Sunday, January 15, 2012

Highlights and lowlights of the 2012 CES

The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show is one for the record books. This year’s show was the largest in the event’s 44-year history.
The four-day trade show in Las Vegas attracted more than 153,000 attendees, up 2.3% from a year ago and besting the previous record of 152,203 set in 2006. It drew more than 3,100 exhibitors who took up 1.861 million net square feet of show floor space – both new records.
The Consumer Electronics Association, the show’s producer, released the statistics late Friday, after the show had ended. The group wanted to dispel the notion that CES was on the wane – an idea that took hold after Microsoft announced in late December that it didn’t plan to exhibit or keynote after this year’s event. (See the Jan. 8 New York Times article “A Tech Show Loses Clout as Industry Shifts.”)
The numbers indicate that the show is doing quite well.

Microsoft says good-bye to CES

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave what was billed as the company’s last keynote speech at CES. That keynote, held Monday evening, only provided further proof that Microsoft won’t be missed at the show.
Ballmer’s final presentation at the show was mostly a bore. It contained little news, some embarrassing technical problems and several head-scratchers.
I’ve been saying as far back as two years ago, that CES should give the opening keynote speech to a company other than Microsoft.
While Microsoft is a powerhouse in personal computers, servers and business software, it has been outflanked by Apple, Google and other companies in consumer electronics, such as media players, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs. Microsoft’s Xbox video game system has been successful, but its digital living room initiatives have been tied to that one box, limiting its reach.
Instead of giving a speech, Ballmer gave rehearsed responses to planned questions by celebrity host Ryan Seacrest. The on-stage rapport between the gruff billionaire salesman and the effeminate “American Idol” host was awkward to say the least.
“The scent of desperation hung thick,” the Huffington Post noted, as Ballmer pitched late-to-market Windows phones and still-to-come Windows 8 for PCs and tablets.

Ballmer’s oddball final keynote

Microsoft’s final CES keynote was “a disorienting whirlwind of jaw-dropping absurdities,” the Huffington Post wrote. They included an auto-tune recap of prior Microsoft keynotes by digital music artist Pogo, a “Tweet Choir” of gospel singers, a trippy “Sesame Street” visit, and the forced banter between odd couple Ballmer and Seacrest.
And pity Derek Snyder, a senior product manager for the Windows Phone division, who endured a couple of high profile technical gaffes while showing off some new smartphones.
At one point, Snyder demonstrated speech-to-text transcription on a Windows Phone. In the demo, he tried to reply to a text message.
“Sounds great,” he spoke into the phone.
“Sound” was all the phone transcribed, setting off laughter in the crowd.
Later he had trouble switching demos from one phone to another.
“Sorry for the trouble tonight,” he told the crowd. You could see the flop sweat on his brow.

Last hurrah for Microsoft?

In introducing Ballmer, CEA chief executive Gary Shapiro held out hope that Microsoft would someday return to CES.
“I would be shocked if a Microsoft executive doesn’t return to keynote at CES in the next few years,” he said.

Buzzword of the year: Ultra

In 2010, the most bandied-about word at CES was “green,” as in energy-efficient and environmentally friendly products and initiatives.
In 2011, the favorite buzzword at the show was “smart,” as in smart TVs, smartphones, smart appliances and other products getting computer smarts.
This year, the buzzword was “ultra,” as in the proliferation of ultrathin and ultralight notebooks called ultrabooks and super high-definition televisions called ultradefinition TVs.

Best booth: LG Electronics

South Korea-based LG Electronics had the most dazzling exhibit at the Las Vegas Convention Center. A big focus of the booth was on 3-D televisions that use passive, movie theater-style glasses.
The LG presentation made me a believer that passive 3-D glasses could be effective when paired with the right set. Before that, I had been in the camp with companies promoting active-shutter, battery-powered 3-D glasses. Both technologies now look viable.
I particularly liked LG’s use of a 3-D music video starring Gina Choi, a gorgeous Korean-Canadian singer who goes by the stage name G.NA.

News media complaints

The number of news media attending the Consumer Electronics Show continues to rise, making covering press conferences and other events at the show a challenge.
For the first time in my 13 years attending CES, I was unable to get into a press conference, because the room was already filled to capacity some 20 minutes before its scheduled start.
On Press Day, when the CES slots back-to-back corporate press conferences from 8 a.m. through 6 p.m., it used to be possible to go from one media briefing to the next without a problem. Now, many reporters wait in a line for the big company events an hour ahead of time. So, the rooms fill up quickly. I heard many complaints this year from veteran CES media who were unable to get into press conferences such as Intel and Samsung.
This year, the CEA tried a new procedure for giving out VIP press invites for the various press conferences, but the number of tickets was limited to 100 for each event.
With the number of media and analysts rising from more than 4,000 in past years to more than 5,000 this year, something has to be done to accommodate all the interest in these press conferences. I would suggest that virtually all the seating be spoken for ahead of time and everyone else be directed a large overflow room with a live video feed.
CES is a big pain to cover as a journalist. Much of my time is wasted standing in line for transportation, trying to walk from one appointment to the next across the ginormous and crowded convention center or looking for an open space in the press room to work. Minimizing the hassles would make the show a much more pleasant experience.

Coolest products shown at CES

The 55-inch OLED HDTVs unveiled by LG and Samsung were stunning. The whisper-thin displays boast rich colors and deep contrasts. OLEDs are the next generation of TVs beyond LCD, but will be out of my price range for a while.
The ultrabook notebook computers from Acer, Hewlett-Packard and others made me wish I hadn’t been so quick to buy a new laptop last month. The lightweight notebooks feature fast start-up times and always-on Internet connectivity.
On a goofy note, I liked the Blast Chiller feature on some LG refrigerators. It can chill a can of beer or soda in as little as five minutes, where it would take 40 minutes with a conventional fridge today.
“Perfect for chilling a can of beer on a hot summer afternoon,” said Skott Ahn, president and chief technology officer for LG Electronics.
I’m also intrigued by PixelOptics and its electronic focusing eyewear.

Dumbest products announced at CES

CES had its share of duds as well.
LG and Samsung pushed smart kitchen appliances, including refrigerators that can suggest recipes for items you have on hand and alert you when you need to buy more of a certain item. I wouldn’t pay more for those features and I’m sure I’m not alone.
Sharp demonstrated its Freestyle Aquos transportable displays. These flat-screen TVs have 20- to 80-inch displays and come with handles so you can carry them around the house or into the backyard. Seriously? Who asked for that product? (See report by Tested.)
Finally, Samsung put a lot of resources into promoting its Samsung Galaxy Note. With its 5.3-inch display, the Android-based device is too big for a smartphone and too small for a decent tablet experience. (See article by USA Today.)

Photo credits: Panasonic booth at CES 2012 (CEA), Ryan Seacrest and Steve Ballmer at Microsoft keynote (CEA), ultrabooks at Intel booth (CEA), photo (, LG unveils 55-inch OLED HDTV (LG), Sharp Freestyle Aquos televisions at Sharp press conference (Tested), and author with Hopper the kangaroo at Dish press event at CES 2012.


erock said...

Lol, great article!! I'm pretty tired of Microsoft myself. It's unfortunate you only included a picture of the Kangaroo, and didn't give any info on the actual Hopper itself, but there were quite a few things going on at CES, so no worries. I got a chance to try out the Hopper last week, and this thing is excellent!! It has the ability to record up to 6 Live HD programs, with each TV attached to the Hopper having access to the main DVR playlist. The mini-servers, called Joeys, attach to the additional TVs, and the 2TB Hard Drive and 750 MHZ Processor ensure it is the fastest, and most spacious DVR in the industry. My boss at DISH hasn't given us an official release date yet, but I am definitely going to be in line when I get the info!!

Geoff Kaufman said...

Why don’t CBS, FOX, and NBC execs want consumers to enjoy commercial-free TV? It’s what we want! I’m a customer and employee of Dish, and I think AutoHop is great because you can easily watch commercial-free TV. A well known consumer advocacy group, Public Knowledge, agrees that people should have the right to control how they watch TV. They’re taking a stand for consumers by creating a petition that tells CBS, FOX, and NBC media to keep their hands out of your living room and DVR. Sign their petition to keep control of how you watch TV