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Entertainment gadgets highlight Consumer Electronics Show

This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas could best be titled "Let Me Entertain You!" Dozens of companies were showing solutions to take digital media -- music, video and photos, to the next level.

There were products to bring your music and video from the computer to the living room, devices to send video from your home cable box to your notebook computer while traveling, and networks to bring your music to every room in the house.

There were devices for listening to satellite radio out of the car and wireless Bluetooth stereo headsets for listening to music with the music player in another room. I couldn't help but wonder: Do we really want devices to move the music around, or are the products being created simply because it's technically possible to do?

Here are some product highlights.

Entertainment products

A Silicon Valley startup, SlingMedia (www.slingmedia.com), previewed its Slingbox personal broadcaster that allows users' home TV shows or DVR recordings to be viewed from a computer or handheld device from anywhere in the world. The Slingbox connects to your cable box, satellite receiver and DVR, and delivers content to you over the Internet. Due out in the spring, the Slingbox will cost $249.

HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) showed their latest digital entertainment center that combines a PC with TV tuner and digital video recorder. It runs Microsoft' Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. It's designed to be your living room hub for surfing, viewing TV and photos, and listening to digital music. Cost is about $1,700.

While Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) did not exhibit at CES -- they're at MacWorld, which starts Monday in San Francisco -- their presence was certainly felt. Dozens of companies introduced iPod accessories and more music players in all sizes, shapes and colors, hoping to catch a piece of the huge iPod business. Creative Labs (www.creativelabs.com) rolled out its Zen players that copy the iPod Mini in size and functionality, but not in ease of use.

Sirius (Nasdaq: SIRI, www.sirius.com) and XM Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR, www.xmradio.com), the companies that broadcast satellite radio to your car on a subscription basis, spent huge amounts to promote themselves at CES. Each showed new, small, portable receivers. XM introduced a hand-held version of its satellite radio, the Delphi MyFi XM2go radio, for $349. It can store five hours of programs, which is a good thing, because the radio needs line-of-sight to the satellite to receive live programming -- so it can't receive programs in your home without an antenna stuck to the window.

DirecTV (NYSE: DTV, www.directv.com) introduced its new set top box with DVR (digital video recorder), with capabilities that go well beyond the TiVo that the company has been selling. The new box can store up to 100 hours of programs, record multiple programs while watching, pause and rewind live TV for 90 minutes, bookmark favorite places in recordings and search for shows, genres, actors, directors, channels or key words both in upcoming shows and those previously recorded.

Photo and imaging

Kodak (NYSE: EK, www.kodak.com) introduced its EasyShare picture viewer. It's a credit card-sized device with a large 2.5-inch LCD screen and slot for an SD memory card. Think of it as an electronic version of the pocket photo album. Due out before summer at $149. Kodak also introduced an Easyshare camera with built-in Wi-Fi that lets you to send your pictures over a network or to other computers in your home.

MagPix (www.magpix.com) also showed its cute little portable pocket photo album. It has a 1.5-inch LCD screen powered by two AAA batteries. Almost small enough to fit on a keychain, you can also connect it to your TV to view the images. Costs $100.

Sandisk (Nasdaq: SNDK, www.sandisk.com) showed a clever SD memory card that folds to reveal an integrated USB connector. It lets you go from camera to computer without the need for an adapter.

Olympus (www.olympus.com) released the successor to the C-5060 wide zoom camera, the C-7070. The C-5060 was one of the best performing mid-sized full-featured cameras that I tested. The C-7070 ups the resolution to 7 megapixels and adds predictive focusing so that it can focus more accurately on fast-approaching objects.

Casio (www.casio.com) showed its recently introduced 3.2-megapixel Exilim EX-S100 digital camera, a super slim camera that's the smallest of its kind at $399.

PDAs

Fossil Inc. (Nasdaq: FOSL, www.fossilwatch.com) introduced its new Palm Wrist PDA that has much of the functionality of a full-fledged Palm. It has a touch screen and a stylus integrated into the strap's buckle. Cost is $249.

Garmin (Nasdaq: GRMN, www.garmin.com) introduced a Microsoft PocketPC with full GPS capability built-in.

Wireless

Canary Wireless (www.canarywireless.com) introduced its pocket-sized HS10 Wi-Fi detection and analysis device that detects Wi-Fi networks and then displays the name, strength and security status at the push of a button. It's great for locating Wi-Fi networks without needing to turn on your computer. And it's particularly useful for business travelers trying to connect in airports and other locales where service can be spotty.

Undoubtedly others looking for vulnerable networks to play havoc with will also use it. Costs $49.95 from the Web site. It will also be available under the Targus brand.

Of the many new Bluetooth headsets introduced for cell phones, one of the most interesting is Jabra's (www.jabra.com) BT800 with a DSP chip for reducing noise and a small LCD that's used to show who's calling. It displays battery life and other settings, at a cost of $119.

Large-screen TVs

Dozens of companies showed their latest flat screen TVs, including HP, Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), Philips, Sony (NYSE: SNE) and Samsung. LG (www.lge.com) created crowds with its spectacular 71-inch plasma HDTV, model MW-71PY10 -- the largest size available for consumers. It has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and costs $75,000.

In the coming months we'll follow up with in-depth reviews of several of these products. But don't hold your breath for the 71-inch plasma. There's a long waiting line for evaluation samples!


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 editor@sddt.com.

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