CES 2008: The Experience


In many ways, this year’s CES was a repeat of last year’s:  bigger and flatter TVs, flatter and lighter PCs, and, of course, more of the clusterf**k that is Las Vegas when 140,000 techies show up to attend the show, resulting in half-hour cab lines, booked-solid restaurants and the longest airport security line I have ever seen as we left Vegas Thursday morning (and this was before 7am, mind you).

Complaining aside, I feel compelled to mention a few highlights of the trip.  First was a tour that one of Postini’s outstanding ops guys, Greg McGrath and my partner Jason Mendelson and I took through the SwitchComm colo facility in Vegas.  Yes, I am a data center nerd, so when I had a chance to tour this facility to see Postini’s cage down there, I jumped at the opportunity.  Let me just say that this was the most impressive data center facility I have ever been in.  Thanks to Rob Roy (CEO) and MIssy Young (VP Sales) for spending the afternoon with us — we were blown away.

Back to items that can be found on the show floor, the big TV battle continues to escalate and this year took a huge leap, with Panasonic winning bragging rights for the year with their 150 inch diagonal TV.  This thing was a behemoth, and the picture looked amazing, thanks to 8 megapixels of Quad HD (3840×2160) resolution.  Where they got the source material for the video demonstration, I do not know.  Sharp showed off a 108 inch LCD that also had Quad HD resolution, upping the pixel count 4x over their 108" monster they showed last year, which had claimed the biggest TV crown in 2007.

Speaking of high-definition, the folks at the HD-DVD booth seemed a bit morose while the people across they way at the neighboring Blu-ray booth were busy declaring victory after Warner Brothers announced they were switching exclusively to the Blu-ray format.  I’m happy to see Blu-ray "win" given that if we’re all going to have a new generation of rewriteable optical drives in our laptops and PCs, we might has well have the one with substantially more capacity, as blu-ray does, weighing in at 25GB per layer vs. 15GB per layer for HD-DVD.  Sony may finally be able to tout victory in a format war and make up for the Betamax debacle.

Or maybe not.  Given the increasing speed and penetration of broadband internet and cable and satellite HD channels and on-demand services, we may be fast approaching the end of the physical media era.  Granted, we are a long way away from the ability to reliably deliver 54 megabits per second over broadband (the blu-ray data transfer rate required by the spec for video playback) so I do think Blu-ray will have a run for the next few years, but the victory of Blu-ray may be short-lived, and the spoils may turn out to be far less than expected, when compared to the standard-def DVD market.  In any case, I do think Blu-ray is very likely the last physical media format we’ll see for audio and video.

2008 will likely be a banner year for solid-state-drives – SanDisk showed 64GB SSDs with 2.5" and 1.8" form factors, and we’ll certainly see 128GB and 256GB SSDs as well, maybe even this year.  And if the rumors are true, Apple may bring SSDs to the mainstream in large volumes, assuming they announce the ultra-portable laptop at Macworld next week that is said to contain solid state storage instead of a hard drive.  Rumors aside, an impressive machine available today is the OQO model 02, which is beautiful device that has improved substantially since the launch of the first OQO a few years ago.  The one we saw on the show floor had a 64GB flash drive, a sunlight optimized screen, 1GB of RAM, a 1.6GHz CPU, wifi, bluetooth and EVDO, all in a one pound device.

Robots also had a big presence at CES this year, with iRobot showing off more of their "chorebots" while WowWee, Spykee, Ugobe and Sony and others showing off various humanoid, caninoid and dinosauroid robots.

Finally, the OLED TVs shown off by Sony and Samsung were astounding.  We saw the Sony prototypes last year as well and were blown away by the thinness and the stunning picture quality of OLED displays.  Happily, Sony will be making an 11" OLED available this year.  Sadly, it will retail for $2499.  But the picture is so good, it is tempting nonetheless.

Another highlight was the mammoth Sling Media booth.  Sling has come a long way since their modest booth in the innovations pavilion at their first CES in 2005.  I can’t wait to get my hands on the SlingCatcher and the Slingbox Pro HD when they ship.  And thanks to Blake and Jason for the private SlingCatcher demo and raging Rock Band battles in their pimpy suite atop the Wynn on Wednesday night.

A final tip of the hat goes to Laurie for the fine restaurant recommendations.  We ate well in Vegas this year, with meals at Joel Robuchon, Bouchon and Lotus of Siam.  Yummy.  So much for my 2008 diet plans.