I've just gotten back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a zoo when there aren't an extra 180,00 people running around. But during CES it is an absolute mess. Just getting to and from your hotel is a challenge of epic proportions. It doesn't even help to rent the bright yellow stretch Hummer. It will just get stuck in traffic (although it will be a little slice of heaven -- twinkling stars on the roof and all -- on your way to dinner).
This year's CES was bigger than ever. But it would be hard to argue that it was better. In fact, to the extent that anything on display at CES was better than last year, it was only marginally so.
Case in point -- flat screen televisions. You could not turn in any direction at CES this year without seeing the "latest greatest" flat screen television. Toshiba and Canon were touting their SED TV (Surface-Conducting Electron-Emitter Display). Sharp was showing its Mega-Contrast LCD (1,000,000:1 Contrast). Every company had its own spin on the perfect viewing experience. But the reality of television innovation can be summed up by the battle of the gigantic plasma screens. Last year Samsung proudly displayed the "worlds largest" plasma TV. It came in at one hundred and two inches. The Guinness Book honors this year, however, went to Panasonic which was displaying a . . . yes, you guessed it . . . one hundred and THREE inch plasma. (It made about as much difference as Nigel Tufnel's amplifier going to 11.)
Since size didn't matter, the TV manufacturers were left to "innovate" in more creative ways. While I frankly can't imagine the real world uses of the technology in the near term, both LG.Philips and Toshiba were displaying 3D LCDs. They used optical tricks that resulted in different viewing experiences for both eyes, thus creating the illusion of three dimensions without the need for any goofy glasses out of the cereal box. The LG.Philips TV created that illusion by inserting a visual "parallax" barrier between the viewer and the pixels. The barrier blocked different pixels for each eye, thus producing a three dimmensional effect (if you stood in the right place!). The advantage of that process was that it could be turned on and off, thus making the LG.Philips a switchable 2D/3D LCD.
Equally useful was the the Sharp "Two Way Viewing Angle LCD." This panel used the same affect as those plastic kids trading cards that look like Clark Kent from one angle and Superman from another. If you stood on one side of the Sharp display you would see one picture but if you shifted over a few feet you'd see another. And if you stood right in the middle you'd see a little bit of Clark Kent, a little bit of Superman, and get a headache. Sharp was touting it as a great in-car display because it could present different visuals to the driver (maps) and the passenger (Seinfeld). Of course both the driver and the passenger will get neck aches looking sideways at the screen.
All in all, CES has become too big for its own good and if the excitement of next year's show is a 104" plasma or a 4-way viewing LCD, I suspect a bunch of us will stay home in the new year rather than rush off to Las Vegas.