You Were The Star At CES Even If You Didn't Get To Go

Feb. 3, 2005
How many of you got the chance to visit the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month? A Quick Poll question on our Web site showed that almost a third of you made the trek. Previous research shows that CES is the event our readers would m

How many of you got the chance to visit the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month? A Quick Poll question on our Web site showed that almost a third of you made the trek. Previous research shows that CES is the event our readers would most like to attend. Indeed, you should have been there.

Where else are electronics feted in such celebratory style? True, many feel that engineers no longer get the same respect as in the past. (Surely some engineers are frustrated that they don't have the travel budget to go to the show while the marketing crew packs up for a week at the Venetian.) But the bottom line is that your work is the star at CES. Granted, most attendees probably don't fully appreciate the subtleties of distributed power management or how high-speed interconnects have been applied. Still, everyone there marvelled at the end result of your efforts and ogled the coolest new toys.

And wow, a lot of ogling took place, with a record 140,000 attendees, 2500 exhibitors, and 1.53 million ft2 of exhibition space. It was truly a blockbuster showcase. Yes, a lot of hoopla competed for the attendees' attention. Motorola set up a snowboarding slope outside the convention center, though some boarding got rained out. Jackie Chan was there, too, kickboxing his way through his new virtual reality game.

Yet CES has built some real momentum over its 10-year history. I've worn a number of hats at the show over the years, from checking out the latest PDAs in the Palm's heyday to launching the first NextGen "connected" demonstration home at the show. As a member of the Electronic Design staff, though, I have new respect for and understanding of your work as designers and of what goes on "under the hood" with these technologies. And that makes the event so much more inspiring.

STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE While our quick survey shows that those of you who attended were happy with the event, I wonder if some of you were disappointed by the spotlight on style over substance. From an engineering standpoint, it was strange to go to Intel's booth and see the song and dance the company presented to the masses. Sure, Intel did a good job of conveying its vision of the "converged" future. But this is the company driving chip design to its outer limits, foreswearing mention of its move to 65 nm while actors blithely threw tchotchkes to the crowd.

It took a bit of digging to talk to the chip innovators at CES. Many of the semiconductor companies exhibited their wares in appointment-only meeting rooms, where they had more interest in other exhibitors than they had in the public. Yet more of these companies are working to brand their chips to the public, like Intel. Freescale, Texas Instruments (with its DLP technology), Advanced Micro Devices, and others are joining the fray. The big consumer electronics companies that also make semiconductors were there with bells on, too. Exhibits from firms like Samsung and Philips showed how the latest chip developments quickly come to market in the newest consumer product designs.

WHAT'S HOT The two hottest trends at this year's show were high-definition (HD) television (in all its stunning incarnations) and the move to interoperability in digital media and media players. The universe of digital content is booming. Consumers want access to content whenever and wherever they chose.

The challenge is to make that media access simple and intuitive. Then, designers need to provide the best listening/viewing experience, whether it's in an SUV with visor monitors, in a home theater with vibrating chairs, on a portable DVD player/recorder integrated into video glasses (from Eyetop), or in a portable music player embedded in a ski hat (from Motorola).

While Apple didn't exhibit at CES, its iPod success embodies the demand for simple digital media. And at CES, the world of iPod add-ons could have created a pavilion all its own: iPod adapters for the car, iPod docking stations for the wall, and Motorola's Razr phone with an iPod Interface stood out among the accessories.

There were some personal highlights, too. I got to see Ultra-Wideband in action at the Freescale booth. I also saw Samsung's stunning 102-in. HD plasma TVs. LG's integrated personal video recorder (PVR), which is built into a flat-screen TV, was pretty cool. And, I was intrigued by Eaton's portable Home Heartbeat home monitoring system, which uses ZigBee wireless sensors to monitor home systems and send reports to a wireless keyfob. For photos from the show and more of my favorites, see "More From CES" at , Drill Deeper 9569.

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