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Commentary

CES: Calibrating The Hype Factor

The Consumer Electronics Show and Las Vegas are made for each other. They are both built out of flash and dazzle, and rest on a solid foundation of bullpucky that must reach all the way to the center of the earth. But they reach out their tentacles to ensnare your mind. Why else, a mere four hours after I got to town, would I wait in line with 500 other press people on a Saturday night to take a picture of an iPod in a plastic box with built-in speakers floating in a fish tank?
The Consumer Electronics Show and Las Vegas are made for each other. They are both built out of flash and dazzle, and rest on a solid foundation of bullpucky that must reach all the way to the center of the earth. But they reach out their tentacles to ensnare your mind. Why else, a mere four hours after I got to town, would I wait in line with 500 other press people on a Saturday night to take a picture of an iPod in a plastic box with built-in speakers floating in a fish tank?I wouldn't lie to you. It's the EGO-Waterproof Sound Case, and if you want to know more about it, you can visit www.atlantic-inc.com. Here's the picture:




The point of the EGO is not that you can float your iPod in a fishtank, but that you can take it to the beach, pool, or into the shower. But in Las Vegas, that's beside the point. You float it in a fishtank because you can.
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Hundreds of thousands of square feet of exhibit space and millions of dollars of expense-account money are devoted to stuff like this in Las Vegas this week -- stuff that has nothing to do with world peace or even making you more productive at work. It's stuff that exists just because it might sell enough to make some money. CES has that in common with Las Vegas, too. It's all about the money. Why else, for example, would there be an LCD monitor built into a frame that looks like a baseball or a basketball (your choice), manufactured by a company that says it was founded in 2002 "to shake up the consumer electronics industry with a bold new approach to television design and manufacturing"?




HANNspree California Inc. is the manufacturer of this entry in its line of "design-driven, lifestyle-inspired" devices. This model in its Xm Series "gives computer users an attractive new alternative to conventional PC display solutions." For more, see www.hannspree.com/us.
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You can satisfy your jones for the HANNspree monitors at www.hannspree.com/us. Or maybe not. Because that's another problem with the stuff you'll see at CES -- a lot of it isn't real yet. Many of the products on the show floors are being frantically promoted by companies that aren't looking for customers. They're looking for U.S. distribution deals, companies that will agree to buy and import enough of whatever the gizmo is to make it worthwhile to actually manufacture it. There are always two key questions to ask about any CES product: "how much does it cost?" and "where can I buy one today?" The wilder the idea, the more likely it is that you're looking at the only working model of the thing that exists in the world.

But wild ideas are the good thing about CES, too. There are real products here, and serious people are gathered to talk about serious subjects, ideas that we may not entirely understand today, but by next year's CES will be commonplace -- if not exactly something you can buy off a store shelf.

For example, the storage industry held a two-day conference Saturday and Sunday on new technologies and product categories and the outlook for storage -- meaning, "Will we make any money manufacturing and selling hard drives in the next few years?"

The answer seemed to be yes. As one speaker's PowerPoint promised, "By 2015, a terabyte in your pocket, a petabyte in your home, exabytes in data centers, zetabytes in the world."

The program drove home something that I began to realize as I worked on the holiday gift guide last month. All our media is becoming digital -- and much of it is becoming video, which means serious storage. YouTube may be something of a curiosity today, but video as a leisure-time activity and video as a business tool are poised on the doorstep.

The storage conference underscored that realization with sessions that dealt with "Storage and Content Creation, Editing, and Distribution," "Integration of Storage in CE Devices," and "Home Network Storage and Home Direct Attached Storage."

Under the hype, it promises to be a week of interesting ideas.