CES 2005: Picks and Pans

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Computer trade shows have gotten smaller over the years, but not CES. The Consumer Electronics Show is bigger than ever. With everything from the biggest (102 inches, anyone?) flat-screen TVs to IPod accessories everywhere you look, CES offers plenty of gadgets for work and play. Here are some of the highlights--and lowlights--that PC World editors found at this year's show.

Motorola's Ojo Personal Video Phone
Aha, oho, Ojo: The latest take on video phones is Motorola's Ojo (pronounced Oh-Joe) Personal Video Phone. This compact gizmo features a 5.6-inch rectangular portrait-oriented LCD screen perched on an upright arm (for eye-to-eye access) with a built-in keypad, which in turn sits on a small pedestal. The Ojo plugs into both a standard phone jack and your broadband modem or network; it can be used for regular nonvideo calls or video calls from other Ojos or Internet phones. Motorola says the phone delivers full-motion, 30-frames-per-second video. You don't need any special setup--you can continue to use your preexisting telephone number--but you do need to subscribe to Motorola's service for an as-yet-undisclosed monthly fee. And the Ojo itself isn't cheap: Motorola expects to ship it in early spring for $799. --Yardena Arar

Lenmar's battery charger
All charged up: From the all-in-one department comes a nifty battery charger--yes, I said battery charger. No kidding, in March Lenmar will ship a $139.95 device that will "speed charge" all your batteries including camera, camcorder, and AA/AAA batteries. It also has adapters to charge cell phones, PDAs, or anything else that can be recharged through a USB port. --Andrew Eisner

When size does matter: You can never be too thin, too rich, or too storage-endowed. So Buffalo Technology is introducing an obscenely huge network storage device, the TeraStation. As the name implies, it has a terabyte of space for documents, photos, videos, MP3s--you name it. Just hook it up to your network (it supports gigabit ethernet) and start loading up the data. Best of all, the cost for the TeraStation, which should appear next month, is a remarkably reasonable $999. --Yardena Arar

On Display

Home theater for the masses: Optoma's MovieTime Player was a huge buzz-generator at CES. This Instant Home Theatre projector has an integrated DVD player, built-in 5-watt speakers, and 840-by-480-pixel resolution, perfect for 16-by-9 movie viewing. But what sets it apart from competitors in this new product category is its "short throw" lens, which allows owners to enjoy a 64-inch-wide screen from just 5 feet away. This one looks like a real winner for people just beginning to get into the digital projector version of home theatre. Expected to ship in the next six months, the MovieTime Player should retail for under $1500. --Ramon G. McLeod

LG Philips-LCD display
Big things in very small packages: Not all the great displays were showing up on HDTV sets. In fact, LG Philips-LCD featured some of its small high-resolution LCD panels displaying stunning detailed images in cell phone settings. The maker supplied a magnifying glass to let viewers appreciate a very readable subway map, the front page of a newspaper, and other high-res images on a 2.4-inch panel with a resolution of 480 by 640--a very impressive 332 pixels per inch. --Andrew Eisner

TV to go: Sharp's 15- and 20-inch Open Aquos LCD TVs feature two built-in PC Card slots. One slot hosts the included 5GB hard-drive card, which lets you do time-shifting and record a few of your favorite shows. You can then transfer the card to your laptop to watch stuff when you're traveling or commuting (but not if you're driving, please. That could be bad.). You can use the other slot for a memory or wireless card for viewing photos or streaming pictures and music to the TV. Definitely a great TV for the bedroom or kitchen. Just don't put it next to the deep fryer. That, too, could be bad. --Cathy Lu

You really can watch a movie anywhere: One of the cutest products at CES was Mitsubishi's Pocket Projector. This incredibly tiny digital projector, no bigger than a paperback novel, uses DLP technology and light from three LEDs to project movies up to 42 inches wide. It has 800-by-600 resolution and can be used with any device that has video output, including game machines and DVD players. Image quality is so-so, but acceptable. We heard a rumor that beta testers found an interesting application that probably doesn't require supersharp imaging: showing movies on the ceiling of their bedrooms. No word on what kind of movies they were watching. The product is expected to ship later this winter and will sell for about $1000. --Ramon G. McLeod

No Lack of Entertainment

Most unexpectedly lively product category: As much as TiVo and ReplayTV are beloved by their users, digital video recorders have struggled to catch on with the masses. But there was an array of DVR-related developments at the show, from TiVo's announcement of a Microsoft partnership, to demonstrations of an impressive Motorola DVR based on Digeo's Moxi platform, to DirecTV's preview of a next-generation DVR that will be available later this year. --Harry McCracken

Flat-Screen DVR Goodness: Behind closed doors, Humax USA was showing off a preproduction version of its upcoming LT2650, a 26-inch LCD television with built-in DVD recorder plus Tivo. How do I explain this elegantly? Damn, that's cool! The $2499 unit, due by midyear, includes all the features of the company's excellent DRT800, including a hard drive that will hold up to 80 hours of content. No, it's not perfect (it doesn't look like it's going to support the cable card standard, so you're still stuck with a digital cable box), but overall, it's a pretty slick-looking TV/Tivo, and one that I'd gladly find space for in my bedroom. --Tom Mainelli

That's (cheap) entertainment: Pioneer has two inexpensive DVD players that look like great buys if you're on a budget. A $69 model sounds like it'd be the premium pick at Wal-Mart, but it has a 108-MHz, 12-bit digital-to-analog video converter--not too shabby. A $129 universal player plays not only DVD videos, but also DVD-Audio and SACD discs, and decodes DivX-encoded files. That's a deal. --Alan Stafford

Now this is a real remote control: Sling Media may have had just a popcorn-stand-size booth in a tent, but it definitely made an impact. The Slingbox Personal Broadcaster is one of those products I'll actually buy with my own money if it ends up working as advertised. You plug the Slingbox into your home entertainment system, install the software on your laptop or mobile device, and then, using the Internet, you have complete control over your home setup from wherever you are. That means I can use my laptop to watch the stuff I've recorded on my TiVo in Seattle, even when I'm, um, supposed to be meeting with someone at a trade show in Las Vegas. I even get access to my own TiVo interface, so if I really want to be a jerk, I can delete all of my husband's stupid SciFi channel recordings. --Cathy Lu

All digital, all the time: That's part of the promise of DVD and PVR recorders that integrate HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface). Two of the more interesting prospects on the horizon: Sony's RDR-HX715 DVD recorder with a 160GB hard drive, coming in September; and Kiss's DP-678, a DVD recorder with hard drive, electronic programming guide, and 802.11 g/a/b wireless. Humax says it will offer a TiVo-enabled DVD recorder with HDMI later this year, and LG had a few slick recording units on display, as well--although those will be available only in Korea. --Melissa Perenson

Prettier pictures: Have a high-def display, but don't have the content to really show what it can do? Samsung's DVD-HD850 and DVD-HD950 players up-sample standard DVD resolution (480p) to high-definition 1080i, 720p, and 768p signals on the fly. The up-conversion all takes place in the digital domain, which eliminates artifacts and data loss. While there have been add-on up-scalers that can accomplish the same thing, these new products do the trick at extremely low prices. The HD850 will arrive in stores this month for $150, while the HD950, which will also play SACD and DVD-Audio multichannel recordings, is expected to cost about $200 when it reaches stores late this spring. --Ramon G. McLeod

Tune in to IPTV: Cable and satellite just not offering you enough TV? Well, SBC--with some help from Microsoft--wants to offer you a third choice: TV through your Internet connection. The technology seems promising, offering you everything you get with cable or satellite, plus more video-on-demand choices, more channels tailored to your likes, hooks into the Internet, telephone calling and management features, plus networked access to digital media you have stored on your PC, distributed digital video recording, high-def capability, and more. Once it becomes reality (the first customers will get their hands on version 1 around the fourth quarter of 2005), you'll be very close to truly getting TV your way. --Anush Yegyazarian

A higher-def HD: Just when you thought it was safe to invest in an HDTV, the industry springs a new development on you. This show marked the arrival of the first 1080p HDTVs--sets with 1080 lines of horizontal resolution. It seems most of the HDTVs out there only have 720 (or 768) lines, and so can only natively support 720p transmissions (they down-convert anything with 1080 lines). Today's 720p sets are most definitely HDTVs (and there are no 1080p broadcasts), but you kind of wish you'd known the higher-resolution capability was coming. --Yardena Arar

Gadgets That Will Look Great in Your Living Room

Shaken, not stirred: I have to admit I was dubious about D-Box's new Quest Motion Simulation chair. But the Quest is no rumble pack for your butt. This is an honest-to-goodness comfy chair, which looks and feels like a great recliner that would be a welcome addition to any den or family room. And it's made for simulating motion from movies shown in a home theater, not for games--in other words, it's for grownups. The action in the movie and the action in the chair are synced up by motion codes produced by D-Box. These codes are input into a box along with input from the DVD, and the motion signal is then sent to the chair. Chairs start at $5300. --Ramon G. McLeod

Bachelors' Dream Couch: The bachelors and bachelorettes of America have a lot to look forward to--or perhaps be afraid of. Pyramat is coming out with the $699 PMX Rocker: a white leather couch that vibrates thanks to its built-in sound system. The PMX Rocker uses WARX (Wireless Audio Response Technology) and the 2.4-GHz space, so the only wire coming from your couch is the power cord. When I flopped onto the couch to test it out, I must admit that it was like getting a massage along with a pleasant surround-sound-type experience. The vibrations weren't overly annoying and actually felt quite soothing on my poor, aching back. --Cathy Lu

A bang-up job: Panasonic's new KX-TG5428R cordless phone is a parent's dream and had one of the coolest demos at CES. Touting it as virtually unbreakable and water resistant, the Panasonic folks repeatedly dropped the phone down a twisty 5-foot Plexiglas chute with cascading water. It came out barely nicked and still working. Anyone who's had a kid drop a phone down a toilet or onto a hardwood floor can appreciate such resilience. It retails for $79.95. --Ramon G. McLeod

Let the Music and Video Play

Nyko's IBoost
Is That an IPod (accessory) in your pocket? I think there may actually be enough IPod extras here in Vegas to start a whole separate trade show. Among the sea of white-clad goodies: Nyko's new IBoost product that attaches to your IPod and extends the battery life by up to 16 hours. Pricing isn't yet set; the company expects to begin shipping by March and will also offer a version for the IPod Mini. Nyko's also planning to offer a speaker dock and a $199 device that turns your IPod into a movie player. Belkin's upcoming Bluetooth-based TuneStage also sounds interesting. So top-secret they were only talking about it at a midweek media event, the device will reportedly let you more easily play music through your stereo. It's due in March, but Belkin hasn't set pricing yet. --Tom Mainelli

Two in one: Dolby Laboratories showed new DualDisc audio titles at the show. DualDiscs have a regular CD layer on one side and a high-resolution, DVD-Audio layer with 5.1-channel surround sound on the other side. I love DVD-Audio discs--even if I can't play them in a surround-sound setup, they still sound much better than standard CDs. The downside is that you can't rip them to a file that you can take on a portable MP3 player. But you can rip a DualDisc's CD side, and they'll play in standard CD players (albeit with CD-quality sound). Plus, if you put a DualDisc in your computer's optical drive, you can download fresh content--for example, extra tracks released after the disc came out, or tour highlights. The only thing I don't like: the $20 price for each disc. Some 40 DualDisc titles are available now, and a rep from Silverline Records says 90 titles will be out by April. --Alan Stafford

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