The annual January pilgrimage to Mecca, er….to Las Vegas, for the Consumer Electronics Show reveals many wonders.  Here, every technology company on the planet finds some sort of toehold to exhibit their wares.  The huge established companies take out booths the size of a city block, while the tiny start-ups contend with card tables along the back wall.  Some companies eschew the hangar-like convention center halls and opt for suites along the Vegas Strip.  It is a whirlwind of hyperactivity, and every year I love every minute.

The trends seem to be repeating over the last few years: things are getting bigger and smaller.  The line between the technology and the media proffered is disappearing.  On the one hand, the size of flat panel screens are getting larger, but the capability of mobile phones to deliver quality imagery is equally astounding. 

One thing that has been reconfirmed year in and year out: no matter how bright and shiny and crisp the technology, without compelling content, the new gadgets become paperweights or anchors.  As a result, the hardware and software companies are engaged in an endless dalliance.  Hence why traditional media companies (TV networks, movie studios, music companies) are obliged to attend CES in order to help shape the future of entertainment delivery options. 

Increasingly, the media companies now wring their hands over UGC, known to mortals as “user generated content.”  With folks spending more time at YouTube, for instance, they find less time for movie theatres, DVD’s, TV shows, and CD’s.  But racing toward us in this proliferation of UGC are two big issues: how will we find the most engaging stuff when time is precious, and what happens to bandwidth capacity when high-definition hardware is more available to punters wanting to upload videos of their cats’ bath time? 

Of the many things that are intriguing for 2007, there are several other trends and products worth discussing further:

The iPod reshaped the way people consumed music, and increasingly the way TV and film is distributed.  An entire economy has arisen around the iPod.  One of the cooler gadgets solves the problem of being away from a power source when you need to recharge your iPod.  The iTurbo (about $30, from a company called Voxrod) is a slender tube that contains a single AA battery.  Before your iPod runs out of juice, you plug in the iTurbo and recharge.  This is great for extended trips to the beach, or trips far from home where you want to travel light. 

Another cool addition to your iPod arsenal is the i.Sound Wall that can be hung on the wall.  It frames your iPod with an alarm clock and four-way speaker system.  For a $100 piece of technology, the sound is relatively impressive, and the remote control gives you control from a distance.   I like the feature that lets me wake-up with my favorite music, or increasingly with my favorite podcast. 


Undoubtedly, the biggest tech news of the last several months has been the tumbling prices of flat panel screens.  Right on time for Christmas, customers who never really thought about replacing their TV’s were seen carting out HDTV flat panel screens from Costco’s and WalMart’s around the nation.  The price wars affected suppliers and retailers; one major Korean manufacturer reported its recent 85% drop in revenue was directly attributable to the plunge in HDTV prices.

I spoke with Denis Karpeles and Sam Miller, executives with Syntax-Brillian Corporation, one of the fastest-growing manufacturers of HDTV’s in North America.  The duo firmly believes that “plasma’s time has come and gone.”  They believe that LCD is the preferred format for flat panel HDTV.  Although two large companies might disagree (Pioneer and Panasonic have bazillions of dollars invested in their plasma assembly lines), many of the apparent deficiencies of LCD have been eliminated. 

Most notably, the motion blur often seen in fast action sequences is now less apparent.  Karpeles said that there will be “no more rat tails,” referring to the disconcerting effect of pixels not refreshing rapidly enough.  Syntax-Brillian markets their flat panels under the Olevia brand, and they offer an impressive array of models from 20inches to 50+ inches. 

Several companies have been dabbling with technologies to expand the flat panel experience.  One such effort is DDD, and Syntax-Brillian has been testing its version with glasses that do not require an unchanging head position.  The undoubted first adopters of 3-D will be video gamers, so we should expect even more collaboration between the software and hardware worlds.

No matter what, however, there will always be a wonderful proliferation of TLA: “three letter acronyms.”


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.