Attending the Consumer Electronics Show is not good for your bank account. No matter how new your TV is or how high-tech your home might be, there's always something better on the way — and once you see it, you often want it.
There is, however, a lot of repetition in the Las Vegas Convention Center halls. After a couple of days the myriad TVs start to run together, and it starts to seem like every booth is offering some variation of an iPhone case.
Some items rise above the fray — and these are often the ones that resonate with consumers. Here are a few of the most interesting things on display this year.
By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com
Posted 13 January 2012
Who'd ever think that a refrigerator would make such an impression? This newfangled icebox performs the usual appliance duties, but it has a few new features that are quite impressive. Among them: the ability to suggest recipes based on what you have in the refrigerator, and the "Blast Chiller," which will cool a warm can of soda or beer (or a bottle of wine) to a refreshing temperature in just five minutes.
There are plenty of TVs at CES — and a lot of them are impressive. But this 55-inch screen from Samsung is truly remarkable. First, there's the screen — one of the largest OLED screens ever made. That means super-bright pictures with less energy consumption. (OLED has been the Holy Grail of televisions for years.) Beyond that, two people can watch different shows at the same time — on the same set —using specialized glasses, without seeing any ghosting of the other program. Pricing and availability will be announced later this year.
This Ultrabook computer blends the best of the tablet and PC worlds. The base — where you rest your hands as you type — is transparent. When owners close the laptop, that clear area becomes a screen, letting them keep track of incoming emails, appointments and more. It's still a concept so there's no hard street date for the Nikiski, but Intel has shown the PC/Tablet fusion off a couple of times recently, a sign that a retail release is in the cards.
Vizio has a loyal customer base in the television market, making its announcement that it is jumping into the PC market noteworthy. It could face an uphill battle in the laptop space, given the established competition plus Intel's push for Ultrabooks this year. (Vizio is not participating in that initiative.) But the All-in-One systems are sleek on an Apple-like level. If Vizio prices these like they price their TVs, it could make them a player in the market.
There has been a lot of advances in camera technology in recent years, but none like this. Light field cameras let you worry about focusing the picture after you've taken it. It won't be on the market until later this year — and the form factor might change — but if it works as advertised it could be a savior to home photographers who never can quite capture the perfect shot at the right moment.
Dish Network sets a new standard for the set-top box — and it's a move that could have an impact on cable companies. The Hopper, its less-than-techy name for the receiver box, boasts a two-terabyte hard drive that can hold up to 2,000 hours of content. With a single button, subscribers will be able to record an entire evening's worth of programming on all five networks (a stab at Hulu). And the company will stream popular films from Blockbuster @Home to the box each night, meaning even people with slow Internet connections will be able to enjoy the service.
Always adjusting the temperature on your thermostat to stay comfortable? The Nest keeps track of your temperature habits and can learn how you like things. It remembers if you turn the heat down at night or when you're out of the house — and it can turn the heat or air conditioning down automatically if no one is home, thanks to an onboard motion sensor.
Razer has a history of unveiling off-the-beaten-path concept devices at CES. This gaming tablet, it says, is capable of playing current generation AAA games as well as a console or PC. Project Fiona comes with an Intel Core i7 processor. It also has an accelerometer and multi-touch screen as well as force-feedback. Razer's not giving out a price, but says we could see this by the end of the year.
There are a lot of Ultrabooks on display, but Lenovo's stands out. It's stylish and can morph into four different form factors, ranging from a standard laptop clamshell, to a tablet, to a tent-style (standing on its ends) to an easel, showing the screen to onlookers across the table as users control the keyboard. It's also loaded with processing power and 8GB of RAM. It should hit shelves by the second half of the year.
Glass might not seem an obvious choice, but the impact of Corning's announcement that it has improved the product is significant. The original thin and damage-resistant Gorilla Glass is widely used on smartphones and tablets. Now the company has made the glass 20 percent tougher. That's going to translate to thinner gadgets in the months and years to come that don't have to sacrifice durability or strength.