COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

An upbeat CES

It was a very upbeat mood at the Consumer Electronic Show this week in Las Vegas. This annual event that showcases what's new and what's hot in consumer electronics reflected several trends: flat-screen TVs that were bigger and more affordable, cell phones that were smaller with new functionality, new digital imaging and music products, and wireless technology to tie it all together.

Flat TVs

Large, flat-screen TVs were everywhere and are now mainstream with dozens of companies offering new models, all looking much the same. Companies are now trying to differentiate them by adding such features as digital media slots for showing images, built-in wireless to bring content from your computer or DVD player in another room to the screen, and even a photo printer.

Sharp (PNK: SCHAF) announced its largest wide-screen HDTV liquid crystal, the Aquos 45-inch for $12,000 (model LC-45G1U). LG (PNK: LGEAF) and Samsung (PNK: SSNGY) showed plasma displays up to 80 inches at similar stratospheric pricing.

But for "mainstream" products priced in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Gateway (NYSE: GTW) introduced new plasma and LCD TVs. These companies envision the screens as the display for cable, satellite, DVD movies, digital camera images and the computer, and are beginning to roll out the hardware to manage, store and retrieve all of this content.

Mobile phones

The two hottest categories are small phones, typically clamshells, with new functionality like video and live TV, and the larger smart phones that combine a PDA, phone, e-mail and Internet access such as the Treo 600 from PalmOne.

In the small phone category, Sprint (NYSE: SDE) announced its new VM4500 phone from Sanyo (Nasdaq: SANYY), one of the most advanced for its size. This tiny unit has a built-in digital and video camera, a walkie-talkie function, a built-in speakerphone, voice-activated dialing, 300-entry phone book and Sprint's PCS Vision service that provides capability for Internet access, downloadable games, ring tones and photos. $199.

In the smart phone category, there was nothing new that came close to the current leader, the Treo 600. Its success is attracting some new accessories, including one from San Diego-based iGolf (www.igolftech.com). They've created a product that includes a tiny GPS receiver that fits in the SD memory slot with software to determine distances to the green. Shipping this month in limited quantities for $299.

If you can't get to the golf course, QMotions (www.qmotions.com) of Riverside, Calif., introduced a controller that hooks up to a computer and allows you to take a full swing at the ball and have your performance incorporated into any computer golf game.

Bluetooth phones and headsets

GN Netcom (www.gnnetcom.com) announced the GN 6110. GN products, designed in Denmark, rival the attractive styling of Bang and Olufson. This small, dual-channel Bluetooth headset works with a desktop and mobile phone at the same time. Regardless of which phone rings, you need only touch one of the buttons on the earpiece to answer either phone, eliminating the need to juggle wires and switch headsets. If the one phone is unavailable, it will ring the other. It works with any desktop phone and with Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones. $299.

Plantronics introduced a new Bluetooth headset, model M3500, that uses a built-in chip and software to improve reception at both ends. For the person wearing the M3500, the technology analyzes the incoming voice and raises the softer portions without causing distortion, making it easier to hear and understand the person at the other end of the call. For the person receiving a call from the M3500 user, background noise is reduced, to make the voice easier to hear. $169.

Other

A small start-up, Deja View (www.mydejaview.com), showed its Camwear 100, which consists of a tiny movie camera that clips to a pair of eyeglasses or the brim of a hat and continuously records a 30-second movie. When you see something you like, you hit the record button, and it records the previous 30 seconds. $399.

San Diego-based Iomega (www.iomega.com) introduced a CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo drive that has a built-in 7-in-1 card reader for $129. They also showed new tiny thumb drives, less than half the size of current models.

Targus International (www.targus.com) took the computer case to the next level with a nifty new high-tech design. The model TR701 has a new type of air cushioned wheels, an extra long handle, two dozen pockets sized to house all the technology you carry as well as a water bottle. It also has four removable pouches, a removable file portfolio, a retractable flashlight and a pop-up pocket that puts your boarding pass and ID at your fingertips. $149.

PalmSource (Nasdaq: PSRC), the software spin-off from Palm, introduced "Expert Guides." With an installed base of about 25 million Palm handhelds, there have been over 20,000 applications written that go well beyond the Palm's basic calendaring and address book functions. In an effort to get the word out on these applications, PalmSoft had experts in these areas create 35 guides" in such areas as legal, real estate, education, food and wine, engineering and religion. Another 25 are in development. They provide a resource to products, user experience, and discussion groups. Available at no cost at www.palmsource.com/expertguides.


Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at phil.baker@sddt.com.

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