Blockbuster Week in the World of Electronics


First of all, Happy New Year. Just a few days away now from what promises to be an absolutely blockbuster week in the world of electronics, beginning with the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and then followed Tuesday by the big Macworld Show in San Francisco.

CES will be attended by 145,000 registered guests, 2,600 exhibiting companies spread across 35 football fields of convention space in Vegas. But this year's show gives us pause to look back since CES celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Ironic since this past December 28, I celebrated my 40th birthday as well. Ironic still since my wife took me away to a decidedly low-tech, nature-infused Calistoga Ranch in California's Napa Valley. As I absorbed the phenomenal scenery, the extraordinary attention to every detail, the attentive service, the wine, the spa, the food, all the relaxation gave my mind a chance to wander: preparing for the electronics extravaganza ahead while letting my mind drift to my first CES in 1994.

Back then, CES was a distant second to the mega-show Comdex. Funny how electronics became more consumer-driven that Comdex, which tried so hard to maintain its techy core, tried to evolve into more of what CES was doing. And ultimately, Comdex would fade away, and CES would become the behemoth it is today. Sitting in the spa, I thought back to that first time I saw a video-disk. Alexander Balkanski showed it to me at C-Cube Microsystems. Satellite TV. Microsoft's xBox. HD Radio. And year after year, voice recognition this or that. I remember hearing digital audio that first time, seeing my first flat-panel Plasma. HDTV was an epiphany.

We caught up with Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronics Association, the group that hosts CES every year. Always upbeat, always excited about the "next big thing," Shapiro meandered back to that first show in New York City in 1967. It moved to Chicago in the late 1970s, but only briefly.

"After it was so cold one January in Chicago, that people never left the hotel room, we moved to Las Vegas," he says.

Good thing: with 145,000 people, there are few places on the planet with enough hotel rooms.

CES has become the place for companies to unveil new technology, dating back to the VCR back in 1970, the CD in 1981, even the robotic Roomba vacuum cleaner in 2002! Which leads us to this year: a big-time focus on the battle for your living room. We've seen and heard this before, but this time around, many of the products that will be "unveiled" are either already available, or will be shortly. No real focus on "prototypes," but real technology that could have a real impact on your life right now. Look for big news from Intel , Microsoft , Sony , HP , IBM , Cisco Systems . All of them see the biggest and best opportunities in consumer electronics right inside your living room. And with flat-panel Plasma TV prices falling by 50% on some sizes in 2006, electronics companies think 2007 will be "the" year for the home digital-entertainment revolution. If the kitchen used to be the heart of the home, it's quickly becoming the living room instead.

Says Shapiro: "This year, we see tremendous innovation. Everything's digital. This year we have digital products from every color, shape, size. Products that allow you to shift content in time and space and manage it."

Just listen to Jack Tretton, just named the new president at Sony's Computer Entertainment group: "The ability to interface with the internet, download video, download pictures. Clearly, we are going to have a tremendous impact on the sale of high definition TV sets, home theatre applications, people wanting to improve their speakers in their homes. Not only the graphics but also the sound." He's not talking about a new computer. He's talking about Sony's new PlayStation 3!

Apple Computer will also focus on this aspect of the industry; offering the last link from the computer to the TV with its new iTV device that Steve Jobs unveiled the last time he addressed the faithful, late last year. A tiny box that connects to the back of a Mac; another to the back of your TV. And then, you'll be able to wirelessly transmit downloaded movies, TV shows and music from your computer to your TV. Anywhere in the house! That comes Tuesday.

This is just a taste of some of the coverage we'll be providing. CNBC will be all over these events with exclusive access to some of the biggest names in tech. Watch the network, and keep checking back here where I'll be updating TechCheck as often as I can. Should be a heckuva show. Tiring, yes. But loads of fun. Hope you can join us for some of it!

Questions? Comments?