Comdex Fall Las Vegas, November 2001
The Comdex show was almost as much known for what it wasn’t as for what it was. No big booths by companies selling computers like Gateway, Dell, IBM, and Compaq to impress us, these four didn't even have a booth, and even more surprising, companies like Creative Labs was also a no show. If you were at the ICS meeting in October, you saw what really neat and exciting products that Creative is coming out with its Audrey line of audio cards. For sound, you can't get much better but they were not to be found at Comdex.
But what was there was surprisingly enough, interesting as I did find quite a few things worth mentioning. It was a much smaller show with attendance estimated anywhere from 80,000 to 130,000 and the people at Key3Media (the organizers), keeping pretty mum on real numbers. The number of booths were less and they took far less floor space this year as well and for the most part, was easier to get around without having too much trouble going through some of the bigger booths to see what was on the other side. The lack of give aways and trinkets given out also attest to the slowing economy, smaller attendance, and general nervousness of the times.
Comdex keynote addresses are often where you will see and hear about technologies to come. Now whether they make it to store shelves are often a matter of guessing but it is quite a lot of fun to see what they think will be making the rounds in Christmases to come. This year's keynote by Sony president Kunitake Ando was no exception as he talked about and showed off next generation (well maybe not next but after that one) gaming equipment, hand held devices, robots, video equipment, and the promise that allowed each of these devices to automatically recognize others on the "network" or when they get close to each other. Something new they showcased was called the "PerCastTV" which allows anyone to become a video broadcaster directly to a designated list of people. A combination Camcorder, computer, and internet appliance, you can immediately broadcast any event you want such as wedding, little league game and the like. Their next generation 'HandyCam' will be Bluetooth enabled to broadcast directly to the web as well, receive email, and even allow you to surf the web. What they will call the 'Value Network' look for a partnership between Sony, AOL, and Nokia.
The big themes this year were digital imaging and wireless networking as well as the pavilions devoted to Bluetooth, USB, and the Palm platform. As to what I found interesting, here is my list in no particular order.
Kensington, along with some other companies, are coming out with lights that plug into the USB port on your computer. Intended for laptop use in dark places (like an airplane, the bedroom at night, and so on), it takes a tiny bit of power directly from the USB port to give you enough light to use the keyboard, view papers, or the like. With a flexible neck, you can bend it to what ever angle you need. Called the "FlyLight", About $20 at www.Kensington.com
Electric Fuel, www.electric-fuel.com, makes a line of environmentally friendly rechargeable units for devices like Pocket PCs, Cell phones, Palm units, and the like. With this charging unit, you don't need to worry about having electricity nearby when using the devices. A replaceable and disposable cartridge gives you up to three charges for you phone or PocketPC device.
This booth we went out of our way to find because once you are there, you can use your cell phone to call their Pepsi machine to get a free drink. That is right, you call the vending machine, it asks you what you would like, and then you pick up your drink. Course, what they are really after is a means of setting up your credit card ahead of time and then you don't need to worry about carrying around change. You can also do the same thing via infrared and your palm hand held computer. www.wirca.com or pepsi.wirca.com
Need a quick and easy way to destroy all those old sensitive CDs ? The Cdestroyer (found at www.pressit.com) uses a heavy granulated type material to semi pulverize the label portion of the CD you want destroyed. About $10.
McAfee.com, www.mcafee.com gives you an online way of checking for viruses that is different from what we used to know as McAfee over at Network Associates. Download their software, after you buy it online, and you can get a one year subscription to PC World magazine. Good deal. Go to www.mcafee.com/comdex for the magazine deal. What sets mcafee.com apart is that they have some new automated update tools to keep you from worrying about having to update your virus definition files.
One of the most promising tools I found at last years Comdex was from Biolink which had a mouse that included a thumbprint scanner to make sure that who ever was logging on to your computer was who they really said that they were. Another company was there this year, SecuGen, www.secugen.com, a Canadian company, that has come out with a similar device but also include keyboards, mice, and a stand alone fingerprint scanner that I would much prefer. The problem with the mice is that if you don't quite like the feel of the mouse and want to get another, you are stuck because you can't have both at the same time.
The neatest tool on the floor is from a company called Hash, Inc, www.hash.com. It is Animation Master and the things they showed us on the demo floor were stunning. I have seen stuff here that was more impressive than in a Disney film it is that good. There are hundreds of features for modeling, rendering, animation, and a number of built in options for everything from hair type to particles, weather, materials, dynamics, and sound tracking. An incredible amount of tools and features for only $299.
Another animation tool in a different light is Bryce 5 from Corel Corporation, www.corel.com. This program is a powerful 3D landscaping and animation program that will allow you to create and add realistic looking landscapes to existing images. Want to put yourself and your product in the middle of a terrific beach you can do it with this program.
The E-pen from E-Pen In Motion, inc, www.e-pen.com is a take off on the old tablet system that you could write on and transfer the images electronically to your computer. What this does is to use an optical and ultrasonic technology to capture what you write on any piece of paper that you clip to their receiver which is connected to a USB port on your computer. Use it with recognition software either built in or from third parties to recognize what you write. For about $179.
As they did last year, Intel has teamed up with a number of companies including HP to create newly designed computers that are both artistic and functional, and fun to look at. From HP came the Concept PC 2001 unit that comes with hardly any internal expansion but does come with five USB2 and two FireWire ports. You use an 18 inch LCD monitor with an integrated CD-R drive, Web cam, Bluetooth, and a speaker built in. Pretty slick. With Legend Computer in China, the Taishan is another concept PC includes a 15inch LCD with a built in DVD drive. See both of these at http://developer.intel.com/technology/easeofuse/conceptpc.htm.
Turtle Beach has long been one of the premier audio companies for the computer world and this year they were showing off the AudioTron, a digital music player for home networks. It is a smart stereo component that uses a PC network connection to play digital music files stored on a PC hard drive or from internet radio broadcasts. By storing and assembling the music on your home server computer, you can then play any of this music through traditional speakers from the Audiotron console from anywhere in your home. At $299, I am not sure I want one for every bed room, living, dining, study, library, family, den, workshop, and so on if you catch my drift but it is an interesting technology. What you do is to turn your computer into your giant juke box with thousands of Wav, MP3, or Windows Media files. www.turtle-beach.com
We still saw a lot of the tiny digital pen type cameras and a new one from Aroma, www.aromaco.com actually includes a digital camera, PC Camera, digital camcorder all built into the same ADG-5000 unit. If you need one of these devices for what ever reasons, this one is not too bad but I can't still recommend any of these kinds of cameras if you want good clear crisp pictures. It will take up to 80 pictures at a time and will do short bursts of video as well. A little bigger than some of these units but this one has quite a few features for its size.
Maxtor has come out with the perfect external storage unit for those big jobs that need a lot of storage. At 80GB and with a FireWire connectivity, this is the perfect way to get you going with a fast 7200 RPM drive. At around $349 from www.Maxtor.com
An interesting piece of software was the Browse3D from Browse3D Corporation, www.browse3.com which allows you to pull up a number of web pages and view them simultaneously. What it does is to display thumb-nail web page images of the links in two side windows while the center window, or wall as they call it, has the main screen you are working on. Different and one of the Comdex best of show winners in the Internet software category.
We have talked before about how great JASC software and their Paint Shop Pro package is but they also have something else that is just worthwhile getting and that is their Quickview Plus version 6. If you often get files that you can't open or view, this program is just for you as it has built in viewers for over 200 file formats from Microsoft, Corel, Lotus, Word Perfect and a host of those graphics files that keep coming. If you use at as the default email attachment viewer, you also keep yourself from getting hit by rogue macros in word documents and the like. It also has support for a number of Macintosh file formats as well so you can quickly browse and view documents on your computer. From JASC Software at www.jasc.com
One of the companies that I always like to take a look at while at Comdex is Applied Science Fiction, www.asf.com, who has some remarkable technologies for dealing with digital images. You won't find their products on the store shelf but will be bundled with scanners, digital imaging devices, and the like. Famous for their Digital Ice technology used in Nikon and Minolta scanners among others, it does a great job of removing defects in the scanned image automatically. Digital ROC is a technology that will automatically balance the color to restore lost coloring and shading in an image. While you can do quite a bit of this with traditional image editing software, it is great that it is available as you scan the image.
Toshiba came out with a new digital camera that looks like it might be a winner in the 2 megapixel range. The PDR-M25 is a 2.2 megapixel camera with a 3X optical zoom, equivalent to 38 to 114mm zoom. You can even push that up with a 2X digital zoom. A good price for what you get that will sell for around $279. With crisp sharp pictures, at least from what we saw on screen, it also includes USB connectivity and a limited range built in flash unit and is easy to handle and use. It uses SmartMedia memory cards and 4 AA sized batteries to make it even more flexible when traveling and the size is small enough for a pocket but large enough not to get lost when holding and using it.
A prototype technology shown off by Mercedes Benz is called "DriveBy InfoFueling". It is a new technology that allows you to download information to the computer in your car as you drive by these new low power transmission stations. In the demo, you are driving your car and hear a song that you really like and want to buy and add to your collection. On the console, you hit the 'buy' button (of course you have to pay for each downloaded song), and then it transfers the song to a storage device in the car. You can then transfer it to a home system to create your own music CDs. They see this coming to include travel information, traffic, restaurants and the like, all you can capture while driving and to the point of even giving you directions to your destinations.
Another digital camera that I liked the look of was the Olympus, www.olympusamerica.com, Camedia D-40 Zoom camera. This one is a 4 megapixel camera in the $799 range but really packs a lot of features, is easy to handle and use, and has some stunning picture results. It is a near 3X optical (35mm to 98mm equivalent) and 7X digital zoom lens that for once doesn’t look muddied when you go out into the digital end of the zoom. A compact size that is easy to carry and use, it really is more to the high end of digital cameras with features like aspherical glass, 16 seconds to 1/1000 shutter speeds, tiff, jpg, or QuickTime movie modes, as well as multiple exposure, flash, and manual modes. Usual items include USB connectivity and SmartMedia memory cards, and AA type batteries.
ECI, www.eciusa.com, is creating a program called tVCD where you capture your slides and digital images on your computer, create them in a slideshow program that can then be written to a CDR and taken to a DVD player attached to your television and then show the images on your TV set.
As a Pocket PC User, I was certainly looking for the newest products to see what was what in this arena and there was a lot of buzz around concerning these new units. With the release of the Pocket PC 2002 operating system, Compaq, HP, Casio, Audiovox, and Toshiba have all come out with new units and they are all based on the Intel StrongARM 206mhz processor. What makes it even better is that with all of them on the same platform, upgrades in the future will be easier than ever. My old Casio E115 is based on the MIPS processor and so will not be upgradeable to the new Pocket PC 2002 software so if you have an older unit, be sure to check the upgradability before getting the new software. With more memory, faster processors, and better color and better batteries, these are definitely upgrade systems. I think with these new systems, you will also see a ton of new applications coming out soon as well. Go to the Pocketpc web site at www.pocketpc.com and see for yourself.
Adobe systems is now making available a PDF viewer for the Pocket PC on their web site at www.adobe.com. Still listed as a beta version, it is a long overdue product as more and more documents show up on the Pocket PC.
At the Microsoft Pocket PC event at Comdex, they were showing a number of wireless applications and programs and in fact was giving away Socket, www.socketcom.com wireless adapters for digital cell phones. Connect your Pocket PC to the digital phone of your choice, and you can do email, web surfing, and connect to host systems right from your Pocket PC. Course, the cost of that surfing will be between you and your internet and cell phone provider and will cost you at least another $5 per month (at least from Sprint). They also include a number of products for Bluetooth, traditional networks, communications, and traditional land line modems for your Pocket PC.
Another neat Pocket PC product was from Conduits, www.conduits.com, who have come out with a number of titles for the Pocket PC including Pocket Slides. You can drop your PowerPoint presentations to your Pocket PC and use this program to view the slide show, and if you connect it to a projection unit, can use it instead of a laptop to give presentations. $39.95 Another neat tool of theirs is Pocket Watch that turns your Pocket PC into a world time piece and a geo clock showing when the sun rises and sets all over the world. $14.95.
Pharos, www.pharosgps.com, has come out with two new GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) systems for the Pocket PC that looked very impressive. The iGPS-CF is a Compact Flash card unit that connects directly into the CF slot on your Pocket PC to allow you to use it as a stand alone navigator and tracker whether you are on foot, in a car, or boat. Available for $325. For a more versatile connection, get the iGPS-180 receiver, about $249, that has a specific cable for either your notebook, Pocket PC, Palm or Handspring, or even a USB version.
Not really a Pocket PC but Sharp had a PDA sporting Linux and a 37 key keypad (not really keyboard). Called the Zaurus SL-5000D, available to developers only. I really would like to get one of the new Pocket PC 2002 units but think I will just have to sit on my 'old' Casio for a while longer.
Comdex Best Of Show
So, what was it that the real judges determined was the best that Comdex had to offer in 2001? What they did this year was to ask several publications including CIO, Computerworld, InfoWorld, Network World, and PC World to judge a number of different categories. They judged 18 different categories and if you wanted to see the entire list, go to www.comdex.com/bestofcomdex and see them for yourself. In the categories that we might be interested in, The New Technology was the Virtual Keyboard from Senseboard Technologies AB, the Best Networking software was from Novell, the best desktop PC was the D500 Ultra-slim from Compaq and the best Mobile Handheld system was the Treo 180 from Handspring. Finally, the best notebook and 'Best of Show' winner was the Fujitsu Lifebook Notebook computer. This was the first year these particular judges and companies were used to judge the products at Comdex and personally, I hope it will be the last.
A First Look at Comdex
Let me introduce you to the National Geode Origami Mobile Communicator. Before I tell you the size, of course that just tipped you off, let me tell you what is included. It is a digital camera, a digital camcorder, a video conferencing terminal, an internet access device for web surfing, an email terminal, an internet picture frame, an MP3 player, and a smart phone to begin with. It comes with a keyboard attached (sort of), of course, built in microphone and speaker, 640x480 TFT LCD display (4 inch in size), CF Storage slot, Microsoft Windows XP imbedded, with Windows CE 4.0 coming early 2002, USB and Bluetooth. It is the shape of an oversized clam shell type phone at 7.6 inches by 3.8 inches and is 1.3 inches deep. The flexible form factor allows you to turn it different ways for different applications. One way as a camera, one as an email terminal, and another to use the phone. Did I mention the integrated touch screen support? Go take a look at www.cocom-ia.com, it is built as a partnership between CoCom of the UK and National Semiconductor here in the states.
A lot of new anti-virus software is coming on the market including Kaspersky from the former Soviet Union. This one is at www.kaspersky.com and from the quick demo I saw, looked pretty good. More later.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) has been with us for quite a while, since the Pentium I computers, but has gotten a lot of bad press over bad drivers, hardware, and incompatible interface designs. It has finally stabilized a bit now that we are on the four generation away from that original Pentium and what I did see was a bunch of USB 2.0 products coming out from film scanners to hard drives, to a new CD Writer from Plextor. Many of these devices seem to be backward compatabile with the older USB standards but what doesn't look like it will happen is to have any kind of upgrade path to the millions of older computers out there. It sure is hard to think of a Pentium 4 as being an older computer but that is the way it is with technology.
Pity the companies trying to show off speakers in a noisy hall. I went looking for some replacements and finally just gave up as they were impossible to hear very well. TDK Electronics, through NXT, is offering a new line of speakers based on the NXT Surface sound technology that is supposed to be a step up from conventional speakers but you will have to go find a pair to listen to sometime.
As more and more people pick up multiple digital cameras, you soon discover that many of them don't use the same memory cards. Olympus has a couple of cameras out now that use both SmartMedia and CompactFlash memory cards in the camera. Makes swapping cards much easier and the one camera I tried, to go from one card to another is just a quick hit of a button on the camera. Even better are the cameras that allow the use of CF type 2 cards including the IBM Microdrive which can now get you up to a gigabyte of storage on a single card. That is a lot of pictures.
One of Olympus' newest cameras is the Camedia C-4040 which offers a 4 megapixel CCD and a 3X optical F1.8 zoom lens. They have made it a little easier to grip with a rubberized lens barrel and grip and also features many of the same improvements we have seen on some of the other Camedias like manual and auto white balancing, multiple exposure settings, burst mode, quicktime movie mode, B&W and sepia modes. USB connected, it uses SmartMedia memory cards and looks like a terrific camera.
In general, what I saw a lot of that was impressive was the improvements in both flat panel screens and traditional monitors. Much better quality and much better pricing is to be had on both fronts. Especially on the really big flat panel entertainment screens
For a company that you never heard of but maybe will someday ? Vivastar certainly had a large enough booth at Comdex and was handing out some pretty snazzy video CDs as well. They make digital storage devices such as DVD recorders and the like. They are a Swiss based company and can be seen at www.vivastar.com.
So, what was fun about Comdex this year? Well, Mercedes Benz had a road track laid out in one of the parking lots to allow us to take their cars for a literal spin around the block and I must say that the S600 was fun to drive. 2C Computing got me around the hassle of not taking a bag onto the show floor by giving us a rolling piece of luggage to carry stuff home in, and of course, the Palm powered Pepsi machine that I could phone for a soft drink. Big name entertainment was missing and the parties were smaller than before but Compaq treated us to a performance by "Better than Ezra", who ever they are. At least the bar was open.
Comdex Chicago 2002 will be held at McCormick Place on March 5 - 7, 2002. If you would rather be down under those days, then head down to the version in Sydney, Australia.
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