GADGETS

Monday, January 09, 2006

GADGETS RULE THE 21st CENTURY

In the blinking, singing, swirling, pulsing, glowing, frantic madness that was the International Consumer Electronics Show, chaos reigned.

But even in this vortex — in which over 140,000 people fight each other for information, breathing room and taxis — a few things were clear.

Digital technology, combined with high-speed access to the Internet and plummeting prices for both, has reached a critical mass. From cellphones to TVs to paperless books, computers and the rapid flow of data are combining to drive a multibillion-dollar industry and change the way people live, play and work.

The phenomenal success of consumer electronics in 2005 — global sales were almost $126 billion (U.S.) last year, and another $135.4 billion is forecast this year by the Consumer Elec tronics Association — has raised the intensity level at this annual, massive trade show, which sprawls across 1.6 million square feet at not one, but two convention centers.

The buzz is about digital music and video, as illustrated by the fact that the giants of online technology — Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, a triumvirate known in the industry as GYM — announced such initiatives here.

Google is the latest to leap into the fray, on Friday announcing in a speech by co-founder Larry Page that it would start offering video from many sources for sale on its site, with the creators setting their own prices.

Yahoo announced its Yahoo Go service, which will direct video to cellphones, computers and connected TVs. Users will be able to post their own content to Yahoo's services, such as the Flickr photo-sharing site, then view them on a TV or a cellphone.

During Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates' keynote speech, he and MTV Networks Music Group president Van Toffler unveiled Urge, a personalized music service that will be part of Windows Media Player 11.

Users will be able to tailor music offerings to their tastes, pay for an "all you can eat" option and provide feedback about the service and its music via blogs and forums.

But it is the devices that are the focus of this show, and the gadgetry almost universally here has some kind of network or Internet aspect to it.

Among the standouts:

Sony Reader: Although e-books have yet to take off, Sony plans on introducing a new model in the U.S. later this year that incorporates what is known as "digital ink" technology. It's a black-and-white LCD screen that has the clean, crisp look of printed paper.

ROKR E2: The Motorola ROKR: aka the Apple iTunes cellphone — was met with indifference and even scorn when it was released last year, as it only holds 25 songs. But Motorola has reworked the concept, The new ROKR E2 is lighter and smaller but holds a lot more songs — up to 500 in its two-gigabyte memory.

Dell XPS 600 Renegade: Hoping to win over hard-core gamers, Dell introduced a new version of its XPS 600 desktop PC that features a hand-painted, flame-red case.

The unit comes with an Intel Pentium 4 processor that's pushed past its rated speed to 4.28 gigahertz. Dell will guarantee the system at that speed — usually, such overclocking will void a PC's warranty.

A limited-edition product, each case will be hand-painted by airbrush artist Michael Lavellee, best known for working with hot rods and motorcycles.

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