It's day two of the 2002 international Consumer Electronics Show, and I'm wired and exhausted. I've been sharing the Las Vegas Convention Center with 110,000 people from around the world, and it feels like I've bumped into every single one of them. It's the same thing every year, yet I always come back, for this is the only place you can get a peek at the latest stereos, TVs, PDAs, phones, and other devices about to hit the market.
The past few CES shows were all about wild prototypes and creative new products that had little chance of actually selling, but this year's event takes on a decidedly different tone. Not sure whether it's the economic downturn or the events of September 11, but there's not much flash on display (unlike the concurrent Detroit Auto Show, where hot concepts seemed to outnumber production vehicles). Instead, the focus is on technology just coming to market and variations of the tried and true. Case in point: The biggest new product category is the media center, an entertainment nerve center capable of distributing movies, music, and Internet anywhere in the home. Moxi Digital has the biggest buzz in this category, but Samsung, Pioneer, and Hewlett-Packard are showing similar boxes. In the same vein, Sampo, Sharp, and Philips have new ways of sharing photos via DVD players, TVs, and CD players.
There are 21 million square feet of exhibit space, 2,059 exhibitors, and more than 15,000 new gadgets here. And every space is taken, as I discover when I head into the convention center atrium, where I'm greeted by thumping beats from Moby, William Orbit, and other techno trendies blasting out of four speakers dangling from the ceiling. A gaggle of grey-and-black-clad models sashay down the runway, Toshiba SD audio players, Sanyo cellphones, and Compaq laptops in hand. It's one of three "Convergence" fashion shows happening here daily, designed to convince us that wearable tech is about to get real.
Pushing my way through the mostly male crowd of gawkers, I head to the main hall, where major exhibitors like Panasonic, Philips, and Toshiba have set up booths bigger than the average suburban yard. I'm immediately dazzled by Panasonic's floor-to-ceiling video wall covered with flat-screen TVs. Flat panels are another trend this year-they're everywhere. On Panasonic's stage, three fiddlers circle an actress as she extols the virtues of portable SD-compatible devices. Truth is, I don't need a song and dance to make me appreciate the SV-AV10 SD; it's a digital camcorder, still camera, audio player, and voice recorder in one. Nice.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.