CES: The Tech Year in Preview

The 2002 Consumer Electronics Show showcases what everyone will want in the hot realm of consumer tech.

The wired (or, as the case may be, wireless) network home, recordable DVD, mobile electronics, smaller storage, and big-time hardware and software players making huge forays into entertainment space were the biggest news at the 2002 Consumer Electronics Show, the massive trade show helmed by the Consumer Electronics Association which ran January 8 through 11 in Las Vegas.

This years CES expanded to a record 1.2 million square feet of show space, drawing big crowds and bigger names—including many Comdex staples and tech luminaries like Hewlett-Packards CEO Carly Fiorina and Microsofts Bill Gates. As the computing hardware market falters, it was clear that many bigwigs used CES to show how their companies were moving in new, consumer-friendly directions. While Fiorina showed off HPs new adventures in digital imaging, Gates discussed the Microsoft dream of a digital home—again.

Microsoft announced its flashy eHome division, unveiling two sets of technologies—Mira and Freestyle—designed bring the PC and entertainment devices together. Mira is a "smart display" technology that lets users basically take their monitor with them and use it as a touch-screen device for interacting with a PC from anywhere using Wi-Fi. Freestyle will help Windows XP PCs be accessible from anywhere in the home via remote control—imagine managing digital music, gaming, movies and even cable television through one hub. With deals in the works with major PC manufacturers for a new wave of "media center PCs," Microsoft thinks Freestyle will revolutionize what types of media people store and use on their PCs.

That PC-connected home has always been a much-discussed idea, but Microsoft was far from the only company talking about it at CES. The Internet Home Alliance showed off its OnStar at Home pilot program, a cross-industry collaboration to build a fully integrated home control and security system that can be managed and accessed remotely or on-site through in-vehicle voice recognition, a standard Web browser, a WAP phone, or a wireless-enabled PDA. Incorporating elements from member companies like automation software maker Invensys, Panasonic, OnStar, and security firm ADT, the system will ultimately let you orchestrate everything from cleaning the oven to turning on the lights and monitoring security cameras while youre on vacation.

Plus, most every home entertainment device—from Bluetooth-enabled headsets for your home phone to Ethernet-equipped stereos and speakers—seemed to have some wireless capability added, and a plethora of wireless home network systems are being released, making the setup of a home wireless LAN as simple as plugging in a USB device. Bringing both these innovations together, WebTV founder Steve Perlmans new company Moxi exhibited its new Moxi Media Center, which combines a cable/satellite receiver, a CD/DVD player and digital music jukebox, multiroom access capability, digital recording and storage, and a cable/DSL modem Internet gateway in one box.

Moxis introduction is sure to fan the fires of the coming set-top box wars as it goes head-to-head with TiVos new Series2 and a drove of new digital recording satellite systems, HDTVs, and home stereo/cable receivers. Plus, the set-top is about to get even more crowded as a number of manufacturers—including Pioneer and Philips—bring out the first round of DVD recorders with VCR-style features.

Outside the home, the next hot spot for consumer tech will definitely be the car, as the IDB automobile networking technology standard becomes more visible. The IDB Forum hosted a pavilion showcasing possible new applications for IDB, including telematics, voice-activated devices for safer driving, capability for higher-end in-car entertainment devices, and connection interfaces in other computing devices like laptops and PDAs.

Also hot is the incredible shrinking gadget, as the tiny, high-capacity Secure Digital (SD) card showed up in every kind of electronic device imaginable, making it easier to build all of them much smaller than previously seen. Case in point: Panasonics new "e-Wear" line of portable electronics that features a digital camcorder with a body the height and width of a business card, a flip-out, 2-inch LCD screen, and an MP3 player just under 2 square inches that holds up to 50 hours of music.