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1999 Consumer Electronics Show
Bigger, Better and Prime Time
by Jim Bennett (January 7, 1999)

This year's event was positioned to fast track the industry to the new millennium at Warp, or at least "sonic" speed. Conferences alone are covering nine main areas from emerging technologies to digital Hollywood. On the show floor, over 280 consumer technology companies are exhibiting products, services and their visions of the digital landscape, for the first time at CES 1999. Additionally, the Innovations `99 exhibit showcased some of the new "best of breed" efforts. Change is evolving at a rapid rate and consumers are voting with their pocketbooks on solutions that fulfill their needs. Hitch a ride with Reviews On Line to get a first look at what this year's show offered.

"Start Up " Events
While exhibitors were fine tuning their booths, there was plenty to see and do. Conference and briefing sessions included the following:

  • CEMA (Consumer Electronics Manufacturer's Association) is projecting 1999 consumer electronics (CE) factory sales to approach $80 billion dollars.
  • Significant rates of increase should occur in electronic gaming hardware and software, home information equipment, mobile and video may slow a bit.
  • Emerging technology conferences provided future views into networks like HAVi which stands for "Home Audio-Video Interoperability Architecture. In short, it means devices can be interconnected and interoperable and provide customers simplicity and ease of use.
  • The HABITECH INSTITUTE 99 provided cutting edge "hands on training for installing and integrating home systems.
  • Mobile communications are exploding with new applications for personal and vehicle applications.

    Opening Keynote
    Sony's CEO Howard Stringer offered advice and a vision for the digital age in his "Mantras Of The Digital Age" speech. The advice was straightforward and, I believe, well taken - "Devices must be easy to use." All CE industry companies, retailers and others must reach unprecedented levels of cooperation to make everything work. E-commerce is leaping "AMAZON-LIKE", into the Internet. Remember, he who hesitates is lost.

    Like the PC revolution, DTV development will be a consumer driven phenomenon. Consumers will decide the fate of these technologies, goods and services. Consumers want relief from vexations of VCR's and unruly remotes and the frustrations caused by PC's and software. If manufacturers align their interests with the consumers' interests of simplicity and ease of use, there will be great opportunities and rewards ahead.

    He also feels that home networks will be important because they form the platform for dozens of consumer devices to coexist. Sony calls this the "intimate computing". era. Simplicity of use and intuitive design, should not only be core values, but will take on new meaning and importance in the digital world.

    Stringer noted that "the 1990's are almost over. Most of us feel a little breathless. It's been dynamic, dazzling and unsettling at the same time. Sorting out the implications will be complicated and life at the top will be brutish and short. Original thought is always a scarce commodity. In the end, there may be one truism in the digital age---we are all connected."

    Panasonic
    Panasonic's 22,000 square foot "booth" is the largest of the show and showcases some interesting products.

    The Palmcorder/Digital Camera PV-L859 is an all-in-one product which eliminates the need to carry both a camcorder and still camera. It stores up to 15 high resolution digital still images on a removable memory card. A 3 inch LCD screen supplements the color viewfinder for both video recording and previewing photos.

    A Ford Explorer was especially prepared by Saleen Performance and featured a DIN size Panasonic DVD player CX-DV15000 fitted in the car dash board like a CD player and connected to several 7 inch diagonal LCD monitors CY-VM1500 and CY-AC300 Dolby Digital DTS processor. It demonstrates that full car theater surround system can be achieved.

    Flashy "neon" car radio faces abounded for the younger set and looked like "Tokyo At Night".

    The" Tau Series" Flat Plasma TV/Monitor PT-42PD1-P, has a 42 inch diagonal viewing area and width of just 3.5 inches to allow wall mounting. Other large, thin flat panels, similar to what we saw at Comdex, were also displayed. In fact, these two trade shows complement each other and demonstrate that these industries are on a convergence path.

    The 3D-demonstration theater provided some very high quality computer animation images. Coupled with entertaining programming, it effectively showcased Panasonic's latest technology. Is this a preview of things to come?

    Sony
    Sony went "Fast Forward to the future" with its unique products.

    An innovative cost effective camcorder solution was introduced with the Digital 8 system. It's an evolution of the world's most popular analog camcorder, the HandyCam 8mm/Hi8 system. But this digital system provides both backward and forward compatibility, so you can use less expensive 8mm tapes and playback older recorded tapes.

    The Memory Stick compact storage medium can record digital text, pictures or sound, and exchange digital information. Demonstrations of a variety of integrated A/V products hints at a comprehensive line of new products and systems.

    Super Audio CD is a next generation music carrier that is supposed to provide ultra-high quality sound and offers multi-channel sound and hybrid disc configuration. Quiet and serious listening of the product will be required to see if it delivers on its promise.

    Home networking displays showing the iLINK (IEEE-1394) digital interface was shown in several different home environments. Further reports will comment on it's promise now and in the future.

    Philips
    Phillips underscored an expanding a partnership with TiVo TV in Silicon Valley.

    Visteon
    The future of automotive, consumer electronics related products is big and it is moving faster. Visteon Automotive Systems, an enterprise organization of the Ford Motor Company, develops and delivers products to other OEM's and the aftermarket industry. On January 7, 1999, Visteon introduced its Rear Seat Entertainment System with Nintendo of America. It's a mobile entertainment system specifically designed to keep children entertained. It's composed of a 6.4 inch, rear facing, flip up LCD screen, video cassette player and video game with plug and play capability. The unit is integrated into a high quality center console, designed to look like original equipment and withstands the harsh environment found in vehicles with kids. It will be available beginning April 1, 1999, starting at $1,300 and can be financed with many new vehicle purchases and may be included in the one to three year vehicle warranty.

    Visteon's voice activated control systems allow drivers to talk to their vehicles and set important controls. It can be used in conjunction with mobile telephones, on-board navigation systems and future Web browsers. It can help simplify instrument panels and aid in emergency situations. Most importantly is that the system is speaker independent and performs over a range of voices and languages with little or no training. These products will begin to appear in stores later this year.

    ITS
    The non-profit ITS Association Pavilion demonstrates the latest in vehicle navigation and safety oriented consumer electronics.

    The ITS Data Bus group demonstrates how their standard architecture allows multiple electronic devices to be installed easily, cost effectively and safely. Items that operate on this standard includes in-car navigation, advanced cellular telephone functions, automatic fuel filling, onboard video computers and security systems.

    Copyright 1999 Jim Bennett All rights reserved.

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