Saturday, January 12, 2013

Highs and lows of CES 2013

Journalists love to complain about the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. So much so that it’s become a cliche.
I agree that the show is a logistical nightmare to cover for news media like myself. This year, the already massive show added another major venue, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on the far south end of the Strip. Along with the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Venetian Hotel, that makes three major bases of operation for the show. It was unwieldy.
Long taxi queues and lines for CES shuttle buses and the Las Vegas Monorail are the norm during the show. You get used to it and try to plan your schedule to minimize hassles.
On a couple of occasions I opted to walk for more than a mile because I knew I’d get to my destination faster than waiting for and riding on a shuttle bus.
The day before CES officially opens the organizers schedule a full day of back-to-back press conferences where major companies like Panasonic, Samsung and Sony pitch their newest devices. In recent years, it has been hard to get into some press events because there are simply too many reporters and bloggers.
This year, for the first time in 13 years of going to the show, I wasn’t able to get into the LG Electronics press conference because the room reached capacity before it started.
The CES organizers, the Consumer Electronics Association, need to set up overflow rooms where reporters who get locked out can watch the presentations on closed circuit TV.
Reporters from the same news organization often tag team press day, with each journalist covering every other event, standing in line for an hour or more to get good seats.
The CEA reported Friday that this year’s show had more than 5,000 media in attendance, the same as last year.
We journos complain about CES, but still come year after year. I guess we’re masochists.
What follows are some random notes about my impressions of CES 2013.

Best keynote presentation: Qualcomm

The Verge wrote a scathing review of Qualcomm’s keynote presentation. They found it flaky, dorky and an overall train wreck. The website’s summary article and live blogging of the event read like they were written by the old balcony critics on “The Muppet Show.”
They didn’t report on what was occurring on stage so much as cracking jokes and making sarcastic asides the whole time.
Yes, the opening sketch about young people who are “Born Mobile” was awful. But it was Vegas awful. It was so bad, you couldn’t turn away.
And Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs should have been the one interacting with Big Bird from “Sesame Street,” not some weird flunky.
I liked the Qualcomm keynote because it was unpredictable and had a lot of energy. The company was at least trying to be entertaining. It was preferable to the opening night keynotes in years past from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Those were snoozefests with the only entertainment coming from an occasional technical glitch.
I liked the segments in the Qualcomm keynote featuring movie director Guillermo del Toro (I love his work) and “Star Trek Into Darkness” actress Alice Eve (awkward as her scripted interchange with Jacobs was). And the performance by Maroon 5 at the end was a treat.
I also found Qualcomm’s announcements about its next-generation Snapdragon processors to be pretty illuminating.
Interestingly, a later article by the Verge called the Qualcomm event the “best press event” of CES 2013 for many of the reasons I just stated. So, get your story straight, guys.


“Blade 2” remastered for ultra HD 

Director Guillermo del Toro discussed taking “Blade 2” (2002) from the film vaults and remastering an ultra HD version of it. People will be able to see the vampire superhero movie “exactly as it was intended to be seen,” he said.
The subject came up as Qualcomm was talking about chips for watching ultra HD video on smartphones and tablets, made possible by its latest mobile processors.
“Don’t go to the prime rib buffet after this,” del Toro warned the crowd before showing a gory clip.

Great performance by Maroon 5

Pop rock band Maroon 5 performed three songs in an acoustic set during the Qualcomm keynote event. Adam Levine sang “One More Night,” “This Love” and “Payphone.”
Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs joked after their set that “Payphone” wasn’t appropriate for his speech about mobile technology. “I think that song should be called ‘Cellphone’ not ‘Payphone.’ That would be more mobile,” he said.
Levine said the group should have been called Maroon 3 for the evening because it included just him, lead guitarist James Valentine, and BJ Morton on keyboards.

Sign that CES is tragically unhip

One sign of how uncool CES was this year was the decision to play Psy’s overexposed “Gangnam Style” at media events for Qualcomm and Dish Networks.
Before another major media event at CES, the organizers played LMFAO’s equally overplayed “Party Rock Anthem.”
Have younger people choose the music, guys.

Funniest original video played at a keynote: Samsung

During its keynote presentation, Samsung Electronics played a very funny video that blamed the explosion of Internet traffic on cat videos. It wasn’t an original idea, but the cat videos were hilarious.

I won’t stop calling it the Consumer Electronic Show

The CEA has been urging media for years to stop calling its conference the Consumer Electronics Show. The official name is International CES, or CES on second reference.
When I tell people I’m going to CES, they say, “What’s that?”
Then I say, “The Consumer Electronics Show,” and they immediately know what I’m talking about.
The organizers obviously want to broaden the show to include other things like software, home appliances, cars and other technology. But the show is predominantly a consumer electronics event.
It’s not like American Telephone and Telegraph or International Business Machines, which changed their names because they weren’t relevant to what they did anymore.
So, I’m going to keep calling it the Consumer Electronics Show.

Most embarrassing tech gaffe at company press conference: Sony

For the big unveil at Sony’s press conference at CES, stage hands rolled out a prototype 56-inch 4K OLED TV. It’s the world’s largest in a category that combines two hot display trends: 4K, or ultra HDTV, and organic light-emitting diode screens.
But the set suffered a technical glitch and showed an interface screen before going into Microsoft’s black screen of death. Sony CEO Kaz Hirai joked that the display was great for showing off user interfaces.
Technicians tried to fix it on the spot, but they soon gave up, turned it off and wheeled it to the side of the stage. It was working fine at the Sony booth for the show.
The Seattle Times published a good article on the incident. And DigitalVersus has some decent photos of it.


Stupid back-to-the-future moment: Samsung

Journalists chuckled at Samsung’s CES press conference on Monday when an executive said the company had just coined the term “T-commerce.”
The concept of electronic purchasing through your TV has been around since at least early 1994 when Time Warner Cable began testing its interactive TV system in Orlando, Fla. Industry officials started calling TV-based purchasing T-commerce after Amazon.com and e-commerce became a big deal.
But Joe Stinziano, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics America, apparently was unaware of all previous efforts at T-commerce.
“We’re also introducing an entirely new way to interact with your TV. We call it T-commerce,” he said. “For instance, while watching the hit Fox show “New Girl,” viewers will be able to learn about Jess’ latest outfit and even purchase it with the click of a remote.”
I remember seeing demos for this sort of thing years ago at tech conferences, only the example they typically used was buying a sweater or outfit you saw on the then-current show “Friends,” which ran from 1994 to 2004.

Most cringe-inducing moment: Panasonic

Joe Taylor, chief executive of Panasonic North America, couldn’t stop raving about Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker. It was embarrassing.
Booker, a rising political star in the Democratic Party, appeared at Panasonic’s keynote event to discuss the company’s decision to move its U.S. headquarters to Newark.
Why Newark?
“It wasn’t financial. We had a number of opportunities that from a fiscal perspective were certainly much better. But none of those other cities had Mayor Booker,” Taylor said.
Taylor described Booker as a “visionary mayor.”
“In life, we need people who are incredibly smart, who are incredibly good looking or incredibly talented athletically. And that’s great one by one, but is it fair that one person should have all of those things?” Taylor gushed.
Journalist Lisa Ling, serving as host of the Panasonic event, said Taylor had a “man crush” on Booker. “It’s OK if you have a little man crush on Cory Booker,” she said. “We’re secure in our masculinity here.”

Best company-sponsored concert: Monster

Monster Cable held an invitation-only concert with Alicia Keys at the Paris Ballroom in the Paris Hotel on Wednesday Jan. 9. I managed to snag a press ticket.
Her hour-long set was terrific. She sang all her big hits including “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down” and “Girl on Fire.”
I read that Kesha performed at Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio event, but only did a measly three-song medley and was gone.

Biggest disappointment: No star-power at Sony media event

Sony’s media event on press day at CES usually features actors from the company’s upcoming movies and musicians from its record label.
In recent years, actors Will Smith and Seth Rogen and singers Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson have appeared on stage at Sony’s event. But this year, it had no star power at all.
Perhaps new CEO Kaz Hirai is trying to save money or is preparing to sell off its movie and music units to shore up the struggling conglomerate.

Now my TV will think I’m gay, too

I’ve written several times on Tech-media-tainment about how Netflix’s movie recommendation engine thinks I’m gay. For the record, I’m not. (See posts from 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.)
At CES this week, Samsung and Panasonic announced smart TV systems that will make recommendations of shows to watch based on past viewing behavior as well as programs friends have watched and rated.
Hopefully they’ll do a better job than Netflix. Just because I like movie musicals and NBC’s TV show “Smash” doesn’t mean I want to watch gay-themed videos.

Photos: 
Samsung’s 85-inch Ultra HD, or 4K, TV with distinctive easel design and integrated speakers (CEA);
Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs and actress Alice Eve (Patrick Seitz photo);
Big Bird from “Sesame Street” at Qualcomm keynote (Patrick Seitz photo);
Maroon 5 at Qualcomm keynote (CEA); 
Sony’s booth at CES 2013 (Patrick Seitz photo);
Sony’s prototype 56-inch 4K OLED TV suffers a technical glitch (Patrick Seitz photo);
Microsoft error screen on Sony 4K OLED TV at CES 2013 (Patrick Seitz photo); 
Alicia Keys at Monster party at CES 2013 (Contactmusic.com); 
Promo art for NBC’s “Smash” starring Katharine McPhee.

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