Random Thoughts About CES 2009
Some of the laughs, gaffes and burning questions from the Consumer Electronics Show.
January 13, 2009 by Richard M. Sherwin

You know the consumer electronics industry is suffering when the media and analysts were actually looking forward to keynote addresses here at the annual showdown in the desert.

My biggest laughs came when one after another, TV makers trudged out their new 3D TVs, which except for a few models are not ready for prime time. And as I said before, the TV makers are trying to force feed the public on Internet TV features.

Unfortunately, Internet TV and 3D are overshadowing several spectacular high-end TV models from Sony, Sharp and Panasonic. These TVs, when using content from some of the terrific new Blu-ray players, made many realize what the industry is about: great viewing and easy operation.

And I don’t remember a low margin, low volume device like the over-hyped, over-introduced netbooks generating so much buzz. The same goes for the Palm Pre. While it’s pretty nice, the Pre is actually an enterprise and/or business product that might sell a few thousand units. Nevertheless, these products are still a phone and a little computer, once dirty words at this technology show.

Questions, Questions
And if things are so bad in the industry, how come Philips and Funai (under the new moniker of P&F), are coming out with some terrific higher-end LCDs with 120 Hz refresh rates? Flat TVs feature the proprietary Halo-Free technology which removes the faint halo accompanying fast moving action. Funai is also using the Sylvania and Magnavox brand to introduce entry level TVs for WalMart, K-Mart and Target that contain many of the same terrific features of their more expensive line.

And why would GE (in partnership with Tatung) reemerge with a pretty decent line of HDTVs that will have the full backing of technology and consumer support from a giant conglomerate that has shied away from the business for years?

And why were some industry wags shocked by Consumer Reports recommending consumers should only use GPS functions on a cell phone sparingly? This makes sense to me considering subscriptions run $3 a day or $10 a month and heavy users can save money with low-cost, dedicated portable GPS units. I want to know why the usually smart and savvy experts at Consumer Reports took so long to warn their readers.

Even more strange was hearing the Verizon execs wax poetic about the safety advantages of cell phone GPS. Have you ever tried to read a cell phone screen while driving?

Cell Phone Storm
Everyone is praising or bitching (mostly bitching) about the efficiencies and inefficiencies of the Blackberry Storm…whose second bug upgrade fix has been delayed. Quietly and stupidly, Verizon has hidden the fact that it’s other Smart phone-multimedia phone partner, Samsung, has two models, one Microsoft based and another hybrid, that are terrific for worldwide phoning, Internet video, audio playing and picture taking. On the last day of CES I played with the Samsung Saga, Omnia and aptly named Samsung Rant. (I loved the Saga and have been using its older version for years).

The Blackberry booth was packed, not necessarily for the Storm, but for other models that seem to be performing better in real life situations. If the Storm’s upgrade is still unsatisfactory to you and you remain leery of the iPhone or find any touch screen operated device difficult to use, then the Samsung Instinct, Nokia (unlocked new edition) and Sony-Ericsson music and picture phones might work for you until the 4G network devices come out in a few months. And I didn’t mention the Google Phone from T-Mobile, because well I haven’t found one person who likes it or finds the network wide enough to use for all personal and business mobile uses.

And finally, between the terrific looking experimental JVC LCD that is magnetically hung on a wall and the slow but sure movement to a wireless HDMI or home powerline solution, I think the industry, if it focuses on what consumers really need and want, will emerge from this recession morass and may even survive and thrive in the second half of this year.

Related CES Articles:
What You May Have Missed On Day One
DTV Converter Box Coupon Chaos?

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Richard M. Sherwin - Contributing Writer
Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.

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