hot and what was not. If you went to CES or have strong opinions based on what you have been reading, we invite you to chime in with your own picks and pans from the event.
USB 3.0 is hot, Wireless USB is not
Two notebook computers, two PC motherboards, four controller chips, at least one hard drive and a handful of miscellaneous products debuted at CES using USB 3.0. All told, 17 products have been certified for the interconnect that aims to carry data at maximum rates around 4 Gbits/sec.
The interface looks like it's well on its way to a successful transition from the 480 Mbit/sec version 2.0. That's not the case for the Wireless USB spec based on ultrawideband. USB Implementers Forum had nothing to say at CES, nor did Samsung, which championed it last year. We put Wireless USB squarely in the ice cold category.
Warming up: Secure online media stores
It's not hot yet, but it might be in time for CES 2011. The Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium now has 48 members, including five studios. It aims to enable a world of secure online stores for movies and music beyond Apple's iTunes shop.
DECE announced at CES agreement on file formats that will be released by June, adoption of five existing digital rights management technologies and approval of an authentication service provider. That's a long way from a service, but people close to DECE say progress is good.
"It's a complex beast and there are a lot of people at the table, but there's a sense of urgency," said consultant Brad Hunt.
Meanwhile news reports emerged about Key Chest, a digital rights locker Disney has in the works, apparently as an alternative to DECE.
Lukewarm: HDTV as video phone
Will that big LCD TV in the living room become a video phone where grandma and the kids can chat over a Skype video connection? That's what virtually every TV maker at CES was showing with their high-end models linked to the Internet via Wi-Fi/USB dongles.
Given the hype over videophones ever since their launch at the World's Fair in the 1960's, we'll take a wait-and-see on this one. An LG Electronics demo bombed, lacking a good broadband connection. Even Panasonic, which hosted the Skype CEO at its press conference, also showed a dedicated video conferencing box for TVs. Cisco will try out a similar system in field trials with France Telecom and Verizon this year.
Android: A little overheated
Many projects are adopting a free version of the Linux operating system that has the backing of software giant and media darling Google. We liked Broadcom CEO Scott McGregor's take on Android:
"It definitely has captured the imagination of a lot of people, but we are still in the first inning of the game for Android," McGregor said in an interview at Broadcom CES booth. "It could sweep the world or be a footnote--right now it has a lot of buzz."
Broadcom showed Android running on a GPS processor. Mips Technologies showed two prototype set-top boxes using Android running on its core, as well as some fancy user interface software for managing media running on top of Android. The Google Nexus One phone made an appearance at CES along with a number of other Android phones, picture frames, tablet PCs and other devices.
In the end, the smartphone market is being pulled in many directions.
3-D TV: Plenty overheated
You couldn't get within 100 miles of Las Vegas without hearing about 3-D TV. First generation products will be challenged to live up to the hype, given the technical hurdles remaining and the June-or-earlier shipping targets. Many say the need for glasses will limit this from becoming a major new media—as some hope—across all TVs, cameras and camcorders.
Rarely has the consumer industry, including Hollywood studios, been so closely aligned on a technology, so there's a lot of money and focus here. And there's a real "wow!" factor for users when they don the glasses and see how good the displays look. Clearly 3-D is big, the question is how big.
Smartbooks: Warming in the oven
For more than a year, six ARM-based processor vendors have been trying to jump-start a category of ultra-mobile devices with more battery life and Web-savvy than today's notebooks. At CES, Lenovo brought that vision to life with its Skylight notebook.
Skylight is noticeably thinner, lighter than a netbook, and is expected to have longer battery life—ten hours cranking on the Net. Sounds great, but Lenovo will have to deliver a robust, feature-rich device and educate end users not to expect all the trappings of a Windows netbook. And it can't establish a category all by itself, so other OEMs must jump in with similar products before this sector is firmly in the hot zone.